How to get the message across means knowing your staff

No matter how good a benefits scheme is, it will not flourish if staff are unaware of all that is on offer, as Alison Coleman reports

Offering an attractive benefits package to your employees is one thing, ensuring that they fully understand its content and value is another. An effective communication strategy is the key to encouraging staff to take up the benefits being presented to them, but employers don’t always get it right.

“The provision of benefits currently tops the list of what employees expect from an employer, illustrating a clear link to staff engagement and motivation, yet many schemes fail to deliver simply because they have not been communicated properly,” says David Walker, communications director at Personal Group.

There are numerous ways of getting the message across to the workforce, from traditional brochures and booklets that are handed out to every member of staff, to technology-based channels, including webinars, email and, more recently, mobile devices and social-media campaigns.

While younger employees may embrace cutting-edge digital communications, not everyone has access to a computer

Which will have the most impact? Face-to-face communication provides a better opportunity to explain the more complex, but tax-efficient, salary sacrifice benefits; however, it is more difficult to organise for mobile, remote and home-based staff. And while younger employees may embrace cutting-edge digital communications, not everyone has access to a computer. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and often it comes down to understanding the company culture and asking staff how they would like to receive information.

When invoice finance solutions firm Bibby Financial Services introduced flexible benefits into its reward programme earlier this year, a series of roadshows, held at each of its 17 UK offices, was by far the most popular method of communication with the firm’s 720 employees. “We knew from staff feedback gathered before and after the scheme launch that this was what most people wanted,” says HR project manager Vicky Smith.

“Each event was presented by the managing director of that office, with representatives from the HR team providing support and expertise. We also ran online webinars for field salespeople who couldn’t get to the roadshows, and used emails and the intranet to reinforce the message. However, the glossy brochure that we had printed was the least popular method of providing information and, as it was also the most expensive, we won’t be reprinting it,” she adds.

In larger organisations, where the workforce demographic is much broader in terms of age, background, employment level and role, a segmented communications strategy is called for.

Matthew Gregson, a senior consultant at Thomsons Online Benefits, explains: “Pensions information, for example, will have different degrees of relevance to people of different ages, so the content and the mode of communication must be tailored to these age groups. If you don’t know who your employees are or what they want, your communications strategy will be ineffective.”

One of the advantages of using a third-party benefits scheme provider is that they can provide the detailed analysis of workforce demographics needed for effective segmentation and accurate targeting of benefits information to the people most likely to take them up.

However, in a prevailing climate of low or no pay rises, benefits that deliver financial savings, including tax-efficient salary sacrifice benefits and discounted retail schemes, will be welcomed by the majority of workers.

James Malia, head of employee benefits at P&MM, says: “The important thing is to communicate the actual savings they can make, for example on the annual costs of their childcare or mobile phone, or their weekly grocery shopping, so they see the value in terms of actual cash in their pocket. Get the communication right and the benefits scheme becomes a key part of the employee engagement strategy.”