HR Is NOT Getting the Benefits Message Out

I know we’ve pounded the benefits-communication drum already in our magazine, website and blog, but Audrey Boone Tillman’s plea, if you 125728721-exec with bullhornwill, to HR leaders to pound that drum harder left me with some compelling new truths.

Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services for Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac Inc., presented findings of the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report at her session — “Marketing Your Benefits: Developing a More Effective Strategy to Educate and Engage Employees About Benefits Options” — Monday at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference in Chicago.

That’s a mouthful. I’ll cut to the chase. According to the report, 59 percent of employees would likely switch employers for lower salaries but more comprehensive benefits, and 79 percent agree a well-communicated benefits package would make them less likely to leave.

At the same time, 93 percent of employers believe they effectively communicate benefits, yet nearly half of employees say HR doesn’t communicate benefits enough. And here’s the kicker: Only 10 percent of employees feel their HR department is extremely effective at communicating benefits.

When you’re thinking about the overall cost of providing benefits, “think about the cost to the company if someone leaves for better benefits,” Tillman said, such as turnover, recruiting, lost productivity, training, the list goes on.

When it comes to the confusing labyrinth that is the Affordable Care Act, 75 percent of employees think their employer will and should be explaining how healthcare reform will impact them and their healthcare, yet only 13 percent of employers are actually planning to explain that.

For a complete rundown on who all was questioned for the survey, how many and from what industries, go to the company report’s website. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say HR professionals are not marketing the benefits their companies are offering nearly enough.

“Too many HR leaders still think if they offer it and explain it at open enrollment and put out an email, that’s enough,” said Tillman. “The days of explaining what’s inside a glossy brochure once a year are over.”

Tillman urges employers and their HR and benefits teams to utilize “all the new touch points” available today that “far too few are taking advantage of,” including creating Facebook pages, mailing annual benefits statements to homes where spouses can see them, putting table tents in break and conference rooms, dedicating online email accounts to benefits questions, holding frequent town halls and lunch and learns, and putting videos on company portals featuring testimonials by employees who’ve been helped by the program in some way.

She even suggests pumping up the message with free shirts and free food. “You should be marketing benefits like the big vendors are marketing their goods and services on the expo floor below us,” she told attendees.

And when it comes to healthcare reform, “even to tell them, ‘We still don’t know enough’ is better than telling them nothing. Even ‘We have no news’ is fine,” she said.

Bottom line, employers aren’t finding ways to ask employees what they know and don’t know, need and don’t need, and employees aren’t asking about their options and how their companies can help them become better stewards of their health, finances and benefits.

And if you don’t think most employees need help, consider these two stats from the study: Nearly half (46 percent) of employees have less than 1,000 saved for unexpected health or life emergencies and 25 percent have less than $500 saved. And these are employees! These are the people who are working!

The good news, said Tillman, is that “employees want to hear from HR about employee benefits.” They want the ACA explained to them. They want to understand the “alphabet soup” of acronyms and terminology associated with it.

“This is a space where HR can really take the lead,” she said, “determining and explaining where the company will go in light of healthcare reform. This is where HR can really create value — for the company, for the employee and for HR.”