Effective communication around flexible benefits

Attention-grabbing communication is an essential tool to make flex schemes work, says Alison Coleman

The successful introduction of a flexible benefits scheme relies on the right communications strategy, which can prove elusive. Leaflets and handbooks packed with complicated, jargon-laden explanations of the scheme, what it includes and how it works, may not stimulate the positive response employers want from staff. Neither will simply hitching the scheme to the company intranet and expecting staff to use it.

Instead, the most effective flex communications are carefully tailored to the relevant audience, says Lee French, proposition director at Alexander Forbes. “When developing a flex scheme, employers need to know who their employees are, what is important to them, and what benefits they will find most helpful. The same principles apply when devising a communication strategy – your message has to connect with individuals.”

In large organisations, where the workforce demographic can easily shift, this can be a challenge, which accountancy firm Grant Thornton discovered during its 2007 merger with Robson Rhodes. Rather than insisting everyone adopted one organisation’s terms and conditions, new ones were drawn up, along with a new-look flex plan offering greater choice. Jenny Balme, national director at Grant Thornton, says the real challenge was making the scheme appeal to staff at the same time as asking them to agree to a new contract of employment.

“It was a huge organisational change, involving 4,400 staff, and the most important thing was getting people engaged in the scheme from an early stage. We used various methods to do this, including national roadshows, information and consultation forums, employee surveys, and focus groups. During the roadshows, we provided interactive keypads for those attending to have their say.”

Effective communication

This communication was effectively dripfed from the start, through the pre- and post-enrolment period and, as the scheme went live, using newsletters, reward statements and multimedia, including a DVD outlining key messages, such as the value of salary sacrifice benefits. The strategy paid off in terms of employee feedback on the scheme and increased take-up. Some employers have used segmented communications, focusing on promoting benefits such as retail vouchers, which help employees’ money go further in the current economic climate, or financial education for those with pension concerns or who require more detailed financial planning.

Others have positioned flex in such a way that staff are unable to ignore it, for example by sitting it alongside the online holiday planner, so staff can also see their total reward statement as they book their holidays.

Employer brand

Corporate branding and logos can also be used to transform flex messages. Communications consultancy Caburn Hope worked with Kellogg’s to produce personalised total reward statements. Bright and bold, and featuring some of the brand’s characters, these replaced its previous standard benefit and pension letters with the aim of selling its reward offering more proactively.

Chris Hopkins, managing director of Caburn Hope, says: “Information should be communicated in a way that resonates with people at all levels of the organisation. Our approach is to focus on bringing benefits and reward to life for employees, making it inspirational, easy to understand, and something people can relate to on a personal level. This, in turn, makes employees want to be more engaged, and allows the employer to secure a greater return on their flex investment.”

But as flex becomes more sophisticated and offers greater choice, nothing beats faceto- face communication with staff, says Alexander Forbes’ French. “There is a danger of information overload, and if flex seems too complicated, people will avoid it, even when there are clear savings and other financial benefits for them. People appreciate an employer that provides the opportunity for them to discuss their finances and receive advice in normal working hours, so one-toones are paramount.

“Employees generally seem to know little about what is out there, but through one-toone discussions, it becomes apparent they want to find out more.”

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