While employees want good benefits, finding ways to effectively convey information about the plan can be a challenge, particularly when today’s workforce is far from homogeneous.
Employees are different ages and at disparate stages of life. They may be from various ethnic backgrounds and speak different languages.
Another distinction is union versus non-union settings where there can sometimes be different levels of coverage, says Sarah Murphy, director of strategic market solutions at Green Shield Canada. “The other one we’ve seen is wired and non-wired, so those who are in office settings versus those out in the field.”
So how can an employer provide information about the benefits plan to a diverse workforce? “The best way to tackle this is through a robust communications plan using a number of different communications vehicles,” says Murphy.
Hitting the target
Targeted communications are key, according to Alyssa Hodder, senior communications consultant at Eckler Ltd. “You want to avoid general communications that are supposed to reach everyone but actually end up resonating with no one.”
Using targeted communications requires tailored language to engage different age groups. For example, talking to millennials about what happens if they get cancer won’t resonate as much as talking to them about how they can stay healthy, says Hodder.
The largest employee age group at Niagara Casinos is above age 50, with about 40 per cent of its 4,000 employees in that category. “We have to factor in the different needs of different demographics and the different challenges they might be facing, given just life events,” says Colleen Falco, director of human resources services at Niagara Casinos.
Language also plays a role if the workforce is ethnically diverse. At Niagara Casinos, employees speak more than 40 languages and come from more than 90 countries. With a high percentage of Asian employees who don’t speak English, the organization uses an internal translation program to help with benefits communication.
When it comes to translation, Hodder offers a word of caution. “Make sure to use a reputable translation service, ideally one that’s experienced with benefits terminology,” she says, emphasizing the importance of building extra time into the timelines because translation adds to the complexity.
For Joann Hall Swenson, a partner at Aon Hewitt, the bigger issue in reaching employees from various backgrounds is thinking about how different groups make decisions. “I worked with an organization that had a large Hispanic population. These employees wanted an intermediary between the health plan and them and their families. When we had employee meetings, talking with them as a family, inviting their families to come along, [was important] because, culturally, they’re much more inclusive of their families,” she says.
An issue for the Toronto Police Service is diversity of location, since plan members are either in the office, out on the street or, if they’re inactive or retired, at home. Kim Ross, senior compensation and benefits analyst, notes that to inform members of a change to its benefits provider as of Jan. 1 of this year, the force used a number of communications channels: email, direct mailing, intranet and posters.
The employee association also had a role. “We found that members will read something from the association before they read it coming from the organization,” says Ross, who had a benefits article published in the employee magazine.
But the biggest challenge, according to Ross, was giving members the right amount of information. “We didn’t want to inundate them with long communications, recognizing that people aren’t going to read. We tried to keep it targeted and provide them with where to go for more information. Some people said we gave too much information; some people said we didn’t give them enough. It was trying to find that balance.”
Brooke Smith is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.
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