Don’t underestimate communication efforts

The importance of the communication of an employee benefits plan cannot be undervalued. It creates employee awareness of the available benefits, plan restrictions and general provisions of the plan; supports an employer that is trying to establish plan value; assists employers in meeting its plan administrator responsibilities.

Whether you have the resources to develop and implement a comprehensive communication strategy in-house or you rely on your benefits plan partners, there are a number of communication concepts that you should consider.

Compensation statements
Compensation statements are typically prepared annually and provide employees with a break-down of their compensation. This could be a relatively simple one-page statement or it could include a letter from the company president or CEO; a review of the employee’s existing coverage levels and designated beneficiaries; a summary of any changes to the plan during the last year and any anticipated changes in the forthcoming year; and a summary of all existing benefits providers and their relative contact information. The objective of this communication is to create employee awareness of the employer’s cost of the benefits plan, as many employees have no idea how much their employer contributes annually to these plans. A compensation statement can inform employees of the value of their employer paid benefits, along with their earnings.

Benefits statement
Some insurers allow for a plan administrator to print employee benefit statements from their administrative website. A benefit statement could be circulated to all employees as a year-end communication piece. The statement could include the employee’s name, benefit coverage, their designated beneficiaries and any optional benefits available. If this statement is not available from your insurer, you may be able to request this information from them. The statement could remind an employee to update their health and dental coverage or update their beneficiary or prompt them to apply for any optional benefits.

Benefits brochures
A one-page summary of the benefits plan can provide employees with an “at-a-glance” view of their plan without having to search through their lengthy booklet or search the insurer’s website. In addition, the brochure can be a single-source document for information on the group insurance plan, the employee and family assistance program, wellness program, pension plan and any other benefits.  While it can provide value to the employees and it can also be a communication tool for promoting the benefits plan to potential new employees. The information in the benefits brochure could be incorporated into a compensation statement and a benefit statement.

In addition to the above examples of specific communications, some employers may want to provide periodic announcements to keep the employees updated on their plan.  What happens if an employee was not aware that their travel coverage does not insure them if they are 12 weeks pregnant and they have a travel claim?  How  will you reaction if an employee finds out by looking at their pay stub that their contributions have increased by 28%? What if an employee finds out, three years after purchasing their new home, that they could have applied for optional life insurance at a cost much lower than the mortgage insurance they selected? As an employer, you don’t want employees finding out about features or changes to their benefits plans after the fact.

Consider reminding employees about these items, as they are often overlooked or forgotten until they are needed.

Emergency health travel reminders: Once a year remind employees of the benefits and restrictions associated with your emergency health travel plan. It might be best to circulate this reminder early in the year as many people head off to sunny destinations in February and March.

Renewal updates: Be sure to inform the employees of the results of the group insurance plan renewal. Even if there are no changes to the rates, it is important to advise employees that there were no changes, doing so can help remind employees of the value of the plan, as well as explain and changes in coverage. If the benefit plan is completely paid by the employer, it is worthwhile letting employees know of any increase or decrease to the employer’s contributions towards the benefit plan and this is also a good opportunity to remind employees of the employer’s contribution to the  plan.

Benefit plan changes: You should communicate any benefit plan changes to the employees as part of your plan administrator’s responsibility. The communication of any plan changes should be circulated to the employees at least two week prior to the effective date.

Voluntary benefits: It is important to remind employees of the voluntary participation benefits that they have access to, whether its optional life, accidental death and dismemberment or critical illness. Employees should be reminded periodically of these benefits as they often forget these benefits exist and their need for additional coverage may not arise until years after they were informed of their existence.

If you want your target audience to read the communication, the format and design may be more important than the content or intended message. Here are some tips to consider when writing any communication:

  • Keep it simple so the reader is not overwhelmed. Word filled pages with no white space can be overwhelming and result in the reader putting it aside to read when they have time—which means it likely won’t get read. If you are having a difficulty keeping the message short, consider delivering the message in multiple communications or providing a brief announcement with the details attached.
  • Avoid lengthy paragraphs and use bullets and lists to make it easy to read.
  • When possible, use illustrations, examples and charts to support your message.
  • Brand the communication. You don’t need to hire a branding company to do this, but consider creating a specific name for your communications so employees always recognize that the announcement is relative to the employee benefits plan. Design a consistent format (i.e. layout, font style, color) for all of your announcements so that the reader knows what to expect. For example, rather than just a typed email, consider an email template with special header and the company logo. It can be as simple as that.
  • Remind employees of all the providers associated with the plan and include their contact information and their websites on every piece of communication. For example, end every announcement listing your insurance carrier(s) and employee and family assistance provider with their respective websites customer service numbers.
  • If it is an important and complicated message, support the written communication with employee sessions, posters and multiple media vehicles.
  • Post all communications on your internal company website so employees can view any past announcements or newsletters.