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Benefits Beat

A Goal That HR and Benefits Leaders Share: Engagement

Just as we know how to build best practices for designing HR programs, we’ve also developed best practices for driving engagement with benefits.

A high-tech company rolled out several new family benefits last year and wants its people to take advantage of them.

A university created new medical plans and successfully moved employees and their families into those plans during enrollment; now it needs those families to use the plans.

A professional services leader — traditionally quiet about the rich benefits it offers — has realized this is “just not the way things work anymore.”

I spent the first part of this year meeting with our clients — large, talent-focused organizations that make a big deal about their employee benefits. Regardless of the size and type of company, they all have one goal in common: engagement. And many of them aren’t just thinking about this in the United States, but globally, too.

Engagement is a shared goal by many benefits and HR leaders. Those leaders frequently talk about two types of engagement, often interchangeably. There’s what I like to call “Big E” engagement — or employee engagement. The definition I like best for this is one I learned when I started my career: say/stay/strive. Do employees say good things about the company? Do they want to stay? And, are they motivated to go above and beyond their job requirements?

But what’s top of mind for benefits leaders is a different form of engagement, a connection with the benefits programs themselves. Are people actually using the programs available to them? You can measure this type of engagement by looking at program enrollment, participation and plan balances. When people are engaged with their benefits, they appreciate them more.

And that helps build “Big E” engagement with their company. This form of engagement helps connect benefits to the employee value proposition. They become tangible and emotive reasons people feel cared about and connected to their organization.

My entire career has been focused on driving engagement with benefits. For too long, I’ve heard things like, “We don’t know how to engage employees,” or “Nothing we do will make a difference.” Or even worse, “No one has cracked the code on employee engagement.”

These statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Just as we know how to build best practices for designing HR programs, we’ve also developed best practices for driving engagement with benefits. During the past couple of years, in particular, I’ve worked with my team to codify the way to get employees to engage with benefits. We have documented them as our “10 Keys to Employee Engagement,” and they’re based on more than 11 years of research and client work.

The 10 steps go from foundational elements to how you manage resources. We recommend that every organization start with a strong foundation. You must have a strategy that includes clear goals, a recognizable and emotive brand, and a single destination for information and action — most often, a website that is built outside the firewall.

Then, you must take a marketing approach to communicating about benefits. That means using employee feedback, prioritizing simplicity in messaging, using a multichannel and year-round approach, targeting messages whenever possible and ensuring everything connects in the overall employee experience.

Finally, you need the right resources to support this effort. That means having both the budget to cover your year-round approach and the right partners (internal and external) to get it all done.

We have documented these steps fully in our new e-book series, which you can find on our website at benzcommunications.com.

Any organization that fully embraces these 10 steps will see results with their benefits.

I’ve been delighted to hear from our clients about the results of their efforts — the accolades they are receiving externally and the praise they are receiving internally. But what’s especially gratifying is the satisfaction they get from knowing employees are taking advantage of the programs designed to improve their health, wealth, and happiness.

As more companies share their successes, engagement will no longer be a mysterious or intangible goal, but something we diligently plan for, build and measure.

Jennifer Benz is CEO and Founder of Benz Communications, a San Francisco-based employee benefits communications agency. She was honored as one of Workforce’s Game Changers in 2013. Contact her at jen@benzcommunications.com or follow her on Twitter at @jenbenz.