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The Best Practices Guide: Best Practices in Communication and Education

During good times, communication and education are key to helping employees make the most of their benefits. During bad times, these tactics are critical to helping employees weather the storm.

The Principal 10 Best Companies—2010 understand that connection. Throughout the recession and recovery, these organizations relied on straightforward communication and ongoing education to reassure employees, boost participation and help ensure employee appreciation. “If employees don’t understand the benefits and you don’t communicate it, you’re basically wasting money,” says Theresa A. Waters, senior director, HR and administration, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

Use these best practices to improve the communication and education in your organization’s benefit program:

  • Engage in a two-way conversation about benefits. Employees’ benefit preferences may surprise you. “Don’t assume you know what your employees want. Ask them and engage them,” says Christy Scheuerman, employee benefits consultant, The Graham Company.

    Make one-on-one meetings mandatory for some groups of employees. At AILA, one-on-one meetings on a variety of financial topics are mandatory for new hires, as well as for older employees who are preparing for retirement.
  • Reach out to the benefits decision-makers. In many cases, the employee may not be the one making the decisions regarding benefits, so make sure your benefit communications are getting to the right people.

    Franklin International, for example, realized that many of their employees (80 percent of whom are male) weren’t the main benefits decision-makers in their families. “That’s why our mandatory meetings with employees weren’t helping,” says Doug Reys, the company’s manager of compensation and benefits. “Now we start with written communication, and the benefit meetings are optional.” The company is also considering YouTube videos to help reach spouses.
  • Use a variety of communication vehicles. All of The Principal 10 Best Companies—2010 use several different types of communications to help employees get the message. Posters, memos, emails, intranet articles, newsletters, direct mailings, group and one-on-one meetings and social media can all help spread the word. “Different people prefer different means of communication,” explains Jeff Fick, vice president of human resources, RLI.
  • Give social media a try. Red River Credit Union launched its first social media initiative in 2009, using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. “We don’t share specific information in social media, but it’s become a popular way to share general information,” says Karen Rhodes, the credit union’s human resources director.
  • Boost communication and education during trying times. Over the past two years, Red River Credit Union “continually kept the emails and the communications flowing to show employees comparisons of markets in the past. Our investment advisor came down during the downturn to talk to employees in our group meeting and also one-on-one,” says Rhodes.
  • Make meetings fun—and filling. The Graham Company regularly gets 100 percent attendance at open enrollment meetings by creating a “fun atmosphere with free food and beverages,” says Scheuerman.
  • Send out pre-meeting materials. Before open enrollment meetings, The Bolles School sends out a series of communications to make sure employees are aware of—and prepared for—the meetings. The organization sends out “save the date” emails, followed a week later by a detailed benefits packet so they can review the information in advance.
  • Offer one-on-one meetings. All of The Principal 10 Best Companies—2010 offer some form of one-on-one guidance, either with one of their staff or with a benefit provider or financial professional. These meetings allow the companies to tailor the information for each individual.
  • Bring in your benefit providers and financial professionals. Partnering with these experts can give your organization access to a wealth of resources—including educational meetings, printed materials and other tools. Red River Credit Union regularly brings in its health insurance provider and retirement plan financial professional to boost education efforts.
  • Conduct annual compensation reviews. These one-on-one meetings, which cover each employee’s salary and benefits, help The Delp Company educate employees and boost their appreciation of the benefits. “For some employees, it’s eye-popping,” explains Cleves Delp, CEO, The Delp Company.
  • Make an extra effort to communicate cost increases. When Davidson Technologies increased its healthcare copays and deductibles, they went the extra mile to communicate the change to employees. The company brought in a benefit provider to educate employees at their headquarters.

    They also went to each of their other offices to explain the change. And for employees who couldn’t make it into the office, the company held a meeting via teleconference. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t catch anyone by surprise,” says Pamela Peterson, director—human resources, Davidson Technologies, Inc.
  • Boost education to boost participation. Clif Bar & Company uses ongoing education to increase understanding of its retirement plan. “We can see direct results in increased participation,” says Claudia Perkins, vice president of human resources, Clif Bar & Company.
  • Tailor communications by life stage. The educational needs of employees and their families change over time. That’s why Franklin International offers certain educational programs for specific life stages. For instance, the organization offers a program on advanced defensive driving skills for teen drivers. They also send tailored communications about Social Security and Medicare to employees who are approaching retirement age.
  • Keep generational differences in mind. Employees of different ages tend to prefer different communication methods. “Most of our workforce is more mature,” explains Peterson at Davidson Technologies. “So they prefer the hands-on, face-to-face meetings. Our Y generation workforce, on the other hand, definitely prefers seeing the information electronically, so we email the information to them.”
  • Make communication a never-ending endeavor. “Continuous communication is paramount,” says Reys. “Our HR and benefits group does a lot more than communicate once or twice a year and then go away. It’s a mindset of continuous communication that addresses the questions on an ongoing basis.”

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