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- To feel the full value of group risk benefits, employers should be aware of the advantages such benefits provide and the range of additional services that are available.
- An effective communications strategy will utilise a range of channels that reflect how employees want their benefits to be communicated to them.
- Line managers can share benefits information with their teams, which can have a significant impact on engagement levels.
An effective communications approach is a key component in increasing employee engagement with benefits schemes and, in turn, of driving staff engagement with and loyalty to the organisation providing those benefits.
In order for organisations and their workforce to feel the full value of the support offered by group risk provision, it is vital that employers are aware of the advantages that group risk benefits deliver and that they have a comprehensive understanding of the additional services that are available to them.
Tom Gaynor, employee benefits director at MetLife UK, says thorough dissemination of information across relevant teams within an organisation is particularly pertinent in instances where, for example, group risk services have been selected by the procurement or management team rather than the department that will be administering the benefits to staff.
“Whoever it is that makes the decision about which insurance provider to go with may not be the person that actually implements the benefits strategies and communications,” he explains. “[The latter] may have read somewhere that there is bereavement counselling or probate advice available with group life cover, or that there is help with wellness, but then there is a disconnect [in how those services are communicated to them].”
John Attley, engagement manager at the National House Building Council (NHBC), adds that communication surrounding the benefits of group risk could be tailored according to the purpose and priorities of internal departments, such as procurement teams, management, human resources (HR) and reward and benefits professionals.
Attley says: “I think segregating messages is really important here.”
This could mean a stronger focus on return on investment when communicating to certain departments, while providing a more in-depth look at the business case for group risk products and services when communicating to others.
For Gaynor, one of the most effective ways of demonstrating the value of benefits is by ensuring that employers have access to relevant statistics and case studies, and opening up a dialogue with examples of where group risk benefits have been of help to organisations and their staff. For larger employers this may include specific examples of employees within that organisation that have been supported throughout the claims or rehabilitation process. However, these case studies are also of value to other employers that may not have yet experienced the process, in demonstrating how such benefits would help an employee should an occasion where they require support arise.
For HR teams that are juggling a raft of responsibilities in addition to communicating and administering a number of employee benefits, drawing on the in-depth knowledge and experience of providers and consultants can be an invaluable resource. According to MetLife’s Gaynor, group risk providers and advisers should ensure that they work together to provide a uniform approach in how they communicate the advantages of group risk benefits to employers, in addition to the range of additional services that accompany group risk products.
“A probate service or wellness help, for example, has a benefit across many different categories of staff so it’s about making sure that it is understood, because you are losing the value that you are paying for if you are not making the best use [of these services],” he says.
“It is the adviser’s role to help the insurer to broadcast this information into the employer to make sure that they are getting their value and that it is really being put at the heart of that proposition and at the heart of delivering benefits that matter to their staff.”
In addition to ensuring that employers are fully informed about all of the services available to them and how this could support a particular organisation and workforce demographic, Attley asks whether the industry could do more to harmonise the classifications used. Aligning the terminology utilised by various industry bodies and sectors, for example, could help employers to analyse different data sets and gain a better insight into correlations between these.
“There is a wide variety of classifications. Everybody seems to have a different one so just comparing one to another is really challenging,” says Attley. “If there was a common [vocabulary] for all it would make life so much easier [because] we could then align our absence classifications to that.”
Increasing engagement through communication
For employees to value a benefit they must first be aware of it, whether it be the core group risk services or the extra support offered through providers around these. Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for industry body Group Risk Development (Grid), believes that continual communication is a key element in ensuring employees engage with the benefits on offer.
“It’s about constant communication, little and often to reinforce the message,” explains Moxham.
She adds that the message being reinforced to staff is twofold: the employer raises awareness of the benefit while also demonstrating to employees that it has their best interests and wellbeing in mind.
For maximum engagement, it is important that communications reach all employees. Examining which communication strategies are appropriate to the particular demographic of the workforce and getting feedback from staff about how they want their benefits to be communicated to them can help employers to achieve the communications impact they are aiming for.
Gaynor believes that a range of channels can be utilised to create an integrated communications approach. “Different types of people, different roles and different age groups want different types of communication. It is not just about digital; booklets, lunch-and-learns and such methods can have a huge impact if you make the topics interesting, and [providers, advisers and employers] all have a part to play in that.”
He adds that providers can assist employers with their communications in a manner that best serves their specific needs, by offering support that extends beyond benefits fairs to briefings for managers, for example. NHBC’s Attley sees the value in this support in terms of how appropriate each communication method is to the size, culture and workforce of each organisation.
He says: “All organisations have a slightly different internal communications landscape and it’s about working within that landscape to do what works best. Some organisations will have measures around how to deliver messages, so it’s understanding those and plugging into the existing networks that we know are the most successful at delivering employee messages.”
As an example, Attley explains, manager briefings may work well in larger organisations, while including benefits communication within learning and development programmes may be a more effective way of reaching the manager population in mid-sized firms.
A vital link in the communication chain
Indeed, all participants at the roundtable discussion, which took place in September 2015, were in agreement that line managers are an essential link in the benefits communication and engagement chain.
Gaynor says: “We know from research MetLife released at the beginning of the year in its Employee benefits trends survey, that some of the best people in the organisation to promote benefits are line managers. If they are putting across the benefits of benefits then their team members will hear more about it and understand it more.
“We know from work in the same study that the quality of line management makes a huge impact on the engagement of staff, their motivation, how valued they feel and, therefore, their productivity.”
The research, which surveyed 300 employers and 301 employees in the UK, found that every one-point increase in ‘having a caring and supportive boss’, drives a 9% increase in engagement. With this in mind, developing communication strategies that encompass line managers so that they are able to pass information onto staff is an area that should be taken into consideration by employers looking to improve benefits engagement and take-up.
Lee Gruskin, principal consultant at Capita Employee Benefits, suggests incentivising line managers to inform their teams about the advantages of early assessment and claims notification. “Most people who are absent do want to return from work but they don’t always know where to turn, so maybe that could mean rewarding line managers?”
While a system that rewards line managers for encouraging staff to take early action would need to be carefully considered in terms of its structure and appropriate application, there is consensus around the important role line managers can play in this area.
“[Line managers] are a really good way of getting the value [of benefits] pushed through; it’s not just a standard poster on a wall or once a year when there is a big flurry around benefits,” says Gaynor.
This is an area of the communications matrix that certain providers and advisers would be happy to help employers develop, he explains.
Grid’s Moxham adds: “Positive encouragement from line managers to actually start the process is vital.”
Group risk benefits and services, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and bereavement help, can provide crucial support to line managers when a member of their team requires assistance.