Boosting Benefits Engagement: Communication Tips for AE 2022 and Beyond

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With many companies planning to continue working remotely into the fall, the upcoming annual enrollment season will be held virtually again for a lot of employees. Just like last year, effective benefits communications will be essential again this year to help employees make the best decisions for themselves at a time when there is an increased focus on wellness.

Having already experienced one virtual AE season last year, bswift’s communications team has a few helpful recommendations for employers planning their benefits communications for the upcoming months and beyond. Compare your strategy with our recommendations below to ensure you’re setting your employees up for benefits and enrollment success.

Ensure your communication strategy spans all audiences

In addition to communicating to current employees about benefits, employers must also communicate benefits information to recruits and benefits decision-makers, which may be other members of employees’ families. Some clients use bswift’s public-facing custom portal option to communicate benefits information, which is easily accessible to both potential employees and benefits decision-makers. Other clients leverage print communications to reach decision-makers at home directly. Whichever methods you may choose, the end goal is to ensure your communications strategy can cater to each of your different audiences.

Communications should both “push” and “pull” employees

Our approach and recommendation to employers are to balance the “push” and “pull” of benefits communications. We “push” employees to learn about their benefits by delivering benefits information directly to them, whether it’s via email or print. Then, once they have received the communication, we “pull” them in with relevant content, which captures their attention and encourages them to learn more.

Use a multi-channel approach: Digital and print communications go hand-in-hand

We typically advise our clients that if we send a digital benefits communication to their population, we should also send it via print. Why? Unless you know exactly how people like to be receive communication, the safest and most effective option is to send it via multiple channels. Plus, since the onset of the pandemic, mailed communications have seen renewed importance among our clients since many employees are still working from home. What used to be posters in hallways throughout the worksite pre-pandemic are now postcards arriving in their mail at home. Whether it’s email or print, ensure your communication strategy is designed to reach each member of your audience.

Shift the conversation to wellbeing and mental health benefits

Our recent study found that 79% of employees have found it challenging to get employer support for their mental health needs in the last year.* Since the pandemic, the need for and conversation around wellbeing and mental health has grown, and your benefits communications should keep up. Our team has seen clients reporting an uptick in usage of these benefits and the subsequent need for increased education around them. Clearly communicate these benefits to your employees this AE season to ensure your workforce receives the support they need year-round.

Think beyond medical, dental, and vision

During the pandemic, our clients have seen a greater focus on “soft benefits” – meaning non-medical, dental, and vision insurance benefits. In addition to communicating about your standard benefits, your benefits communications should encourage employees to consider things like: Do I need to reevaluate my 401k contribution? What has my spending account looked like during the pandemic? Am I taking advantage of our tuition reimbursement program? Identify these types of benefits and bring them into the spotlight, along with your more standard benefit offerings.

Employee wellness goes beyond physical health

We have worked with several clients to deliver and communicate benefits via a total rewards approach. By bringing all benefits together under one umbrella, employers can take a holistic approach to communicating benefits information to their workforce. In today’s environment, the concept of “wellness” is no longer just focused on physical health, but encompasses a range of areas including, mental, emotional, financial, family, career, and more – all of which your benefits either directly or indirectly affect. In fact, we found that 79% of employees want their employers to focus efforts on improving their wellbeing over the next 12 months.* Consider this approach to bring more cohesiveness to your benefits communication strategy and help your employees better focus on their overall wellbeing.

Calendarize your benefits education

We recently found that 79% of employees want their HR teams to improve or enhance their benefits education program to better understand their options.* When it comes to year-round benefits communication, clients often struggle to keep employees’ attention. Our recommendation is to share a preplanned calendar of benefits topics you plan to cover over the year with your workforce and keep it in an easily accessible and highly visible online location. Try to follow the calendar as closely as possible. By communicating consistently in this way, employees are more likely to expect and look forward to the next educational topic, piquing their interest in benefits – and it’s with this genuine interest that they will be able to learn how to properly utilize and access their benefits when they need them.

Keep empathy at the core of your communications

In our recent study, when businesses were asked about empathy in the workplace, 82% reported that the pandemic has caused them to take a more empathetic approach to handling employee communications. However, findings from employees reveal they still need more from their employers – 73% said they want their company to take a more empathetic approach to handling communications.* Benefits can be emotional – our research found that benefits can be tied to family needs and feelings of security for many employees. Considering this, be sure to always communicate benefits information to your employees with compassion.

Solicit and implement employee feedback

You want your employees to engage with your benefits program, and they want to feel like their needs and preferences are recognized. Request feedback regularly from your employees on topics such as which benefits they would like to learn more about and how they like to be communicated with, for example. Tailor your benefits communications to their responses to continue to help improve overall benefits engagement and convey to them that their unique needs and feedback are always valued.

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* Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of bswift, March 2021

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