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Benefits communication plays a vital role in employee experience

Health and Benefits|Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Kim Maitlin and Eric McMurray | April 26, 2021

Benefits communication improves the employee experience, builds trust, inspires thoughtful decisions and drives positive behavior change.

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About the series

Transform 2021: Solving for new health and benefits imperatives

This series covers opportunities for employers to transform key elements of their health and benefits program to generate greater value to the company as well as improve the employee experience.

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges into its second year, we know that employees place significant value on their health and wellbeing benefits.

Over the past year, benefits communication played a critical role in improving the employee experience (EX) during challenging and stressful times. So, what did organizations do differently, and how can employers maintain the momentum to further transform their benefits communication EX in 2021?

Benefits communication and EX

We define the employee experience as the sum of all the touchpoints and moments that matter between employees and their employer.

The role of EX in benefits communication

Organizations provide benefits to protect employees for times when they face life’s expected and unexpected moments — struggling with anxiety or depression, wrestling with caregiving issues for children or elder family members, facing a cancer diagnosis, and more. In the context of the past year, benefits and wellbeing support helped employees take care of the most important things in their lives — family, relationships and personal wellbeing, to name a few.

Benefits communication is about supporting your people when they are making important decisions about their lives, families and futures. It’s a moment to build trust with your employees, inspire thoughtful decisions and drive meaningful change today and tomorrow. The ultimate impact is an engaged and productive workforce. According to our research on identifying the factors that make high-performance employee experience (HPEX), companies with more effective EX outperform their peers for top-line growth, bottom-line profitability and return to shareholders.

Circle with quadrants. 1. employee insights and listening (what do employees care about?) 2. strategy and program design (how do I design high-value, high-impact solutions?) 3. communication and change strategy (how do I spark the right behavior change?) 4. Digital enablement and engagement
Figure 1. Employers can enhance the employee experience by asking three simple questions 

The story of 2020: Elevating benefits communication

In 2020, employers quickly reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic with enhanced benefits communication — highlighting tools, resources and programs available to help employees with emerging needs, from virtual care to mental health and caregiver support and beyond.

Employers took the time to listen to employees, then they responded to employees’ areas of concern. What employees value has shifted as a result of the pandemic and prompted people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives. Gathering insights from employees is the best way to design and communicate programs that respond to these shifts.

Employers rethought how they engage with employees and their families — accelerating their digital strategies and making the "need to know" information accessible and clear. They utilized digital resources such as public microsites easily accessible outside the company’s firewall, text messaging, videos and interactive learning modules, as well as open enrollment virtual benefits fairs featuring live chat with vendors and the company’s HR or benefits team.

So what’s next? How can employers evolve, enhance and continue to transform their benefits communication EX in 2021?

What’s next: Maintaining the momentum in 2021

Communication of benefits and wellbeing programs will continue to be one of employers’ most important priorities over the next six months, according to the Willis Towers Watson Employer Survey: Emerging from the Pandemic, United States. As the reality of 2021 has set in, there is optimism about vaccines and an eventual return to a more normal way of life by the fall, but employers face continued challenges in reaching and engaging their increasingly tired workforce:

  • Almost three in four employers feel the pandemic will have a negative impact on employee morale over the next six months.
  • Rising stress or burnout and higher mental health related claims are the biggest pandemic-driven wellbeing challenges.

Now is the time for employers to focus on listening, education, support and engagement to help ensure employees feel the full impact of the investments made in their benefits and wellbeing programs.

