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Apr 1, 2011

I get a lot of press releases that drop into my e-mail, and just the sheer volume makes it hard for anything to really grab my attention.

But here’s one that did, and the headline on the press release said it all: Do Employees Recognize the Value of the Benefits You Provide?

It was from Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company, and the press release made the point that although current estimates show that benefits comprise 30 to 40 percent of an employee’s total compensation package, most employees don’t have any idea how valuable their benefits really are.

I don’t know about you, but as we hear more and more about disengaged and disgruntled workers getting reading to bolt now that the economy is finally starting to improve and grow some jobs, the notion that employees don’t understand the value of their benefits seems like a big problem.

A plus if you know and understand them

“A solid benefits package is a plus — but only if employees know and understand what their employer makes available to them,” says Marianne Adams, assistant vice president of enrollment services at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company, in the press release. “Benefits statements are helping many employers today get greater value from the benefits they provide.”

Readers of TLNT probably know this better than most, because frequent contributors like Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications, and Fran Melmed (who writes a lot about workplace wellness and wellness programs), keep writing about it.

Like so many things, however, you need to talk about it a lot before it finally begins to sink in.

Case in point: the Colonial Life press release points to a Colonial Life-SHRM National Conference Survey from July 2009 that shows that “less than 19 percent of employers think their employees have a very good understanding of their benefits. And nearly 5 percent think their employees know nothing at all about their benefits.”

Part of this, Colonial Life notes, is due to a lack of strong benefits communications. That’s a pretty big HR issue, of course, and Colonial Life references a recent Harvard Business Review survey sponsored by Unum where just 43 percent of HR leaders say their employees are satisfied with their benefits, but considerably fewer (30 percent) say the same about their benefits communication. “In fact, 23 percent of them say their employees view their benefits communication as weak.”

HR communications a victim of the recession

This lack of strong benefits communication is part of a pattern that organizations (and their HR departments) seem to have have fallen into during the recession, and that is to skimp on the communications. As more businesses turned away from worrying about employee engagement — they should just be damn happy to have a job, right? — more of them also turned away from communicating much with employees on just about anything except salary freezes, reductions, furloughs, and layoffs.

There’s one I know all too well that just flat out failed to keep a regular stream of communications coming to employees as they cut salaries, annual bonuses, and let people go. Not only did it make for a highly disgruntled workforce, but they have had a pretty good amount of turnover as people who got fed up with the seemingly uncaring corporate attitude of the last few years decided to move on to greener pastures.

Is there a way to fix this? Colonial Life says the answer may lie in more focus on the employee benefit statements as “one tool that can help employers with the increasingly important task of benefits education and communication.”

That’s a good idea, of course, but another might be simply for organizations everywhere to not only work a lot harder to communicate with employees, but perhaps to also make a point of apologizing for the poor communications of the past two years. It may not do a great deal to re-engage workers, or make them more aware and appreciative of their benefits, but it IS a start — the start of a process of treating employees more like the valuable assets that they truly are.

That, unfortunately, got lost in the recession, too. It’s time companies everywhere made a concerted effort to go out and find it again.

There’s a lot more in the news this week than employees not appreciating their benefits. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • They don’t make bosses like this anymore. Unless you hail from St. Louis, chances are you probably never have heard about John R. Weber and his construction company, but if you read the obituary on him from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, you’ll wish you had. Why? Because he represents the kind of employer you don’t see much anymore. “When an employee at his family’s construction company retired,” the newspaper wrote, “John R. Weber gave the worker a token of his esteem — a Cadillac. It was a tradition that his late father had started at Fred Weber Inc., and his son continued it until he retired in 1986.”
  • When is a hiring freeze not a hiring freeze? It’s when the governor of North Carolina declares one, then watches as so many exemptions are given that the hiring freeze becomes, in the words of the Charlotte Observer, “slushy.” According to the newspaper, “It was a serious measure that recognized not only a looming deficit, which the latest figures now peg at $1.9 billion, but also the certainty that as many as 3,000 state employees would lose their jobs. The message was firm and it was clear: No new hires and no raises. But not really. Since the first of the year, nearly 500 exceptions to the hiring and wage freeze mandate have been approved. Only a handful of requests for hires have been turned down by the state Office of Budget Management.”
  • Philadelphia stories: Union hardball, and fired over a skimpy uniform. What happens when two card-carrying guys open a new coffeehouse but use non-union workers in the construction? Well, they get blackballed by the unions, according to the Philadelphia Inquirerno matter if they are strong union members or not. And what happens when a 59-year-old cocktail waitress gets a skimpy new uniform that leaves her “disgusted?” She gets fired, over the phone, no less, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, for “not meeting uniform requirements.”