BenefitsPro: Talk to Me
Today’s employers are faced with creating a package of benefits that supports employee recruitment and retention, meets employee health care needs and preferences and keeps costs under control for employer and employees alike. That’s a tall order, and brokers are stepping in with strategic advice and hands-on support.
New research has shown that employers are starting to design benefits plans that meet employees’ expectations of more personalized options while also controlling costs at both the individual and organizational levels. These changes in plan design result in part from companies turning to brokers for help to understand how they can offer competitive packages to retain employees and improve satisfaction. Employers also hope that with better benefits strategies, employees will choose the best plan for themselves and their families and use their plans correctly to eliminate unnecessary and/or excessive costs. Brokers are qualified to help, thanks to their vast knowledge of different plan options, decades of experience, and extensive networks.
Brokers want to ensure that their employer clients are happy with their benefits strategy and that employers and their employees alike maximize their benefits investment. So, on what exactly do employers need guidance? Benefits communications.
The importance of benefits communications
In a survey of more than 120 brokers, 81 percent of respondents said that their employer clients highly depend on them for help with communications. And smart brokers know that effective communications support encompasses planning, content and delivery—not just materials.
In years past, employers would discuss health care benefits strategies only during open enrollment or during the new-hire onboarding process. However, this strategy proved costly for employers and employees because it lacked year-round support. Today’s employers recognize that their benefits communications strategy needs to be year-round, as opposed to only during open enrollment season. Additionally, employers know that the touchpoints throughout the year should vary based on seasonality and up-to-date trends that they and their brokers are seeing. Providing a daily human touchpoint for employees and their dependents helps in this continual, real-time approach.
Effective communication is key to ensure employees regularly consider their options and enroll in the right plans. Ninety percent of employees roll their previous year’s benefits plans over instead of spending time researching other options. Even for those employees who do navigate other plans, 59 percent indicate that they don’t spend more than one hour researching and choosing their health plan. The lack of research coupled with low health care and benefits literacy rates means that employees and their employers are forced to pay higher costs.
Effective communications can play a critical role in leading employees to examine their coverage and encouraging movement to specific plans, proper use of coverage, and increased contributions to tax-advantaged reimbursement accounts.
Increasingly, health care cost savings will be driven by employees choosing the right plan, using their plan appropriately and shopping for services when they need care. To achieve real cost savings requires a year-round communication effort—and a plan.
What an effective communications plan looks like
To build a strategic communications proposal, brokers should review the proposals that they are prepared to offer to clients to make sure that they account for:
- Goals/objectives – Brokers need to think about what each client is trying to achieve. For example, does the employer want to increase enrollment in a particular plan? Reduce emergency room usage? Increase use of advocacy and transparency services? Knowing what the goals are early on will help brokers give their clients a clear objective for every point in their strategy.
- General and targeted messaging – Benefits are complex, but brokers should work with clients to ensure that the messaging is clear, concise and consistent across all materials. Knowing which topics employees found confusing in years past can help brokers draft messaging and materials that provide extra attention for clarity.
- Audience demographics – Today’s workforce is comprised of five generations, all of which have different needs, experiences and concerns. Knowing the audience demographics provides brokers with insight into employee priorities and preferences. And don’t forget that demographics include far more than age; look at work location (office, shop floor, remote sites, on the road), marital status and health status. All of these factors can be important in choosing communication channels and targeting messages. You’ll communicate differently to a middle-aged salesperson who’s on the road all the time and is battling high cholesterol than you will to a healthy recent college grad working in a tech center.
- Channels – While traditional tools like newsletters, email blasts, posters and home mailings still have their place, don’t overlook newer media such as videos and social media applications (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.) Brokers also shouldn’t overlook the power of one-on-one communications. A study revealed that 84 percent of employees find one-on-one in-person consultations; group in-person consultations with an enrollment representative; one-on-one phone consultations with an enrollment representative and financial advisor effective when making benefits decisions.And some employers are beginning to offer resources such as benefits educators, transparency services and interactive documents. By recommending these services, brokers can arm clients with resources that provide year-round assistance for employees to make smarter, more informed health care choices.
- Metrics – How will you know your communication strategy has been successful? A percentage increase or decrease? Improved survey or other feedback scores? It’s important to quantify results in order to justify any incurred expenses to the C-suite.
A well-designed communication plan ensures that clients’ employee satisfaction and loyalty rates remain high. When benefits communications are effective, research shows that 76 percent of employees report being content with their benefits and 74 percent say they’re more loyal to their employer. In contrast, only 6 percent of employees are satisfied with their benefits plan and only 34 percent say they feel loyal to their employer when the communication strategy is ineffective. These factors impact productivity, employee retention and overall health care savings.
Delivering an effective communications strategy guarantees that employers and their employees get the most for their money. Presently, 55 percent of employees estimate that they waste up to $750 per year due to mistakes they make when it comes to their benefits. With a successful communications strategy, brokers can help employers keep costs low at an organizational and individual level.
As the health care industry continues to grow in complexity, brokers must adapt to the landscape. Having a solid communications strategy in place provides a framework for ongoing education that will enhance employee appreciation of their benefits and, ideally, lead to reduced costs across the board.
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(Gil Murdock, SVP National Accounts, DirectPath)