© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the May 2006 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
Spelling it out
It’s time for employers to rethink their benefits and pension communications programs. Employees don’t want clutter—they need guidance.
By Diane McElroy

The days of traditional print and basic online pension and benefits communication are over. Now employees expect more. And employers have to give more.

Employees no longer have the patience to sift through reams of print material. Often, they feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they get. Instead, they want personal communication that is
specific to them—not static information that is addressed to all. They want it to be relevant, meaningful
and as brief as possible.

Employers are spending significant dollars on total rewards programs. They need to get the maximum return on their investment by ensuring that employees understand and appreciate the personal value of rewards. To do this, employers need to get the message out quickly, simply and effectively.

More is not better. Many employers are loading up their intranets, distributing large provider packages, handing out forms and other information. There is no guidance, no direction and no way a typical employee can make sense of the vast information overload.

This is especially true with total rewards communication. This type of communication tends to be complex by its very nature because there are strange terms and even stranger conditions that often don’t make sense to the average employee. Employers need to get out of the traditional “rut” of providing plan descriptions and details and to define this terminology.

They need to focus on the messaging associated with specific defined communication objectives, such as organizing their intranet information delivery, changing the focus of communications from information gathering to decision- making and encouraging employees to become active plan participants.

Michelin North America (Canada)Inc.

Head Office: Bridgewater, Nova Scotia
Number of Employees: 3,800

Communication Challenge: The launch of a new flexible benefits program in English/French to 3,800 employees across Canada in the fall of 2005.

The details: Michelin redesigned its traditional benefits program and introduced a flexible benefits, or Choice Plan. This was quite a change for employees as their current program offered little choice. Employees had the option to stay in the current plan or switch over to the new choice plan. Michelin wanted to engage employees in the decision-making process, encouraging them to move through the process of selecting a plan. Therefore, it chose a communication approach that was personalized and that focused on decision-making, not facts.

Solution: Michelin produced a personalized communication campaign which focused on the decisions the employee needed to make, the considerations that needed to be addressed in making those decisions and guidance in how to make them. The employee was given a step-by-step guide that made the process of decision-making easy.

With the Choice Plan, 100% of the employees actively participated in decisionmaking, with 94% choosing to move over to the new plan, even though they had the choice to stay with the current plan.

Janet Kennedy, director, human resources, Michelin North America(Canada)Inc. in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, says “one of our main objectives was to actively engage employees in the decision-making process. Our approach included a decision guide and personalized targeted communication so that the employee could understand their personal position. That way, they could weigh the features of each choice and make an informed decision.”

Poorly organized human resources intranets now take the lead as the “most frustrating” method of communication according to the 2004 Aon Canada HR Intranet Survey. Some intranets have become dumping grounds for information with no intuitive navigation, no way to keep the information fresh and no way to measure the perceived value by employees. Posting PDF files and word documents does not meet the needs of employees. They want to find specific, meaningful information quickly.

The 2004 Aon Canada HR Intranet Survey indicated that personalized communication is the most valued type of total rewards communication. And yet, few employers in Canada provide personalized communication on the Web.

Only 7% of the 337 employers surveyed offer personalized communication on their intranets. The survey also showed that those Canadian employers who do provide total compensation statements and other personalized information continue to do so in print.

But cleaning up an intranet site to include relevant and targeted information isn’t difficult. There are six golden rules to ensure your HR intranet’s success:

  1. It must be easy to navigate;
  2. The content of the site must be written and designed to maximize the advantages of computer learning and browsing;
  3. It must provide links to other relevant sites or information;
  4. It must provide value to the user;
  5. It must be “fresh”, with new material added on a regular basis;
  6. It must be continually evaluated and improved based on user input gained through online pulse surveys, engagement surveys or other employee listening activities.

There has been a dramatic change in the benefits communication landscape. Gone are the days of detail and confusion. Employees want knowledge but they want it “now” and they want it to be meaningful to them.

Aon Canada Inc.

Head office: Toronto, Ontario
Number of employees: 2,800 employees

Communication Challenge: To engage employees in proactively reviewing their contribution levels and defined contribution(DC)investment choices.

Details: Aon was concerned about the fact that a large percentage of its DC pension plan members had investments sitting in default funds. The consulting firm wanted to encourage employees to become proactively involved in making decisions that had the potential to significantly impact the amount of retirement savings they would have at retirement.

Solution: Aon produced a short On Track Personalized Retirement Savings Statement that showed: the targeted income needed at retirement, the projected income from the Aon plans, estimated government benefits, and the estimated savings gap(if any). If there was a gap, the statement led the employee through strategies to fill the gap such as increased contributions to the pension plan, changes in investment options and increases in personal savings.

“I could not believe that such a simple statement generated such a big result with our employees,” says James Millard, vice-president, human resources with Aon Canada, in Toronto. “Over 50% of our members changed their investment options or increased their contributions the first year the statement came out. As well, several hundred employees were on track in year two as compared to year one indicating that employees changed their savings strategies. We targeted the communication to meet a specific objective and we met it in spades.”

One way to overhaul your total rewards communication is to refocus communication from explaining eligible expenses, formulas and plan rules to helping employees make decisions or take actions. Michelin North America did just that when it launched a new flexible benefits program in 2005.

Traditional communication programs focus on explaining the details of the plan, the options available and the rules about participating in the program. There is often a booklet, an enrolment guide, employee meetings and an enrollment form or online enrollment tool. But the employee is left to weed through a lot of material on their own and often they don’t become involved in the decision-making process.

The reason Michelin was successful with its decision-making-focused communication, is that the campaign was very strategic in its goal: to help employees make choices. The communication was personalized and distributed in phases so that employees were not overwhelmed with the volume of information.

What these case studies show, and what employers need to consider, is what decisions employees need to make and the actions they need to take. Structure the communication to take them through the decision-making process and personalize it. Make sure that the information is streamlined and relevant. Let the decision or action be your focus, not a lot of facts that do not help the employees make their decisions.

Diane McElroy is senior vice-president, Aon Consulting Canada. diane.mcelroy@aon.ca