3 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be THE Year for Benefits Communications

Benefits communication rarely gets the credit — or attention, or budget, or planning — it deserves.

Despite well-documented empirical evidence of its impact and big-name thought leaders advocating for more meaningful investment in communication, it usually gets the short end of the stick.

I’ve spent my career fighting for better budgets, more time spent on strategic planning and better integration with overall goals. For clients, we’ve changed the dynamic, and communication is a now a key part of their overall HR strategy. But for most benefits communication pros, fighting that battle is a right of passage that seems to never end.

I’m hopeful this will be the year we end that senseless battle. Here are three compelling reasons why 2013 will be the year of benefits communication!

1. Your benefit strategy will demand it

Prepare for 2014 health care reform requirements, evaluate level of benefits provided, determine the role of exchanges in health benefits strategy, ramp up health management efforts (aka wellness), consider new care delivery models. Those are Mercer’s widely-quoted five biggest priorities for employer-sponsored health plans this year.

And guess what? Every one of them demands effective — that’s robust and ongoing — communication. Health care benefits are not just about getting people insured — they are about motivating, incenting and enforcing the structure that will help create the radical behavior change we need to solve our country’s health issues.

Health care reform alone would be enough of a catalyst, and it is already getting plenty of mainstream media attention. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have a crisis in retirement readiness with only 53 percent of Americans currently saving for retirement, and even fewer on their way to a secure financial future.

The challenges are big — and this is the year your strategy will demand communication like never before.

2. Your employees will demand it

Aggressive benefits programs only work if employees buy in. Wellness is gaining teeth with 22 percent of employers moving toward results-based programs, and another 52 percent considering this approach. Deductibles are increasing, as companies attempt to get their total plan cost in check and attain the ever-lofty goal of creating engaged consumers. Most Americans are being asked to do more with less and challenged to manage their day-to-day expenses.

With more and more requirements being placed on employees and family members — and as their financial worries grow — they are going to speak up and demand better resources. Our baseline recommendation — get your benefits info outside of your firewall and onto the Internet — is only embraced by 38 percent of companies. Just 29 percent of companies communicate with employees year round.

Despite the ubiquitous use of social media, only 10 percent of companies use it for benefits communication. And despite the growing number of mobile Internet users, only 28 percent of employers are using mobile tools of any kind to communicate benefits. (All stats from our Inside Benefits Communications Survey.)

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We have to stop making excuses. Your employees deserve better, and, if they haven’t already, this will be the year they start demanding it.

3. Your executives will demand it

OK, that might be wishful thinking. It would be pretty rare to have your CEO and CFO specifically request a bigger investment in benefits communication (even with all of our hints). But, in 2013 — more than in previous years — you will hear your C-suite asking questions like this:

  • Can we show an ROI on our investment in health benefits?
  • How do we lower our health spend while keeping turnover low?
  • What are we doing to make health care expenses more predictable?
  • How will we respond to reform without damaging employee morale?

We know you won’t have good answers to any of those questions without effective employee education and communication. And, this is the year to ramp up those communication budgets and ask for more resources. A shocking 68 percent of companies are getting by on communication budgets of less than $25,000 a year. This is heartbreaking! With an investment of less than 1 percent of your total benefits spend, you can make a huge impact with communication.

We’ve said it again and again: we have an incredible opportunity to help solve some of our country’s biggest challenges — improving the health and financial security of all Americans.

This is truly what benefits are all about! And, you can’t do it without effective communication. Let 2013 be the year your benefits communication shines. Your employees need it. Their families need it. We all need it.

This was originally published on the Benz Communications blog. 

Jennifer Benz is Chief Strategist and Founder of Benz Communications, a San Francisco-based consultancy that focuses on custom, comprehensive benefits and HR communications services. Jen is an active member of the Council for Communication Management, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Northern California Human Resources Association and Women in Consulting. Contact her at jen@benzcommunications.com.

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