Most employers (56%) say improving employees’ understanding and perceived value of benefits is their main focus, yet companies still lack personalized benefits communication at a time when it’s commonly expected by employees.
These are among the findings of a new survey of more than 330 employers conducted by the non-profit National Business Coalition on Health and Benz Communications.
A collaborative effort, the 2014 Inside Benefits Communication Survey gathered key data from HR/benefits professionals about their benefits communication approaches, strategies and results.These findings are the second of two reports — the first report, released last month, detailed employers’ views on benefits through the lens of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other industry mandates and trends.
• Professionals spent the most time over the last year working to improve employees’ understanding and perceived value of benefits (56%). Time dedicated to lowering overall health plan costs was second (47%), followed by maintaining overall compliance (47%).
• Communication is largely credited as a main driver in helping companies meet benefits goals as respondents were confident about achieving their goals in 2013, with more than 80% saying they reached all or some of their benefits goals last year. Communication played a major part in this success; 73% say benefits communication helped them meet their goals last year.
• Keeping employees and families engaged in their benefits year-round was noted as the largest communications challenge (75%). Flawed approaches continue, however, as the majority (64%) say they only communicate with employees once a year at annual enrollment, and 46% measure success only by reduced calls to the HR/benefits department.
• Forty-one percent of respondents rely on first-hand feedback via employee surveys/focus groups to gauge success, while others lean on numeric metrics like:
Reduced benefit costs (40%)
Improved wellness biometrics (26%)
Reduced employee health risks (25%)
Increased retirement plan participation/account balances (24%)
• Employers are moving to embrace online and mobile channels to reach employees with benefits messages with 90% saying they put benefits information online. However, respondents are slower to leverage newer technologies and drop traditional IT protocols to reach a broader population: Just half (50%) place benefits information outside the firewall, accessible for spouses/partners and other family members; only 40% have their Internet sites optimized for viewing on mobile devices.
• While just 15% of respondents are using social media in benefits communication, it is a bold minority—of that 15%, 50% use Facebook to communicate; 37% use blogs and 31% use Twitter. Most (57%) have been using social media for one to three years, indicating that employers using these channels have just begun to scratch the surface on their potential to drive communication success and benefits results.
• Sixty percent of 2014 respondents say their annual budget for benefits communication is less than $25,000. Three-quarters of respondents say that amount has remained flat over the last year. Plus, one-half spend the majority of that budget on one-time costs—printing or mailing.
“Given that health care benefits are critical to employer recruiting and retention efforts, it’s important that we better understand how organizations are addressing their benefits communications in light of industry changes due to health care reform and compliance issues,” said Brian Klepper, NBCH CEO. "This is really about what it takes to be much more effective.”
The research gathered key data from 333 human resource/benefits professionals about their benefits communication approaches, strategies and results. Respondents spanned a wide cross-section of geographic regions, corporate industries and business coalition affiliations. Respondents are largely concentrated in the service and technology industries, located mainly in the Southeast and West regions of the United States. Most respondents’ have a population of 1,000–5,000 U.S.-based employees.
Full survey details, including a sharable infographic illustrating the findings, can be found at http://www.nbch.org/ibcsurvey.
“While we’re disappointed that there hasn’t been bigger movement forward among employers using what we know are communication best practices, we’re encouraged that the data show there is a clear contingent of leading-edge practitioners who are working to use communication to bring benefits value to the forefront for employees,” said Jennifer Benz, founder and CEO of Benz Communications. “As costs continue to rise and employees accept more of the financial responsibility for managing their health and benefits, it’s the employers who make investments in effective communication who will rise to the top in all the ways the matter—recruiting, retention, cost-management and employee satisfaction.”