Benefits communications are a necessary evil. Necessary because enrollment windows and industry regulations mean we have deadlines and details we have to stick to, and evil because, frankly, it can feel like they’re easier to get wrong than right.
Changes to benefits can be emotive, confusing and, done poorly, can place significant pressure on stretched frontline HR staff and managers as they end up being the place confused or concerned employees go to get answers or help.
Taking the time to get benefits change communications right is critical for success. Start out on the right foot with these five tips for communicating changes effectively.
1.) Know your audience
People can be wary of changes to benefits. Doing stakeholder and impact assessments helps you better understand who is affected by these changes in which ways and how they may respond to them. Which groups might need additional support? Who may be worse off? Who may be relied on to support others? Don’t make assumptions or generalizations. Work out who is impacted by these changes and how they differ, sense check that list and then invite representatives of those groups to help you assess the impact of the changes. From there, build a communication plan that addresses what you hear.
2.) Meet people where they are
Don’t just mail out a 50-page benefits booklet and consider your work done. It’s unlikely people have kept their home address up to date in your system, you’ll overwhelm them with content and the help to understand the material isn’t there at home unless they happen to be married to an actuary.
If you absolutely have to give people a slew of technical and legal information, give them the tools to understand it – drop-in sessions with HR or benefits specialists at their location, training for front-line managers or Q&As on an employee portal. Keep direct communication with the majority of people short, simple and clear. Focus those messages on making sure people know the headlines of what’s happening and where they can go for help or more information.
3.) Do more than broadcast
If you need people to understand something complex or to build trust in a new way of doing things, you can’t just rely on broadcast communications. Videos, websites and infographics are good ways of getting complex information across but they aren’t enough. People need to ask questions, check understanding and know what to do if they have an unusual situation. If you have a social enterprise platform (Workplace, Yammer, etc.) then use it. Not only can you reach a large audience, you will also get great insight into the things people actually want to hear. Make sure that this is where your people are, though. If Yammer or Workplace isn’t where the majority of your people get their news, do you really have the time to drive people to it first? As I said, meet them where they are. If that’s not Workplace, then have a Town Hall or roadshows. If you have many diverse locations of work consider creating champions at each location and equipping them to help answer questions and cascade information.
4.) Prepare your front-line
Benefits are an intensely personal thing – people need the opportunity to discuss them with someone they trust, in confidence, if need be. Who that is varies significantly from line managers to a dedicated call center, but you absolutely need to make sure these key groups are included in communications plans. Have them contribute to the materials, create and maintain FAQs and ensure they have copies of everything you are giving to your workforce ahead of time. Make sure they are prepared – training sessions, opportunities to ask questions and a place to go to get support once the changes are live. In all likelihood, they will be the face/voice of the change so support them to make it a positive one.
5.) Be honest and ruthless
Be honest with people about the reasons for the change. But, beyond that, be honest with yourselves – what do people actually need to know and understand? Project teams working on change, in benefits or any other part of the business, can get a little myopic. You start to become so overwhelmed with the scale of what you’re doing that you panic that the people impacted by this change need to know everything right now. But, they may neither need to know, nor care to know.
It may have been a complex project to navigate to move providers, streamline a process, digitize things, whatever. But, if in fact, all people need to know is that there’s a new website for benefits and all the information they need is on it then, guess what? That’s pretty much all you need to tell them. Don’t overcomplicate.
What’s changing? When? What do you need them to do? Where do they go for help? Tell people just what they need to know (including a way to get questions answered), at the point they need to know it, in the language they understand and via a medium that works for them.
One last thing: Don’t end your communications efforts at go-live. Plan for ongoing communications support beyond when the change takes place, either to reinforce messages or to react to feedback once the changes are live. Benefits communications aren’t an afterthought or a one-off – they need to live and breathe alongside your benefits program and support it’s objectives long term.
Article by Lorna Leeson, People & Change Consultant and Coach
Based in the United Kingdom, Lorna has spent the past 15 years driving the change strategy for organizations across the globe. Helping people to thrive and meet their full potential is what drives her personally, which she does through strategic business coaching and change management consulting. You can hear more of her HR and management wisdom on Twitter and LinkedIn.