Guest opinion: The value of communicating your flex scheme

Well, you’ve done a flexible benefits feasibility study, secured the business case with the board, designed a fantastic scheme and developed a website to be proud of. You’ve worked fanatically on the behind the scenes admin and you get to a go live date. You are proud, pleased, nay ecstatic with all your hard work. But only four people log on – you, your boss and two of the flex team. This may sound extreme, but then you haven’t done any communication. Nobody has heard about the great flex programme so why should they log on and make their choices? Communications shouldn’t be seen as a soft fluffy extra, but an investment that turns vision, dedication and hard work into an effective flexible benefits programme. There are many communications strategies around but choose one that you are comfortable with. DTZ chose one that moved the project through several phases – setting the culture and background, knowing the audience and the key messages to impart, having the resource to execute the plan and then making the most effective use of media. DTZ is fairly traditional in its make-up and so glitz and gimmicks were not high on the agenda. Look at existing communications and develop them. Don’t be afraid to take risks but be aware of your boundaries. Having consulted focus groups, we developed a brand for the scheme that provided the core thread through the whole campaign. The design included the strap line “Your benefits, your choice” and became one of our key messages. We wanted to get across that the benefits decision was now in employees’ hands. One key aspect of effective communication is to be honest and to be seen to be so. Most flex schemes have to be paid for by some method so if you are saving employer national insurance contributions to pay for the scheme say so and if you are planning to maintain employees at the same level of benefits then say so. As Graham Drewett of LogicaCMG, said in last month’s column: “Employees are not impressed by corporate spin”. Employees can be split into four categories – existing employees, new recruits, line managers and HR. Each will have different mindsets before and after the launch so core messages should be tailored accordingly. The fourth stage of the communications strategy involves ensuring you have enough resources to implement successfully. Do you keep all work in-house, outsource everything or possibly co-source? DTZ partnered with Mercer HR Consulting to implement flex and part of its remit was the communication programme. Mercer provided ideas, a framework, design capability and production facilities, while DTZ shared ideas, approved and delivered. In-house delivery is important because it adds an enormous amount of credibility to the scheme. This was particularly important when the nationwide set of roadshows were being run. That leaves the types of media to be used. The communication culture at DTZ is e-driven and so enrolment had to be online. The website provided an excellent vehicle for static information and enrolment. It was branded and personalised, provided a wealth of information and was easy to navigate. However, a mix of media raises awareness far better than reliance on just one source. For an effective launch, DTZ used several forms including newsletters, existing total reward statements, an enrolment pack, branded stationery, posters, banners and roadshows. Email overload in any organisation can be a problem. However, it is the quickest way to get to a mass audience. If you employ this method, use a theme, and be brave in relation to your culture. Incentives can be used but ensure that they are not seen as a bribe to do something. So has the new flex scheme been successful? Undoubtedly so, 72% of our population voluntarily logged on. Of these, 64% made a change to their benefits. We significantly exceeded our targets. It is without doubt the result of our investment and careful thought on communication; follow suit if you wish to avoid those white elephants l