The enrollment window has officially passed, employees are set up with their benefits, and your clients can finally breathe.
Or can they? While the sprint to the finish of enrollment is tough enough, the marathon effort of keeping employees informed about — and engaged with — their benefits can be just as tricky.
Fortunately, benefits consultants can play a huge role in sustaining and improving engagement for clients. But what will truly determine your unique value as a benefits partner is how strategic and proactive your communications are.
Successful Benefits Communication Is Proactive
Many employers often send out one-and-done communications explaining workplace benefits without having a strategy in place to maintain engagement.
But as playwright George Bernard Shaw once explained, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
As Gallup revealed on the topic of workplace rumors, “ … a mere 13% of employees strongly agree that the leaders in their organization communicate effectively with the rest of the organization. The remaining 87% leaves a lot of room for misinformation to spread.”
Communicating in the workplace is hard enough, especially when teams are spread out across the world. Anybody who’s worked in a collaborative environment can attest to how easy it is for people to misinterpret or overlook what’s really being said.
But if information isn’t conveyed strategically or via the right channel, it’s a lost opportunity.
And in order for messaging to resonate effectively with clients, it must be personalized and adjusted for organizational complexities. For instance, negotiations with health plan providers regarding unique health care needs often get lost in translation when adjustments are relayed to employees, according to Courtney Schroeder, MS, WellRight’s Wellbeing Strategy Consultant.
In either case, the results are the same—lower engagement, mass confusion, and results that fall far short of your goals.
By helping your clients develop a solid, clear, and powerful benefits communication strategy, you can maximize the results of what you’ve worked so hard to plan, while also positioning yourself as a proactive and integral partner to your clients.
Building a Benefits Communications Strategy That Resonates
Right now, your clients are in the process of finalizing their wellness programs and setting up the infrastructure that will eventually be rolled out in the new year. Now is the time to collaborate with your contacts to customize messaging, lay out a strategic plan for leadership, and determine benchmarks for success.
Ask Questions and Listen to Feedback
Every good strategy starts with a fact-finding agenda:
- What did your client do in previous years that worked? What fell flat?
- What do they know about their employees and what messaging resonates in their organization? What are the most active communication channels?
- What are some of the common roadblocks where confusion or misinformation arise?
- Do they have SMART goals so they can measure success and adjust as needed?
There are plenty of other questions to consider, but at this point, you’re seeking to learn what employees need to know and how they need to hear it.
The flip side to asking these important questions is heeding answers and making sure you truly understand what’s being said (or implied). Otherwise, there’s a risk of false starts:
“It can be very frustrating to map out a strategy with a client that then goes nowhere, because they no longer have the time to dedicate to it and it was just wishful thinking," explains Schroeder. "But if you can remove that communication barrier and really identify what will be good for them and for the company as well, you can accomplish something special.”
Using active listening can be incredibly helpful here as it gives the client an immediate chance to correct or affirm your interpretation of things.
It’s also critical to watch for nonverbal cues. If your client gives a positive answer but their body language looks tense or downcast, ask about it. While these types of client conversations might take a bit of getting used to, this level of transparency will set you apart as a partner and optimize your communications strategy for success. If you have a complete grasp on even the tiniest details of what your client needs, you can give much more accurate and helpful information, advice, and feedback.
Benefits Communication Do’s and Don’ts
December is a noisy time of year, so it’s easy to react and not be thoughtful with communication. However, this is when clients can either build engagement or lose the interest of their employees altogether.
As you help your clients develop their benefits communication strategy, consider the tips below to maximize impact and reach.
Don’t Wait for the Perfect Message
Does your client want to spend days or weeks (including multiple layers of approval) to carefully craft the perfect key messaging about benefits?
While this strategy ensures accurate guidelines are in place, the rumor mill may be in overdrive with employees trying to figure out what’s going on. At this point, they aren’t really excited about their benefits. Instead, they’re worried and paranoid.
Engagement will be an uphill battle if employees are already starting from a place of confusion—or worse, skepticism.
While it’s important to be precise in your benefits messaging, don’t let the quest for perfection result in a cavernous gap in information. As Gallup mentions, “teams crave more communication than ever during periods of disruption,” so make sure your client’s strategy includes regular updates, even if not all the details can be shared yet.
- If you’re new in town and your client has switched from a different vendor, help them focus on that message and build excitement. Give information on some of your past successes or initiatives so they can get their teams excited about what might be coming their way.
- If there are new program design elements coming, have your client create teasers to get people excited without saying too much. Always make sure that employees receive friendly reminders that they should wait for the right information from the right source.
Align Your Wellbeing Program with Your Company’s Brand Guidelines
What do you picture when you think of an Apple ad?
The company’s visual branding is so strong, they could probably publish an ad without their logo or name and people would still recognize it as Apple. As such, their style serves as an immediate attention-grabber to their audience, immediately increasing the chances that the information will be noticed and remembered.
Rather than encouraging your clients to mimic Apple’s iconic branding, it’s the consistency they should be emulating. While your client’s brand might not be as widely known as Apple’s, it’s still 100% recognizable internally.
This is where you can advise your clients to avoid trying to come up with a completely new visual brand for their benefits communications. Instead, when it comes to things like fonts, imagery, language style, etc., they should lean on whatever brand standards are already in place. Even if they’re white labeling their wellness platform, they’ll still likely make use of existing brand standards.
Tip: If your client is worried that a consistent brand will make it hard for benefits information to stand out from other corporate communications, find one small detail to personalize and apply it consistently across all communications. For instance, your client could come up with a unique name or logo for the wellness program that still follows the main corporate brand colors, but you could advise them to pick a secondary color and use it consistently. That way, employees have an immediate visual connection to the material they’re about to read.
Gauge How Much Is Too Much
Sending a message out once and expecting it to be remembered and internalized is an impossible dream. Unless your client is saying something earth-shattering, odds are they’re going to have to repeat themselves a few times in a few different ways.
And that’s simply because we’re human. People skim what they read, interpret things differently, and sometimes absorb information better through video than copy. And without reinforcement, up to 60% of what we learn in a day can evaporate from our minds within 48 hours.
“Repetition cycles add information to our knowledge base. The timing of repetitions is a key component. This was demonstrated by German researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus more than 100 years ago. He showed that repeated exposure to information in spaced intervals provides the most powerful way to fix memory in the brain."
For optimal results, you can encourage clients to pare their communications down to digestible chunks of messaging instead of relying solely on lengthy slide deck presentations. Break down information into sections, and then present each individually, followed by a summary and Q&A. Once everything has been shared, follow up with a complete review and another chance to ask questions.
Strategic Benefits Communication Begets Reliable Benefits Partnership
We talked about your client’s branding, but there’s another brand to mention. Yours.
The benefits consultant space is highly competitive, but you now have something other consultants don’t.
Not only can you offer a custom-tailored benefits program to your clients, but you can help them create a memorable, engaging communications strategy that will get everyone on the same page and excited to improve their wellbeing.
Practice some active listening around your own wellbeing and take time this holiday season to recharge your batteries and look forward to a successful year to come.