How to communicate flexible benefits

Getting the right message to the right people via the right media is a key to success for flexible benefits schemes, says Jenny Keefe

With so many methods of communication available, the basic rules of communicating flexible benefits can be forgotten. But getting the basics right will pay off, and there are several key factors for employers to consider.

Firstly, the timing of flex communications is crucial, and it should not begin the day a scheme launches with a quick email sent out by HR. Alexis Fox-Mills, head of employee engagement at Ceridian, says: “Employers need to communicate new schemes early, so people have time to digest the information.”

Unveiling a teaser campaign about a month before the launch can help to build interest. “Build up the momentum with communications through different media,” says Fox-Mills.

But there is a danger in beginning too early, he adds. “There is more chance of employees switching off or forgetting, so employers have to start all over again.”

There is one more timing commandment employers should bear in mind, says Mark Carman, marketing and communications director at Motivano. “Never launch a benefits scheme alongside bad news. Do not believe that doing this will help to bury the bad news. This never works, and will most likely serve to exemplify it. Unfortunately, many organisations are choosing this approach and announcing benefits alongside difficult news such as redundancies, pay freezes and cuts in hours.”

Another mistake many employers make is presuming all staff are alike. A better option is to divide the workforce into different demographics, and send out targeted information. This can be as simple as mailing out a leaflet on childcare vouchers to workers with children.

Identify demographics
Online technology has made it easier than ever to identify demographics. Andrew Woolnough, flexible benefits distribution manager at Jelf Employee Benefits, says: “Online tools enable employers to segment their data into gender, region, age, length of service and seniority.”

But employers should ensure that when segmenting their workforce, they do not make assumptions that could be discriminatory. David Ferrabee, managing director of communications consultancy Able and How, says: “Trying to segment employees by lifestyle is tricky. Sending different communications to different demographics, based on what you think they are interested in, is possibly illegal in some instances, and certainly not always ethical.”

Instead, he advises employers to let staff pick the communications they would like to receive. For example, those saving for a gap year could opt out of pensions updates.

While the quality of a flexible benefits scheme is important, how it is branded also counts for a lot. The key is not being too corporate, says Carman. “I would strongly encourage employers to get creative with their benefits package, but do not be tempted to emblazon communications with corporate imagery, because staff will soon lose interest.”

A subtler way of tying in the employer brand is by building corporate colours into a flex logo or website. Employers should carefully consider a scheme’s name. For example, a plan should not be called Choices if it contains only a small selection of benefits, says Ferrabee.

The key is to embrace various media to get messages across, says Mark Eaton, director at Personal Group. “Think up inventive ways to get the message out to people. Emails, intranet reminders, open days, posters and competitions are all ways to do it. Employers need to add their own creative touch to the process.”

When considering creative ways to engage staff, it is also worth looking at what the competition is doing. This does not just mean around flexible benefits plans a – taking a more general look at adverts can also be useful.

The name of the game for flex communication is to get close to employees, so employers should ask them what they want. “They need to achieve engagement, so listening, understanding and working with employees can get creative answers,” says Woolnough.

When it comes to engaging staff, new technology is a sure way to succeed. Debra Edwards, a director at CB Affinity, suggests using technology to reach staff who work away from the office. “When it becomes particularly hard to reach employees, perhaps due to location or shift work, the use of technology is a good way to get messages across,” she says. “Give employees access to webcasts or use online video streaming. These types of media can effectively help employees understand how the scheme works.”

It may take time and effort, but getting flex communication right can pay dividends†

Click on the links below for more sections:

Who are the respondents; key findings
Attitudes to flexible benefits
Structure of flexible benefits schemes
How flexible benefits schemes are administered
Salary sacrifice in flexible benefits
Alternatives to flex plans
Pensions and flex
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