In the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

When it comes to employer-provided benefits and pension plans, this phrase rings as true as it does in any other part of life. I believe that communication is the single most important and foundational part of our industry, and is vital to the plan sponsor-plan member relationship.

Employers can offer their staff a variety of total rewards, but they have to talk about these offerings to make them tangible. It isn’t good enough to just introduce a new benefit and leave it at that. It must be rolled out with great fanfare and ongoing communication.

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Many leading plan sponsors know this to be true. This year’s Workplace Benefits Awards, which will be held in Toronto on Oct. 17, received a record number of entries in both the benefits plan and pension plan communications categories. Since this issue will be published before we announce the 2019 finalists, I’ll leave it at that. But I was thrilled to see the level of innovation and sophistication that leading employers are bringing to their communications strategies.

Of course, I appreciate the resources involved in these communications strategies, but I also feel that, today, it’s easier than ever for employers to ensure they’re leaving a lasting impact.

The increasing use of data and technology means there’s a wealth of information at plan sponsors’ fingertips, including evidence of what employees want and how they want to receive it. And with so many communications options available, there’s really no excuse for poor uptake or lack of understanding in a particular benefit.

Read: 2019 CAP Member Survey: Helping each generation on their retirement journey 

This summer, during a Benefits Canada webinar that delved deeper into our annual CAP Member Survey, we discussed the different types of media — paper, online, social media and apps — used by capital accumulation plan members to review their retirement savings accounts. Separating respondents into different generations, it found about half (48 per cent) of all participants reported using a website, but millennials were more likely to do so compared to baby boomers. And the same was true for mobile apps.

This isn’t earth-shattering — everyone knows younger generations are more comfortable and more interested in receiving communications through the technologies they’ve grown up with. But my point is, if an employer knows the age makeup of their workforce, then it’s just one more step to customize communications to the way they want to learn.

The same is true in group benefits plans. Each year, the annual Sanofi Canada health-care survey looks into how plan sponsors communicate with their members. The 2019 survey, which was published in June, found 74 per cent of employers would be interested in having their benefits provider send targeted health information to their plan members, while 65 per cent of employees said they’d consent to receive this information.

Read: Sanofi survey finds plan sponsors, members misunderstand private drug plans

If the record keeper has all this information — and as long as plan members agree — it seems to me that a communications strategy that personalizes, customizes and targets the message is just about the simplest way to ensure employees hear the message that’s right for them.

After all, plan sponsors are paying a lot to make sure their employees are mentally, physically and financially well. But if communication is passive or presumptive or — even worse — non-existent, employers might as well shut down their benefits and pension plans.

If an employer puts a focus on the recipient and the medium of the message, employees will feel the effect of that investment, participate in the benefits offering and, hopefully, be an engaged and productive member of the workforce.

Jennifer Paterson is editor of Benefits Canada.