Employee benefits planning: communicating important changes to your staff

man in a suit addresses his staff with his employee benefits planning changes

For many HR teams, a change in employee benefits can seem like a coming tidal wave looming on the horizon. The top of that wave peaks white with inevitable questions from staff about the new package. Perhaps the rising roar of it warns of the potential discontent of those thinking they’re losing value in their benefits. The coming crash? A potential onslaught of complaints or even threats to leave once the changes have had time to wash over people. When it comes to employee benefits planning, a solid communication strategy can be key for staying above the tide when your company needs to make changes.

At Pacific Prime, we’re specialists in employee benefits solutions for corporates. We excel in professional services environments where your workforce can be more demanding than the average; these people have worked hard to get where they are, with the salaries, perks, and benefits they have. As such, here’s our handy tips for communicating employee benefits changes effectively to ensure a high buy-in from staff, and a smooth transition in employee healthcare benefits.

Talking to your staff: the benefit of a communication strategy

Businesses changing employee benefits are more common than you might think. An interview with Willis Towers Watson regional health and benefit heads found that there is a wide range of drivers impacting the way employers approach compensation packages; from changes in demographics, impacts from government regulations, and reducing company budgets due to economic factors. The result has seen some businesses rethink and rearrange their employee benefits package, while others looked to change and, in some cases, reduce their offerings to staff completely.

In terms of challenges businesses face, Head of Health Benefits in Latin America Maximo Saravi says that educating staff on what a package entails has become a focus for some in his region. Employees often under appreciate the investment employers invest in benefits, something Saravi attributes to poor communication. In a 2007 study of employee benefits by Prudential, as little as 35% of employees believed that their employer’s communication efforts were “highly effective”. Employers themselves rated themselves lower, with only 21% giving their communication plans high marks.

In our experience, communication is key to the success of your employee benefits plan. When your staff are empowered and educated about the benefits of your compensation packages, you’ll find much better engagement with the employee health solutions you have offered. Plan administration also becomes easier, and employee dissatisfaction will be lowered too. A communication strategy will help your employee benefits planning immensely; but how do you do it?

Keys for a successful employee benefits communication plan

Richard Cushing said “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” If your company is serious about keeping its head above water should the rains come in, early and thoughtful communications planning will be your ark in the flood. Harvard Business Review’s 2013 engagement survey indicated that 70% of people feel most engaged when their senior leaders provide updates and communicates company strategy frequently.

A good communication strategy, we think, means you’ll have thought about the following:

1. Start your plan as soon as you can

As soon as you know that your company might be considering changes to its employee benefits solutions, start thinking about how you might communicate that early. You’ll be more prepared and confident when delivering the news to staff, and it’ll also help head off any rumor mills that might arise. According to Koenig’s Rumor in the marketplace, workplace gossip can chip away at morale and fuel anxiety, conflicts, and misunderstanding. Getting the right information out early will help stem employee dissatisfaction based on the wrong office talk.

2. Think about who’s in your audience

Today’s workplaces can feature three different generations amongst them; Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y or Millennials. You’ll also have a mix of genders, religions, and cultures, especially those with multiple global offices. It’s important to remember that these people have different perspectives, values, and views on what they need. Employee benefits are about meeting their needs, and so you should expect to tailor at least some communications similarly.

Also, don’t forget that employees really do want to understand what’s happening with their benefits, but some may be more interested than others. A Bank of America report on workplace benefits found that men participate in financial education plans more than women, Millennials showed higher interest in engaging with education about their benefits, yet all three generations had different life motivations for wanting to better their understanding of their employee benefits.

3. Plan your education strategy

For some workplaces, one seminar on employee benefits planning changes might suffice. Others might require constant engagement and frequent messages, so those of you who know this is what your business will need should plan accordingly. This can take the form of periodic change updates, featured spotlights on specific benefits, and employee success stories, distributed via emails or through your work intranet page. Plan to take advantage of your existing communication tools for the best education and engagement result.

4. Stocktake your communication tools and how to use them

You know who you’re targeting, and what messages to target them with; but how do you get your communication to them? Take stock of all the channels you have available to you and work them into your communication strategy, such as:

  • HR portal
  • Mobile device applications
  • Email notifications, intranet videos and articles, online satisfaction surveys
  • Social media
  • Print media

Use the tools available to you to better educate staff on the employee benefits changes you’re making, and maintain engagement as the changes are embedded.

5. Be honest and transparent about the changes

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, only half of workers believe their employer is open and upfront with them. Trust plays an important role in all workplaces and can affect the wellbeing and performance of your employees. Trust comes from employees feeling valued, which leads to higher levels of engagement. When preparing your communication strategy, remember that an honest discussion that clearly outlines the changes and why they’re needed is best. Don’t sugar-coat bad changes. Give employees the facts and explain why your company has made the decision it has.

Trust in your employees to understand your decision and gain their trust in your employee benefit changes.

employees fist bump after a successful employee benefits planning session

Dealing with potential fallout from your employees

Obviously, you can’t please everyone. There’s always going to be someone that’s negatively affected by a change, so how do you minimize the impact of your decision? Here are a few tips that can save you, your senior leaders, and HR teams from unnecessary conflict arising from changes to your company benefits:

  • Understand exactly what your employee benefit changes will do, and how they will affect your staff
  • Prepare your leaders (management, team leaders, HR staff) with the information you suspect that employees will want from them
  • Provide staff with as much fact and information as is appropriate, in as many ways as possible
  • Allow for feedback or input from staff about the changes, and create systems/strategies for addressing these concerns
  • Be prepared to discuss and negotiate important concerns with your employee benefits provider, it’s possible they may have an easy solution

Some businesses will be more flexible with their employee benefits planning than others. Giving information to employees, however, is easy, and empowers them to take a little bit of ownership for not only their own benefits and perks but also in the future of your company. Being open and providing information can also give you and your HR teams a little breathing space to deal with complaints from staff who claim “I didn’t know this would happen!” If staff choose not to engage with your communication strategy, then they only have themselves to blame.

Is there an easier way of planning employee benefits and communicating change?

Of course there is! You could always choose to turn your back on the coming tide and hope you don’t drown should it strike. Or you could reach out to someone well experienced in dealing with a flood of employee health benefit enquiries.

Our Pacific Prime Corporate team see this as an essential part of our brokering service. The many professional service firms we work with are always in different stages of their employee benefits planning; some are happy with their solutions and just need simple administration, others are looking to change their perks and benefits to suit budgetary, talent acquisition, or a number of other business goals. Whatever our client’s needs are, Pacific Prime is there to ensure the whole process runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

We offer benefits orientations for new clients or existing partners looking to change employee health solutions, can take over the function of plan administration, analysis and claims processing, and will provide a communication strategy for any employee benefits changes you might decide upon at any time during our relationship. This includes having our advisors present to your staff and answer any questions they might have about how they’re affected, or how to best take advantage of their new benefits plan.

We’re more than just an insurance broker, we’re an employee benefits specialist. Find out more about our whole approach to delivering exceptional corporate solutions, or contact us now to set up a meeting where we can explain why we’re the broker of choice for both businesses and employee benefits providers around the world.

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