Why emotions (not facts) matter most when it comes to benefit communications

For years, benefit communications has focused on facts: The cost of your plan. How voluntary products mesh with medical coverage. The likelihood you would experience a covered condition. These numbers, facts and details helped employees make informed decisions when it came to their voluntary benefits. I’ve seen it first-hand for the last 30-plus years.

Except, that’s not the case anymore.

We recently completed research at Trustmark that told us employees prefer the exact opposite of what many of us have been focused on in the past. Employees respond and act based more on emotional cues than factual ones.

Surprised? You probably shouldn’t be.

Our research found that 40% of employees said the primary reason they enrolled in benefits was, “It’s important to have peace-of-mind.” Another 25% said, “It’s the responsible thing to do.” Employees are making benefit choices with their hearts — not their minds. And, it’s time for HR and benefits managers to start reshaping communications to align with this shift in thinking and behavior.

EBN042716-BenefitsComms.png

A deeper look into our research finds that only 13% of employees cite the details of their insurance plan as their primary reason for enrollment. And just 18% of those polled said that liking the details of the plan was even a factor in their decision.

See also: One sure-fire way to engage employees in voluntary benefits

What these findings clearly tell us is that employees are making benefit purchasing decisions based on emotions. Yes, details still matter when it comes to communicating with employees about benefits, but they just aren’t the key reasons they’re enrolling.

In fact, rationalizing with employees isn’t as effective as it used to be. The numbers back it up.

Just 7% of employees said the “medical gap” was the reason they enrolled in voluntary benefits. This has been a message the insurance industry has focused on for years. But now, it appears, that message is not resonating with employees. Sure, it may be due to a lack of knowledge among employees, but I believe it underscores the notion of playing to emotions vs. facts in your benefits communications.

Employees are making benefit purchase decisions the same way they make other purchase decisions —with emotion. Consider the way people react to leading consumer brands.

“I need the newest iPhone to keep up with friends and family.” “My family always had Jif when I was growing up, so that’s the only peanut butter I get.” “I get my coffee each morning at Starbucks; I see the same barista and people in line; it’s part of my routine.”

Emotions trump facts. Time and time again.

Knowing this, how do you shift your mindset and start communicating with employees differently based on this information? First, resist the strong urge to rely on facts, figures and details. Sure, you need some measure of those in all communications — just don’t lead with them. Instead, consider driving home a sense of responsibility and play to that “peace of mind” 40% of employees mentioned in our survey.

Start by making it personal: Provide an illustrative example to make your point. Consider different experiences and observations you can draw upon.

For example, what if you started an email to employees with a story about a member of your team that recently experienced shortness of breath during exercise? After undergoing multiple tests, this team member, a relatively young man, discovered he needed immediate triple bypass surgery to treat an 80% blockage to his “widowmaker” artery. As he went through the treatment and recovery, this team member got a real-life introduction to the financial challenges that arise from a serious medical condition. Leading with a personal story similar to this one is a good way to remind employees that something like this could happen to anyone and it’s important that we are all adequately protected. And that team member I mentioned? He happens to be part of my team.

Ultimately, successful benefit communications is the difference between playing on the feeling of concern employees have for themselves, their finances and their families versus talking about the rational calculation of the benefit features or how the benefits mesh with the employees’ existing medical coverage.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.