Companies make a significant investment into employee benefits. While employers may hope to achieve different outcomes from offering benefits, the truth is, benefit packages contribute to big business goals.
From attracting and retaining talent, to motivating and engaging employees and increasing workforce productivity, getting a strong return on investment should be a top priority for companies.
As HR professionals, we need employee benefits to do the job they were designed to do. But benefits packages are irrelevant if they aren’t taken advantage of. Recent research by Unum and YouGov shows that employee unawareness of benefits available to them in the workplace ranges from 17 to 37 per cent. On top of unawareness, around a fifth of employees say they’re dissatisfied with their benefits.
As part of an in-depth roundtable discussion with employee benefits and internal communications professionals, we explored the different practical ideas and tactics that have improved take-up rates within our own companies.
In partnership with YouGov, we also surveyed around 1,000 employees to learn about their benefits experiences. Through our collaboration and research, we identified five proven ways employers can get better use out of their benefits packages.
1. Go back to basics
Take a step back to understand what you want your benefits package to achieve. While employers may prioritise goals differently, reacquainting with your company’s primary objectives will give you an indicator of success.
To get a baseline for measuring return on investment, know the cost of various benefits and the likely take-up levels of each. Measuring awareness of available benefits through surveys, feedback or open hours will provide insight into the effectiveness of your current benefit communications – and any gaps that may be present.
2. Know your audience
In business, we spend a lot of time focusing on knowing our customer. But, it’s also imperative that we know our employees to understand what retains and motivates them. Fifty per cent of employees in our survey said their benefits package is not always tailored to their needs. Open the dialogue to discover their needs.
We also found that employees prefer a range of different methods to receive communications for benefits – and one size does not fit all in this scenario. By segmenting your audience by demographics and tendencies and tailoring communication delivery appropriately, you can better reach your intended audience.
3. Think external, act internal
In corresponding with internal audiences, communications should be clear, honest, authentic and consistent – just as you would want your company brand to be portrayed externally. Incorporate these same practices into your benefits communication for maximum impact.
4. Don’t just communicate. Engage.
Build trust through an open dialogue, and solicit feedback regularly. To employees, benefits are their return on investment for working. Knowing benefits are motivators, leverage communication and awareness to engage employees.
Ensure the messaging is consistent across all channels. Channels include different vehicles of communication, including line managers and group heads. Inconsistency can breed distrust, so extra training for leadership and line managers on benefits is likely to reinforce messaging to employees.
5. Walk the walk.
Behavioural economics tells us that people tend to look to others when they don’t know what to do themselves. Normalising the discussion and take-up of benefits will provide a nudge to those overwhelmed or confused about how to handle them. Education and regular communication, as well as easily accessible resources, will make benefits an integral part of company culture, and take-up can turn into a social norm.
Why it’s important to get benefits communication right
In 2014, Unum’s research with the Cass Business School found that UK companies failing to tell staff effectively what benefits they offer is costing them £2.7 billion every year, through sickness absence and increased staff turnover. For a typical company with 1,000 employees, this equates to £470,000 annually.
It’s critical to ensure benefits communication is effective, engaging and motivating to ensure your offerings are doing what they’re designed to do. For more practical ideas and advice, download the full Workplace Communications Blueprint.
The statistics and research referenced are the result of findings from Unum’s Workplace Communications Benefits – the culmination of a YouGov study of 1,000 employees on their experiences of benefits and an in-depth round table discussion with employee benefits and internal communications professionals. It was hosted by Unum, and attended by senior executives from organisations including Cass Business School, the Institute of Directors, Thomsons Online Benefits, The Rainbow Trust, Aon Employee Benefits, CITI, Tarmac and Civil Aviation Authority.
Liz Walker is the HR Director of Unum, a leading employee benefits provider offering Income Protection, Life insurance and Critical Illness, and corporate dental cover through the workplace, which help protect millions of working people and their families in the event of an illness or injury.