Table 1. Employers are adapting and building on the strategies they put in place in 2020
What we saw in 2020 How to maintain the momentum in 2021
A new focus on listening and gathering insights from the workforce through pulse surveys, virtual focus groups, outreach to employee resource groups and more. Employers should develop intentional, ongoing employee listening strategies with regular check points that help them take the pulse and understand evolving workforce sentiments and needs. How does this look? Depending on the organization and culture, a listening strategy likely includes several short pulse surveys throughout the year combined with live listening sessions such as virtual focus groups.
Intentional messaging focused on areas of employee concern. Ongoing communication that is simple, short and easy to understand — no HR jargon. Employers can take their ongoing messaging to the next level by building a year-round communication calendar focused on employee wellbeing. Month-by-month and quarter-by-quarter content might be organized around important events or employee journeys. The content should include storytelling — highlighting real employees when possible — and should play out across a variety of media to capture attention. A communication editorial calendar should consider how to support different audiences, such as managers of people, with talking points, toolkits and training as well. Managers remain on the front lines with their employees, and they should understand the programs available to support employee needs. As mental health and emotional wellbeing concerns affect many employees today, managers should receive training on how to build their personal resilience, as well as how to listen and support their team.
New ways to reach people where they are — individually, physically and emotionally — through microsites, text messaging, videos, interactive learning modules, virtual benefits fairs, personalized communication platforms, and more. Employers must evolve their digital strategy and continue to use these tools in new ways. For example, broad email newsletters can become segmented emails based on various employee groups/eligibility. Videos might evolve into podcasts. A public microsite could change to provide targeted or even personalized content. An open enrollment virtual benefits fair might become a virtual wellbeing fair.

A critical moment, done right

The lack of awareness employees have about the benefits programs their employers offer became increasingly visible over the past year. Employers must focus on knitting these programs together in a way that makes them engaging and accessible when people really need them.

Delivering a modern, digital, employee-focused experience requires thoughtful planning.

As employers organize their content and move toward targeted and personalized digital communication, the company intranet and a list of links will only go so far. Delivering a modern, digital, employee-focused experience requires thoughtful planning to effectively raise awareness, increase program utilization and engagement.

Employers have taken the time to research and carefully choose each vendor in their partner ecosystems, but are employees leveraging their benefits to the fullest potential? If there’s even a question, consider bringing everything together and creating a cohesive, user-friendly and navigable technology-enabled employee experience across those partners. It’s a new one-stop-shop.

A flexible content delivery platform can provide a cross-vendor, individualized digital experience — serving up relevant content based on an employee’s data and eligibility. The right tool brings together rich personalization, data-driven recommendations and dynamic publication controls, putting employers in control of the EX while fully maximizing vendor partners’ services and programs.

Wrapping up

At its best, a great employee experience enables you to showcase the comprehensive array of resources that you have invested in on behalf of employees — and, even better, employees get what they need, when they need it (because they know how to find it and use it).

No matter how you handled benefits communications in 2020 — whether you took simple steps or major leaps toward a better EX — now is the time to prepare to make the most of your opportunities in 2021. The goal is an engaged workforce with a positive EX — in both the best of times and the worst of times.

Authors

North America Practice Leader, Communication and Change Management

Managing Director, Head of Health and Benefits, North America

Circle with quadrants. 1. employee insights and listening (what do employees care about?) 2. strategy and program design (how do I design high-value, high-impact solutions?) 3. communication and change strategy (how do I spark the right behavior change?) 4. Digital enablement and engagement
Figure 1. Employers can enhance the employee experience by asking three simple questions 

The story of 2020: Elevating benefits communication

In 2020, employers quickly reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic with enhanced benefits communication — highlighting tools, resources and programs available to help employees with emerging needs, from virtual care to mental health and caregiver support and beyond.

Employers took the time to listen to employees, then they responded to employees’ areas of concern. What employees value has shifted as a result of the pandemic and prompted people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives. Gathering insights from employees is the best way to design and communicate programs that respond to these shifts.

Employers rethought how they engage with employees and their families — accelerating their digital strategies and making the "need to know" information accessible and clear. They utilized digital resources such as public microsites easily accessible outside the company’s firewall, text messaging, videos and interactive learning modules, as well as open enrollment virtual benefits fairs featuring live chat with vendors and the company’s HR or benefits team.

So what’s next? How can employers evolve, enhance and continue to transform their benefits communication EX in 2021?

