In all the talk about employee engagement around pensions and benefits (or lack thereof), one important fact seems to have fallen off our industry’s collective radar: pensions and benefits are boring—and even downright depressing.

Who voluntarily spends their time reading up on death or disability benefits? And who wants to think about all the global events that could wipe out their retirement savings, or try to wrap their head around the hundreds of tools and strategies available to hedge against these risks?

Once you accept the fact that your employees are likely to shut down at the mere mention of pensions or benefits, you’ll begin to see the real value of looking for other starting points for your plan communications. Effectively engaging with your employees often means coming at your key messages sideways.

The Norwegians get this. Check out the DNB Nor Bank ads on pensions and savings (available on YouTube) and you’ll see what I mean. Admittedly, few plan sponsors have the budget for DNB Nor Bank-style commercials—or the guts to get a little edgy. But you don’t have to hire George Clooney to take advantage of our human propensity to choose entertainment over information.

Channeling your inner Rodney Dangerfield can help you connect with plan members. We all know that seasoned speakers often begin with a joke or funny anecdote. For starters, this gets attention and warms up the crowd. But, more importantly, sharing a laugh with your audience shows you’re human and helps you connect in an empathetic way. If humour isn’t already part of your corporate culture, the need to engage employees around pension and benefits could be just the opportunity you’ve been looking for to embrace it.

That said, there are always risks in using humour. Even the best delivered joke can fall flat or get lost in translation. If funny business doesn’t connect with your workforce, remember that a picture really is worth 1,000 words. A strong visual, humorous or otherwise, is often the fastest way to grab your members’ attention.

Even those employees who have trouble understanding written or spoken English are likely to understand visual cues. Infographics, which illustrate important facts and figures with colourful imagery, are quickly gaining traction among professional communicators. But don’t jump on the infographic bandwagon without a clear sense of purpose and relevance. Trying to convey too many concepts at once is counterproductive.

Of course, once you have your employees’ attention, keeping it—at least long enough to get your key messages across—is another challenge. It’s also one of the reasons why gaming scores such high points with plan members and plan sponsors—and why we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

Whether it’s an online pension calculator, like the one used by the Ontario Ironworkers Pension Plan that mimics a Game Boy, or The Cranial Cash Clash from that “pits your financial knowledge against the world,” gaming delivers immediate rewards, and gets your employees coming back for more.

Humour, graphics and gaming all tap into people’s need to be entertained, even as they’re taking in important information. But if these tactics are too big a stretch for your organization, start with the basics—choice of tone, language and imagery can be inviting or discouraging, authoritative or friendly. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes, and don’t be afraid to lighten up!

Susan Deller is a principal with Eckler Ltd. and specializes in benefits communications consulting.

These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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