How to understand and effectively communicate employee benefit plans
A lot of factors can impact how employers develop employee benefit plans, which include company values, cost-effectiveness and changing needs of both the employer and the employee.
Andrea Rios, benefits sales executive with Lovitt & Touché, A Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC Company, aligns clients’ benefits strategies with their business goals and corporate culture, helping them accomplish their vision through managing short and long-term solutions.
She said Lovitt & Touché spends a lot of time working with employers to help them develop benefit plans and an effective communication strategy for those benefits. “That’s one of the most gratifying parts of working with businesses because we influence behavior directly by doing that…we try to find out from the company or employer how they’re communicating to their employees today, if it’s effective, and if we can build on it to better educate and communicate most effectively to employees. Having a multi-pronged approach is the most effective, but it starts with finding out how a company is communicating and how to be most effective for their population.”
A competitive benefits package is part of what attracts prospective employees to a company. Rios said usually salary is the first part of the compensation benefits package employees are concerned with, but when choosing the employer who is the right fit, it’s also important to consider the healthcare and other benefits for working for that company and can be the deciding factor between choosing one position over another.
Technology is also part of that equation, Rios said companies leverage the latest and greatest technology and office amenities like a break room with games, an assortment of snacks and drinks, and other comfortable seating options can help a company stand out from the competition.
“If you’re comparing company A to company B and they seemingly have the same salary, company culture or even the same commute time to work,” Rios said, those additional benefits can be the deciding factor with which job to choose. “In today’s environment, there’s been an evolution of benefit offerings such as pet insurance, tuition reimbursement and student loan assistance,” Rios said.
Often one of the first times employers will introduce benefits are in a new hire orientation or in a conversation with whoever is in charge of benefits. Rios said that while this may be the first time an employee is aware of what benefits are available to them, it’s also important for employers to keep the conversation open to employees throughout the year as well to reach them consistently during their time at the company, so they have additional opportunities to learn at different times about the benefits.
If an employer wants to adjust their benefits offering, getting current employees’ feedback can be helpful to address any concerns, in addition to being attentive to what is important to them such as 401(k) matching. Flexibility is also important to provide employees with in regards to healthcare options, and to make sure the benefits plan is easy to understand.
According to a 2018 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employee Benefits report, 34 percent of organizations increased benefit offerings in the last 12 months. Organizations that did were most likely to increase health-related (51 percent), wellness (44 percent), employee programs and services (39 percent) benefits, 32 percent increased professional and career development benefits and one quarter increased leave, family-friendly and flexible working benefits (all 28 percent). The top reasons cited for increasing benefits were to retain employees (72%), to attract new talent (58%) and to respond to employee feedback (54%).
Some methods to communicate the value of benefits include providing employees with a benefits statement, showing employees how their benefits compare with competitors and sharing progress of expanding employee benefits over time with employees.
When designing a communications strategy, the SHRM report mentions including a project plan with a timeline and frequency for communications, and tieing their benefits messaging to the values and culture of the organization can be helpful. If an organization places high value on social responsibility, they may highlight paid time off for volunteer work.
The SRHM report also found 92 percent of employees indicated benefits are important to their overall job satisfaction and showed a relationship between benefits and retention: 29 percent of employees cited their overall benefits package as a top reason to look for a position outside of their current company in the next 12 months, 32 percent who were unlikely to look for an external position also cited their overall benefits package as a top reason.
“Often times benefits are a reflection of the company’s culture,” Rios said. “And that’s really at the heart of all of it and once we understand what a company’s goals are around that and how they are taking advantage of their employee benefits package to ultimately better reflect their company’s culture, then we can make a true impact.” Rios said culture also plays a part in a company’s messaging–through a job description, interview process and new hire/onboarding processes which include explanation of benefits and office expectations.
“With this competitive talent market that we’re in today, benefits are becoming more of a conversation and they’re becoming more and more important in the recruitment and retaining conversation too.”