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Three employee benefits you're awful at communicating to staff

Published 31st January 2017 by Melissa Farrington
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Employees won’t engage with benefits if they don’t get what’s in it for them. That’s why communication is the most important step in making benefits a success.


Pensions communication: why is it so difficult?

  • Pensions are life-stage specific. There’s a time in life when the pension light ‘clicks on’ and people get why paying into a pension is so important. Before this happens, people consider pensions for ‘everyone else.’
  • Finances are individual. Everyone is in a different place financially, so it’s hard to keep pensions communication both simple and relevant. Yet without messages that are both simple and personally relevant, people switch off.
  • The language is outdated. The word pension is archaic and carries connotations of ‘something to think about later.’ Some organisations now talk about ‘whole life’ financial wellbeing and other progressive labelling.

Pensions communication at work: how to do it better

  • Empower line managers: because pensions advice needs to be tailored, line managers can use a trusted advisor approach to ensure employees make the right choices. Give line managers the right materials and training to engage in the right way.
  • Engage by life-stage: would older workers respond better to messaging around flexible options around drawdown or the benefits of topping up pensions in later life? Maybe new parents would respond to messaging around inheritance planning or retiring earlier to spend time with grandchildren.
  • Focus on the ‘free:’ once people understand that pensions offer significant tax benefits in terms of tax relief, and that employers will often match contributions to around the 5% mark, they are more likely to engage, so emphasise the figures and the financial benefits of taking an active interest.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs)

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) offer a range of services that give employees advice on tackling personal problems at home and at work. EAPs combine helplines, information packs, training, counselling, online portals and more.

EAP communication: why is it so difficult?

  • Misconceptions: staff perceived EAPs as clinical or medical and as methods of last resort - reactive services that are only valuable for treating acute mental health problems.
  • Image problems: EAPs are often seen as only offering helplines, one of their main offerings, but nowadays part of a much broader package. Helplines have connotations of desperation. Essentially, employees have old-fashioned views of EAPs.
  • The Google issue: EAPs compete with the internet. Employees can search for help quietly, anonymously and simply, so why should use a service that’s linked with their employer and may involve speaking to people, which makes issues more ‘real?’

EAP communication at work: how to do it better

  • The varied nature of EAPs: Modern employee assistance programmes not only provide helplines offering help for acute issues, but general and comprehensive information that allows employees to be proactive. Organisations must broaden out their messaging.
  • Use positive definitions of wellbeing: Mould your EAP communications around a positive, holistic definition of wellbeing in which employees proactively seek out ways to maximise their satisfaction at work and with life.
  • Tackle the mental health stigma: Each person has unique variables that affect their wellbeing, stability and ability to do their jobs and cope with life on a daily basis. People are more likely to use EAPs if they don’t feel like they are ‘broken’ for doing so.
  • Play down the ‘assistance’ part: it puts people off if they subconsciously think they are getting help. Instead, position EAPs as filled with useful resources that employees choose to engage with in order to better their lives.

Health cash plans

Health cash plans give employees money back on routine health benefits in exchange for monthly premiums. The cost depends on the level of cover and how much money is reimbursed for each claim.

Health cash plan communication: why is it so difficult?

  • Embedded behaviours: people have often visited the same dentist or optician for years and once they’ve paid they forget about it. Claiming the money back is another behavioural step they’re not used to doing.
  • The devil’s in the detail: the amount you can claim depends on the level of cover you have and what you’re claiming for (check-ups versus fillings, for example). Organisations send out leaflets but the information is hard to remember, meaning that employees must look it up before claiming.
  • Confusing it with insurance: employees instinctively lump health benefits in the same category as private medical insurance, which is something rarely used except when things get more serious. Health cash plans must be seen as relevant for simple, routine health procedures or they won’t get used.

Health cash plan communication at work: how to do it better

  • Use the word ‘free:’ health cash plans essentially mean things like sight tests, dental checkups, hygienist visits and potentially more expensive healthcare like chiropractors and physiotherapists are free or subsidised. People respond to the word ‘free’ - it’s an immediate attention-grabber.
  • Being ill is not required to benefit: people hear the word ‘health’ or ‘medical’ at work and think that they must be ill to take advantage of the scheme. But you need to stay on message that health cash plans help people who want to proactively maintain their health.
  • It’s not just the basics: lots of people have problems they would like to see a physiotherapist or chiropractor for, but are put off by high prices. If they realised their treatment was covered by the health cash plan, they may be more likely to visit. Make sure you sell these benefits as well as the more routine health procedures such as dental check-ups.