Photo Harry Gotlieb, The JellyVision Benefits

Harry Gottlieb, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

The current way of doing things—trying to cram 365 days’ worth of benefits information into the narrow windows of new hire orientation and open/annual enrollment—simply doesn’t work.


It’s too much information to take in at one time.

Few people wake up in the morning wondering about their disability insurance. And yet, one of out of four 20-year-olds working today will become disabled at some point in their working career. Disability insurance is an extremely meaningful benefit when you actually need it. It’s worthy of three or four concentrated minutes of an employee’s time to learn about it. And if they did, they’d be grateful to you for providing it.

But how is that going to happen when you’re also trying get three or four concentrated minutes of an employee’s time to consider how much life insurance they should get when their chosen plan is life insurance over 65, pick out a dental plan, decide on whether to get a vision plan, ponder pet insurance, contemplate an increase to their 401(k) contribution, and learn about maybe a dozen other valuable benefits?

Answer: it’s not going to happen.

Oh, wait: I didn’t mention learning about, and perhaps picking out, their medical plan. During OE and new hire orientation, have you noticed that nearly all the questions are about medical? Medical takes up all the oxygen in the room. If you care about any of your other benefits, then you don’t want to force them to compete with medical for employee’s attention.

A better approach is to spread out the benefits discussion in order to give employees the time and space they need to consider—and retain—all their available benefit options. Instead of giving them a seventeen course meal and expect them to eat it in one sitting, what about a series of quick, tasty snacks delivered over the course of the year?

Even if elections need to be made during OE, the decision making can and should be made in the weeks prior to it. And for benefits that don’t require elections, promote those during other times of the year.

Be Confident

Believe it: employees are capable of thinking about benefits beyond the enrollment period. Don’t jam everything into a few short weeks because you fear employees wont pay attention during other points in the year. A top real estate agent knows as long as you keep your messages brief and relevant, employees will pay attention and—are you sitting down—actually look forward to hearing from you.

Be Brief

Did I mention the messages should be brief? You need to be brief. Use short, easy-to-read messages. A simple, punchy headline, a call to action, and URL where they can read more is all you need to promote a benefit. Then, of course, once they get to that URL, the additional information should also be concise, free of jargon and focused on “the benefit of the benefit.”

Be Interesting

What is the “benefit of the benefit?” Well, how do television commercials talk about shampoo? They might mention “features” like having the most powerful detergent and volumizing agent. But marketers know that people buy the shampoo because they think it’s going to make their hair look great. That’s the real benefit of the shampoo. It’s the thing as a customer you care about.

With your benefits packages—say, your defined contribution plan for example—you obviously need to tell them about automatic enrollment and escalation “features.” But here’s what they care about: having their retirement dream come true without a lot of hassle. That’s the real BENEFIT. That’s what they care about. Make sure you don’t lose sight of that.

130910 gottleibA promotion for a Dependent Care FSA: Short, intriguing and focused on the benefit of the benefit.


Be Strategic

Be sure to identify the most suitable ways to reach your workforce (note that “ways” is plural). A fancy mobile app with GPS and social hooks might be effective for some employees, but other others may respond even better to photocopies taped to the back of bathroom stalls. It’s unlikely that a single approach will reach everyone.

Like any good marketer, you’ll want to distribute your messages across multiple channels.

Be a Marketer

You don’t think of yourself as being in marketing, do you? You think of yourself in benefits. But if an employee has never heard of a benefit (say it was disclosed in a website with dozens of others and they never even saw it) then that benefit does not even exist for them. That’s why you need to start thinking of yourself as being in marketing. You spend an enormous amount of time making benefits available, but those efforts are fruitless if you fail to engage your employees in learning about them.

To do that, you have to realize that old school “employee communications” isn’t going to cut it. You need to advertise to a group of consumers, who happen to be employees of your company.

implies that you have to earn consumers’ attention. Guess what? You have to earn your employees’ attention. Modern marketers use a spectrum of resources to get their messages to connect with consumers: social media, print, interactivity, focus groups, surveys and data analysis. If you want your employees to understand the extent of your company’s generosity with benefits—if you want to help recruiting sell new talent—if you want to help engender staff loyalty, this is the new game you need to start playing.


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