How can employers put their core benefits in the spotlight?

Need to know:

  • Core benefits can be costly to provide, but are an important aspect of promoting employee wellbeing and financial protection.
  • Employers must demonstrate the relevance that these benefits hold for employees, and show how they can be used to their advantage.
  • Targeted communication campaigns, delivered in ways that employees will appreciate, can help to raise engagement with core benefits.

Employee Benefits’ Benefits research 2018, published in May 2018, found that 47% of organisations provide fully funded benefits in some form. These perks typically include life assurance, income protection, private medical insurance (PMI), workplace pensions and employee assistance programmes (EAPs); all heavy-hitting, incredibly important, and not to mention potentially costly.

In a world where there are always new trends, developments and exciting perks, are these fundamentals truly getting the recognition they deserve from employees?

Neil Bowen, commercial director at You at Work, says: “Sometimes it’s the benefits that are just sitting there that get forgotten about,” he says. “When they are used, they are exceptionally great benefits, but ultimately employees sometimes just don’t know they are there, they are more focused on the things that are more tangible, or more ‘in their face’.”

Employers are constantly looking for exciting initiatives to engage, motivate and reward employees, but these hygiene factors that promote wellbeing and financial protection, and in some cases are legal requirements, can take up valuable time and funds. How, then, can employers cut through the noise and put core benefits in the spotlight?

Demonstrate the relevance

For employees to engage with their core benefits, they need to know exactly what these are and when they can be used. However, to be fully effective, this information needs to follow an attention-grabbing initial message.

“It’s really important when communicating core benefits, to focus on the relevance of the benefit, rather than the mechanics of how it works,” says Nick Throp, co-founder and director of Like Minds. “Rather than trying to explain to people ‘this is the pension plan, this is what it does, this is how contributions work’, focus on its relevance to the audience, and the psychology of the audience. What problem is this benefit solving for them?”

For example, instead of promoting critical illness insurance as something employees need in the event of an emergency, remind them that what is being provided is actually peace of mind in the present. Equally, notes Throp, few employees are aware of the value of EAPs, but these are a key method of providing support through life challenges that everyone will face.

Before communicating why certain benefits should be important to their employees, employers need to be sure that the products they are touting, and paying for, are actually relevant.

“A big thing for all employers that are providing benefits, particularly those that cost them money, is to make sure that employees appreciate the value of those benefits; that’s where good communication can really help,” says Karen Bolan, head of engagement at AHC. “There’s no point in providing benefits if people simply don’t appreciate that they are there for them, or understand what they can do with them.”

Communication campaign

Enhancing the perceived value of core benefits often requires an intrusive, marketing-type campaign. “Quite often we find that people don’t even know that some benefits exist,” says Bolan. “We’re all so busy these days that we need somebody to help us cut through the melee of information, and direct us to what is really important.”

Employers can do this by producing communication material that is personalised to the employee, for example in the form of a total reward statement (TRS).

“A TRS can be a really powerful tool,” she explains. “There used to be just a paper statement which told employees the value of the benefits that they had, but these days we’re seeing much more animation coming in.”

While paper statements are still popular, a personalised TRS might be produced in the form of a 60-second animated video, giving employees a sense of the value of all their benefits in pounds and pence.

For a campaign to be successful, employers must understand their audience. Not only can methods differ by industry sector, but also by generation, tenure, role, location, and any number of other factors.

A retail audience, for example, is going to respond differently to a financial services organisation where everyone is sitting behind a desk, or a manufacturer where employees do not have easy access to technology at work. Often, the answer is to take a catch-all, multi-pronged approach, which will also help broach demographic lines employers might not even realise exist.

“A lot of difference in methods of communication is driven by those logistical, practical challenges, but also other demographic information will make a difference too,” says Throp. “Things like digital know-how, and the way in which people engage with technology as a preferred communication channel. Some expect to be communicated in that way, others don’t. Increasingly, organisations are applying some kind of mixed media approach to this, because they have to.”

Anytime benefits

Matt Frost, director of business development at Gallagher Communication, has noted a move away from the tendency to only communicate during fixed windows: “We are starting to see a focus on a year-long, evolving communications plan that doesn’t necessarily just talk about the transactions, but about the purpose of the benefits and how individuals or employees’ families, are using those benefits to their advantage.”

So, to really place core benefits in the spotlight, employers must continue to raise awareness and understanding through effective and targeted communications.

“That is the real trick, to move beyond explaining what the benefits are, to going into why the benefits are important,” says Frost. “At that stage, an employer can demonstrate far more value and relevance to the individual, as opposed to traditional routes where they just explain the nuances of private medical insurance, or the EAP.”