How communicators help employees use their wellness benefits

It’s all about letting people know what’s at their fingertips.

Employees often desire much more beyond compensation. An important part of any positive employee experience centers on the benefits employees receive. These can take many different forms, from hard benefits like a healthcare plan, to so-called soft benefits like the ability to work from home and flexible hours.
But if employees aren’t aware of the benefits at their disposal, how can they best make use of them for their own wellness? We spoke with a group of seasoned communicators to gain a better perspective on how communicating benefits can enrich the employee experience.

The role of the manager and destigmatizing benefits 

Even if you’ve got a great slate of benefits, employees will likely not utilize them to the fullest extent unless they know how each benefit functions and what it provides. Tara Davis, director of internal communications, staff wellbeing & engagement at the American Psychological Association, said that managers are a key conduit to getting the benefits story across.

“Communicators can organically remind managers of the benefits available, how they can be accessed, and the best ways to share this news with their reports,” she said.

Davis also remembered a time when an on-staff psychologist created a video to walk employees through what the process of using an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) looked like.

“We recorded a video to make things really easy to understand, because uncertainty is often worse than bad news,”  she added.

Communicators can also help destigmatize certain issues, such as benefits that can assist with an employee’s mental health, by getting out ahead of the conversation.

“We talk about our EAPs as things that can help you live your best life,” Davis said Normalizing these benefits is such a major part of the conversation.”

Continuing the benefits conversation after onboarding

Think about the last time you started a new job. In the shuffle of new managers, on-the-job duties, and overall work environment, the benefits you have the right to as an employee can get lost. According to Karianne Michelle, president of Lofti, communication around employee benefits and wellness needs to go far beyond the packet you receive about them on your first day of work.

“When you’re first starting a new job there can be a whirlwind of emotions, and as people, we can only take so much information in at once,” she said.

Internal comms and HR need to realize that most people need to visualize information up to seven times to truly internalize it. And with an avalanche of information on benefits at the outset of a job, employees often won’t be able to take it all in the first time.

“If you’re repetitive, it might have a better chance of sticking,” Michelle said.

Reminders are a great way to ensure that hires new and old are aware of the benefits at their disposal — whether they come through the form of emails, newsletters, or videos.

Loreal Torres, chief people officer at Vested, said that her organization maintains a process of outreach by reminding new employees of their benefits three times in the first 90 days of employment and giving periodic nudges to employees who aren’t taking enough paid time off. Having concrete places where employees can centrally find their available benefits can be a big help.

“Build a deck or tool where employees can easily access information about the benefits available to them,” she said. “Having a one-pager with instructions on how to utilize the benefits and a roadshow can also be really helpful, and oftentimes companies will see an increase in usage of those benefits.”

Leaning into the data

As communicators, you’re aware of the power that data has to inform how a story is told. But looking at the data to determine what benefits to talk about can help with the success of the message.

“If you’ve got your messaging grounded in a data point, different parties can come to the decision-making table to talk about what the data means and how to act on it,” said Michelle.

Data-finding touchpoints like surveys can also help identify what employees are looking for in  their benefits and provide the seed of people-first wellness messaging. This information then comms and HR to work together on potential modifications and additions to the benefits offerings that are provided.

“When you know what employees want out of their benefits, you can create an effective comms strategy,” she said. “Data and feedback are essential to achieving that.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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