6 steps to a great benefits communications plan

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Organizations that successfully execute change management and communications programs are three-and-a-half times more likely to outperform their peers. Why is that?

Effective workplace and benefit communications drive employee understanding, build trust and increase action and engagement, which positively impact tenure, productivity and interaction. They also serve to minimize the workplace rumor mill and drive employee understanding of what an employer expects, whether it be adherence to a new paid-time-off policy or ethics and compliance training.

To ensure your benefit communications are engaging employees and hitting the mark, consider these six steps.

Have a plan. Sounds simple, right? Your communications plan doesn’t have to be fancy or formal, but it should include goals and objectives, target audiences, key messages, messaging platforms, tactics and deliverables. Once you develop your plan, socialize it with leadership and constituents to build buy-in, and emphasize the need to measure success, using key metrics that affect the bottom line like employee satisfaction and retention rates. Most important: Secure a firm commitment to fund the plan. Ask senior management for a solid budget that provides access to not only money, but other resources, such as specialized in-house corporate communications or external experts like graphic designers who can help develop and deliver impactful assets.

Use a variety of communication vehicles. With the average person owning more than three connected devices, we certainly work and live in an always-on, highly distracted world. That’s just one of the reasons your employee benefit communications have to be easy to consume, understand and act on. One way to do this is to consider how people digest information. Studies show that people remember 70% of what they see and do, 20% of what they read and just 10% of what they hear.

That’s why communications deliverables that are highly visual are 30 times more likely to be read over a text article. With that in mind, you can break through the noise by mixing it up and using short videos, infographics, gamification, texting, apps and “explanation” videos (animated videos showing how things work).

Develop a multi-touch, multi-pronged “drip” campaign. It takes an average of seven times for a message to be understood and acted on. However, that doesn’t mean you should send out seven e-mails to your target audience. Instead, focus on touching employees with a variety of assets. Consider mixing more modern communications like texting with more traditional vehicles, like meetings, FAQ conference calls, webinars, direct mail and posters.

Also, consider creating an HR, benefits and payroll “editorial calendar” to plan your communications touchpoints with employees throughout the year. For example, in Q1, the campaign may be a heads-up around Form 1095-C; in Q2, wellness program and total rewards; Q3 performance reviews and goal-setting, and Q4 open enrollment.

Remember: Employees really don’t care about the latest changes to your company’s paid-leave policies until they actually need to use them. Employees really don’t care about how the watch was built, they just want to know what time it is. Communications around policy changes should be brief and direct people to where they can go for more information when they need it.

Keep it simple. Minimize the amount of words in deliverables. Keep them clear and concise and use a catchy headline. Eliminate jargon and HR-speak and use layman’s terms. From an employee’s point of view, HR communications can look like alphabet soup, leaving them to question what the FMLA or an HSA is. Keep it short and sweet by bulleting compelling key points and using visuals like icons, call-out boxes, and infographics. Very few people want to take the time to read a lengthy e-mail or employee handbook. They want you to get to the point right away, and tell them what they need to know in digestible bite-size nuggets.

Think about what you are trying to deliver and create a short abstract that serves as a guide for content in all communications assets. Messages should explain:

· Why employees should care — “You can now view your paycheck on your phone.”
· How it impacts them — “Getting ready for tax season? Pay statements are now at your fingertips.”
· A call to action — “Visit the app store today to quickly and easily download the app to your mobile device.”

Know your audience. Understand to whom you are communicating. Is it front-line employees, managers, corporate executives, or new hires? Then, identify what they care about and how they like to receive information. Sometimes news about corporate change is delivered better by a “change champion.” These are volunteers who give messages “street cred” because they are working on the front lines with employees. Co-workers may be more willing to listen to and take recommendations from colleagues since they are often going through the same experience.

Also, consider your multi-generational staff and work to gain in-depth knowledge on their communications preferences via informal meetings, focus groups or employee engagement surveys. Use multiple deliverables that span the spectrum of preferences — think print for traditionalists; face-to-face presentations for baby boomers; mobile apps for Gen Xers and millennials, but don’t assume how they like to receive information. Mix it up. I work with millennials who would gladly prefer an in-person meeting to a text.

· You want to avoid being disjointed and ensure you’re tying your messages to the corporate brand, as well as providing context and demonstrating the bigger picture. Other don’ts include:
· Don’t surprise or lie to employees. Inform them first and don’t sugarcoat bad news.
· Avoid one-way communications. You want to solicit feedback, and provide forums for questions.
· Never make managers “go it alone.” Arm them with FAQs, toolkits of key messages, as well as phone numbers or e-mails where they can direct employees with concerns.

While there’s no magic bullet to ensure your employee benefit communications are successful, there are certainly a numbers of ways to help increase the odds that they will hit home. Communications are a lot more likely to resonate if you make them human, relevant, creative and relatable. If you’re not sure whether they’re effective, measure your communication impact through surveys, manager feedback, anecdotal feedback or roundtables. That way you can refine your content and tactics, as needed, and reinforce your messages year-round.

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