Flexible benefits: Now for something completely different

If you read nothing else, read this …

• Designing a creative, fun theme for a flexible benefits launch is a great way to grab employees’ attention.

• Free gifts and attractive competitions will lure employees into signing up and making their flex selections.

• Using media such as video widens the possibilities for creativity.

• Social media and the use of smartphones is the future for benefits communications and a fun way to boost staff interaction, although some employers are wary of it as yet.


Case study: Flex is news to E.On employees

As a forward-thinking employer, energy company E.On has taken unusual steps to boost flex take-up across
its workforce.

Reaching the firm’s field workers, of whom there are between 2,500 and 3,000, with flexible benefits information is a tricky task. With that in mind, at the time of its flex enrolment period, E.On adapts its weekly news broadcast in order to fill employees in.

Each week, E.On’s internal communications team puts together a news bulletin, complete with newsreader, featuring the latest company news. Around flex enrolment time, these bulletins also feature ‘adverts’ for certain
benefits to boost knowledge among non-office based employees, who can listen to the news by calling a free
telephone number.

Ant Donaldson, senior specialist, employee benefits at E.On, says: “The weekly phone-in news resource is recorded a bit like a radio programme. What we have done in the last few years during enrolment is put 30-second adverts in for different flexible benefits.

“If we have found there has been any confusion around a particular area, we can mention it in the little bulletin and, hopefully, clear things up. It is a great way to make sure people are getting the right message.”

Flexible benefits may be a serious business, but communicating them can be an opportunity for a bit of fun to attract employees’ attention, says Tom Washington

Whether an employer is launching a flexible benefits scheme for the first time or trying to maintain interest in the next enrolment window, each year reward managers are tasked with coming up with a fresh approach to grab attention and, ultimately, boost take-up.

While HR professionals do not have to dress up in animal suits and parade around the office promoting the latest cash plan deal, adding a bit of fun to proceedings is often the key to success. Joanne South, account manager at employee communications specialist Caburn Hope, says: “Employers need to communicate what is a really serious message but actually they can do it in a really fun and exciting way that creates a buzz in the workplace.”

One way to grab attention is to create an eye-catching theme for flex. Here, reward professionals must loosen their ties, roll up their sleeves and get creative. The idea has to be different; something that stands out from all other corporate communications.

Invisible character

IT firm Cisco created an invisible character called Ben. His name appeared on posters and newsletters to build his profile, and on the day the flex window opened, ‘Ben’ left voicemails on all employees’ phones reminding them it was time to log in to the flex portal and select their preferences.

Sheila Champion, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) benefits manager at Cisco, says: “I chose [an employee to act as Ben] who had a nice voice. It was not a funny voice, but people had been hearing about him in our poster campaigns and receiving emails from him, so it was quite good fun for them to hear him leave a voicemail.”

Elsewhere, Pat Appleby, senior communications manager at Vebnet, helped an employer with a quirky categorisation of employees’ financial types to help them choose their benefits. “We ran a survey and, with the answers, determined whether they were a butterfly, a tiger, a bear, and so on,” she says. “We then gave them a video following that theme explaining their financial benefits.”

Nothing gets people’s attention quite like the promise of free stuff. For employers hoping to boost take-up of flex during the enrolment window, running a competition to win an iPad, for example, is a great incentive for staff to log in to the portal. This can be structured so employees can increase their chances of winning by selecting benefits.

Free goodies

Gifts can also be handed out at benefits fairs or events, which can be a popular, interactive way to promote the flex enrolment window. Not only can employers lure staff in with free promotional goodies such as stationery, yo-yos, stress balls or even massages, but events are also an opportunity to invite providers to interact with staff and explain their benefits. For employers with separate sites across the country, benefits fairs are also a means of ensuring all members of staff have access to the same information.

But Mark Carman, director of communication services at Edenred, warns: “Don’t give promotional freebies to everyone straightaway give them a coveted value. If [employers] give something away, make sure it is used as an incentive to attend an event.”

With communications technology now so cheap and available, there is no reason to rely on conventional techniques to promote flex. “Marketers are embracing technology to sell products but, actually, launching flex is selling a product,” says Caburn Hope’s South. “It is just to employees rather than shoppers.”

Cutting edge

However, as Appleby points out, no two employers are the same when it comes to technology. “For some employers, sending out a PDF document will be on the cutting edge of innovation, but for others we would be talking about embedding video links and making it interactive,” she says.

Video is one method growing in popularity among employers, and the content is down to each organisation. The use of animation, getting staff to appear to talk about particular benefits, hiring minor celebrities the choice is endless.

Such videos can be put together for as little as £1,000 or as much as £15,000. If an employer has video-making skills in-house, it might even be free to produce.

Employers that already have access to technology, such as technology companies, have a slight advantage. Cisco was able to put a pictorial image on the screen of the IP phones on all employees’ desks. Cisco’s Champion says using an alternative medium to communicate adds a little fun. “Our technology enables us to send messages directly to their desks. People are going to see this every time they look at their phones.”

Edenred’s Carman says a handful of employers have used quick response (QR) codes, strategically placed on posters and other communications material, for staff to use to get further information. QR codes are a kind of unique barcode that is recognised by smartphone cameras, so any employee with such a device can scan the code and will be connected automatically to the relevant webpage, or even a video.

“I think QR codes are going to be big,” says Carman. “They bridge the gap between new media and old media. One [organisation] we are working with wants QR codes on all the flexible benefits posters, so if an employee wants more information, they can scan the code and get the information or sign up to the benefit instantly.”

Social media is a newer medium through which to promote flex. At least one member of the HR team should be trained up to be social media-savvy to undertake a communications campaign using Twitter, Facebook or internal equivalents.

Discussion forum

At Cisco, an online discussion forum called YouZone provided a two-way exchange between employees, leaders and project team specialists. This was accessible at any time on the company’s intranet.

“YouZone allows people to post comments about what they thought of the new flex platform and also anything about the benefits offering, so we could take that into account as we made changes,” says Champion.

Jonathan Bruce, sales director at Portus Online, agrees but points out that although social media will be at the forefront of flexible benefits communication in the future, few employers have yet embraced it because of concerns about what will be said on internal blogs or message boards.

Social media

“Most employers are not very sophisticated [with social media] as a rule to date in practice, but more are giving it consideration,” says Bruce. “Email campaigns are more commonplace.”

South adds: “Internal social media is actually a really effective way of airing issues and creating a two-way dialogue about things. It is a free flow of information for employers and their staff.”

So it is clear that employers have many options available to jazz up their flexible benefits communication. But whether it is through clever use of technology or a creative theme, the most important thing is knowing their audience and having a clear message. Now, go and fetch that animal costume.

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