Benefits Education Should Be Ongoing

April 3, 2014 ( – Communicating with employees about benefits, including retirement benefits, should not just occur at enrollment.

A white paper from Benz Communications, “Creating Results with Benefits Communication,” examines how effective communication can help employers and employees make the most of the company’s benefit programs. It offers three broad steps, as well as a number of sub-steps, for effective and strategic communication with employees.

The paper recommends employers:

  • Get their materials online;
  • Keep talking with employees; and
  • Work smart, using free or low-cost resources.

“The biggest recommendation we can give about communications is for companies to build a strategy where they have a dialogue with employees, talking to them all year round,” Jennifer Benz, CEO of the San Francisco-based Benz Communications, tells PLANSPONSOR. Benz says one way to do this is via a company-branded website using other communications tools at their disposal to remind employees of their benefits and where they can get more information.

She adds that additional sources of information such as YouTube videos or podcasts can be helpful, “but the website is really the foundation. You can direct employees to this central location and from there they can then access these other channels.”

In addition to a website being user-friendly, employers need to make their content device-friendly, says Benz, adding, “It is really helpful for employees to be able to access material properly not only from computers, but through smartphones and tablets as well.” At a minimum, she says, employers should make sure their content has mobile optimization, as well as investigate more sophisticated “responsive” forms of optimization that adapt the format of content to suit the device on which its being viewed.

The paper also discusses the use of email surveys and focus groups. “Usually, these services are out of the realm of what’s usually offered by recordkeepers. Employers can use a communications consultant for such things, however, and it is not out of the realm of possibility for the employer to do some of these things themselves,” Benz says. Many human resource software packages have some type of survey options, she adds. In addition, simple online survey sites such as offer services and capabilities for little or no cost. “Employers can also use webinar tools to create virtual focus groups, where you don’t even have to have everyone in the same room.”

The key, says Benz, is for employers to remember it is important to talk to their employees. “Employers can learn things from their employees that they might not have learned otherwise,” she says.

Benz highlights how it is important to give a context for the material being discussed, whether it is for overall employee benefits or specifically for retirement. “With retirement, there is a lot to talk about and it is an ongoing conversation between employers and employees. However, starting the conversation with a topic like financial wellness, which can cover areas like budgeting and saving, helps to address the bigger picture of overall financial health. When employees understand things like financial literacy and debt management, it offers them a more holistic view of financial planning, of which retirement is a part.”

The paper also discusses how to measure the results of communication efforts. First, says Benz, employers can look at the volume and quality of communications through information channels such as surveys and focus groups, as well as email clickthrough statistics and meeting attendance. Second, they can measure participation and use. Third, they can measure outcomes.

“Measuring participation in a retirement plan is much easier now thanks to features like automatic enrollment,” says Benz. “What employers need to do is look one level below that, asking questions like whether participants are taking advantage of matching contributions or maximizing contribution limits or keeping their investments diversified. Employers also need to take a long-term view to see if participant balances will sustain employees during retirement and if employees are making good decisions to that end.” Success, she says, needs to be measured beyond just participation in the plan.

Employers with smaller budgets and fewer resources can be convinced of the importance of communications by looking at how better financial wellness through communication can benefit the company as a whole. With improved financial wellness comes lower levels of financial stress and higher levels of productivity, she says. Benz adds that the money spent on communication is ultimately a fraction of the overall budget usually slated for employee benefits.

Finally, Benz says something many employers are not taking advantage of, but should, is the activity surrounding communications for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or ACA). “Right now, companies are investing a lot of time and resources in communications about ACA-related health care benefits. But to employees, benefits are benefits. The time is now to shine a light on both health care and retirement benefits. If employers don’t take advantage, it will definitely be a missed opportunity.”

A copy of the white paper can be downloaded here.