Your employees are well-skilled in the areas that help them do well on the job. But, unless they work in HR or the benefits department, they aren’t benefits experts.

Benefits are there to support the needs of employees and their families. So, why don’t employees understand and value them more? Because they don’t understand them!

If you’ve attended or facilitated a benefits meeting with employees, you’ve experienced this first-hand. And, it’s a good reminder that we in the benefits community need to keep our audiences in mind when preparing communications for them.

Back to basics

Benefits are becoming increasingly complex and we’ve brought that complexity into the materials we use to explain them. It’s time to get back to a simpler time and approach. Basic language, shorter sentences, less jargon. And, while attorneys are important and provide a valuable expertise, legal language has no place in benefits communications.

For example, how many times have you seen this sentence or something close to it?

“In order for the company to provide a comprehensive benefit program to all employees while controlling benefit costs, starting in January employees will be required to provide eligibility documentation for all covered dependents.”

Chances are, the reader stopped paying attention after the tenth word. A better way to get this point across with one-third fewer words might be:

“We can only cover eligible dependents in our plans. Starting in January, you’ll need to provide proof of your dependents’ eligibility.”

A rose by any other name

Another common mishap is the naming of benefit plans. If you want your employees to remember the name of the medical options, keep the names short and meaningful.

It’s also a good idea to reflect the information on the participant’s medical ID card. Sure, it’s nice to call your plan the Gold Medical Option. But, when your employee is asked by his doctor’s office what insurance he has, the Gold Medical Option doesn’t tell the provider where to submit the employee’s claim. A better name might be InsureCo In-Network Option.

Write to your mother

If you want to test your benefits communications to make sure they are understandable by the average employee, show it to your mother, or your teenager, or someone else outside the benefits department.  Better still, create your benefits communications with your mother in mind. And, don’t forget that English may not be the primary language for some employees. So keep the concepts simple, the sentences short, and the meaning clear.

And most importantly be sure to present your messages so they answer the most basic need of all…answering the question: “What does this mean to me – a non-benefits expert?”

Box-Farnen is a communications consultant in Aon Hewitt’s Baltimore office. She can be reached at

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