What’s next: Maintaining the momentum in 2021

Communication of benefits and wellbeing programs will continue to be one of employers’ most important priorities over the next six months, according to the Willis Towers Watson Employer Survey: Emerging from the Pandemic, United States. As the reality of 2021 has set in, there is optimism about vaccines and an eventual return to a more normal way of life by the fall, but employers face continued challenges in reaching and engaging their increasingly tired workforce:

  • Almost three in four employers feel the pandemic will have a negative impact on employee morale over the next six months.
  • Rising stress or burnout and higher mental health related claims are the biggest pandemic-driven wellbeing challenges.

Now is the time for employers to focus on listening, education, support and engagement to help ensure employees feel the full impact of the investments made in their benefits and wellbeing programs.

Table 1. Employers are adapting and building on the strategies they put in place in 2020
What we saw in 2020 How to maintain the momentum in 2021
A new focus on listening and gathering insights from the workforce through pulse surveys, virtual focus groups, outreach to employee resource groups and more. Employers should develop intentional, ongoing employee listening strategies with regular check points that help them take the pulse and understand evolving workforce sentiments and needs. How does this look? Depending on the organization and culture, a listening strategy likely includes several short pulse surveys throughout the year combined with live listening sessions such as virtual focus groups.
Intentional messaging focused on areas of employee concern. Ongoing communication that is simple, short and easy to understand — no HR jargon. Employers can take their ongoing messaging to the next level by building a year-round communication calendar focused on employee wellbeing. Month-by-month and quarter-by-quarter content might be organized around important events or employee journeys. The content should include storytelling — highlighting real employees when possible — and should play out across a variety of media to capture attention. A communication editorial calendar should consider how to support different audiences, such as managers of people, with talking points, toolkits and training as well. Managers remain on the front lines with their employees, and they should understand the programs available to support employee needs. As mental health and emotional wellbeing concerns affect many employees today, managers should receive training on how to build their personal resilience, as well as how to listen and support their team.
New ways to reach people where they are — individually, physically and emotionally — through microsites, text messaging, videos, interactive learning modules, virtual benefits fairs, personalized communication platforms, and more. Employers must evolve their digital strategy and continue to use these tools in new ways. For example, broad email newsletters can become segmented emails based on various employee groups/eligibility. Videos might evolve into podcasts. A public microsite could change to provide targeted or even personalized content. An open enrollment virtual benefits fair might become a virtual wellbeing fair.

A critical moment, done right

The lack of awareness employees have about the benefits programs their employers offer became increasingly visible over the past year. Employers must focus on knitting these programs together in a way that makes them engaging and accessible when people really need them.

Delivering a modern, digital, employee-focused experience requires thoughtful planning.

As employers organize their content and move toward targeted and personalized digital communication, the company intranet and a list of links will only go so far. Delivering a modern, digital, employee-focused experience requires thoughtful planning to effectively raise awareness, increase program utilization and engagement.

Employers have taken the time to research and carefully choose each vendor in their partner ecosystems, but are employees leveraging their benefits to the fullest potential? If there’s even a question, consider bringing everything together and creating a cohesive, user-friendly and navigable technology-enabled employee experience across those partners. It’s a new one-stop-shop.

A flexible content delivery platform can provide a cross-vendor, individualized digital experience — serving up relevant content based on an employee’s data and eligibility. The right tool brings together rich personalization, data-driven recommendations and dynamic publication controls, putting employers in control of the EX while fully maximizing vendor partners’ services and programs.

Wrapping up

At its best, a great employee experience enables you to showcase the comprehensive array of resources that you have invested in on behalf of employees — and, even better, employees get what they need, when they need it (because they know how to find it and use it).

No matter how you handled benefits communications in 2020 — whether you took simple steps or major leaps toward a better EX — now is the time to prepare to make the most of your opportunities in 2021. The goal is an engaged workforce with a positive EX — in both the best of times and the worst of times.

Authors

North America Practice Leader, Communication and Change Management

Managing Director, Head of Health and Benefits, North America

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