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HR professionals are increasingly looking to benefits communication to motivate behavior change among employees and families, and help manage costs, new research from Benz Communications found. But in many cases, they’re struggling to implement best practices due to lack of planning and insufficient resources.

"This is a critical time for employee benefits, and a time of significant change effective benefits communications connects to business goalsand opportunity for employers," said Jennifer Benz, founder and CEO of the HR and benefits consulting strategy firm.

The increased emphasis on communications comes as benefits administrators struggle to keep up with the demands of implementing the PPACA, an unsettled economy, and an unhealthy and financially unstable workforce,

The 2012 Inside Benefits Communication report is based on the results of a survey of 298 benefits professionals conducted in May 2012.

Among the highlights from the research:

  • Seventy-eight percent of employers cite getting employees engaged year-round among their biggest challenges, yet less than a third (28.9%) are communicating with employees year-round.
  • Despite more than half of respondents (55.6%) reporting that the effectiveness of their benefits communication efforts has improved during the last three years, nearly half (45.4%) aren't satisfied with their current communications strategy and an additional 28% are ambivalent.
  • Employers' top goals include executing a successful annual enrollment (60%), increasing workers' use of preventive care (48%) and increasing employees' 401(k) savings. Fewer than a quarter (24%) report meeting these goals last year; 18.8% aren't sure.
  • Fewer than a quarter (24.2%) are connecting their benefits strategy to their company's bigger business strategy; less than half (46.9%) try.
  • More than half (54.6%) do not document their benefits communication strategy. And 41% state they aren't sure if their benefits communication efforts are helping them meet their goals.
  • More than two-thirds (68.3%) report budgets of less than $25,000 for benefits communication; 10.1% report budgets between $25,000 and $75,000. The majority of these budgets aren't being spent strategically. For example, two-thirds (66%) report print and postage costs (one-time non-renewable expenses) as consuming most of their budget.
"Overall, the results of the Inside Benefits Communication survey reveals that companies are missing a huge opportunity to improve the success of their benefits programs and use their benefits communications to meet their larger strategic goals," Benz said.

One of the most important steps that employers can take to improve benefits communications is to make it a year-round effort. Limiting communication to open enrollment is rarely effective and it can undermine the long-term strength of your employee benefits program.

Here are a three tips to help you get started in implementing an effective year-round benefit strategy:

  • Remind people that you’re there for them. Questions related to benefits crop up throughout the year -- not just at open enrollment. You want to make sure that your employees come to your benefits team for information first -- rather than less reliable sources. By sharing periodic updates, you can make sure they are getting accurate information and that they see your organization’s benefits team as a trusted resource.
  • Think multimedia. The most-effective plans for benefit communications tap multiple methods to communicate with workers, including print campaigns, employer-brand web platforms and in-person benefits enrollment meetings. Social media is an increasingly important part of this mix, particularly with wellness programs.
  • Consider hiring an outside benefits consultant. Many organizations are turning to human resource outsourcing firms that specialize in employee benefits communications to stay on top of these critical issues. Outsourcing HR functions can substantially lighten your internal HR team’s workload and help you more easily stay on top of rapid changes in healthcare reform and employee benefits trends.

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Winston Benefits is a HR solutions company that helps businesses automate and streamline their employee benefit programs. Custom designed and developed client specific solutions help enrich their total compensation and rewards programs while optimizing processes such as benefit communications, enrollment and administration.


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