benefits communications

The Real Reason Your Benefits Communications Have It Backward

Successful benefits communications is an issue almost every company struggles with. We see it every day in our work, and we read about it often in publications and on sites just like this.

Most companies focus the bulk of their benefits communications on facts: The cost of your plan. How voluntary products mesh with medical coverage. The likelihood of experiencing a covered condition. Most benefit communications are littered with these numbers and details, all in an effort to help employees make informed decisions when it comes to their voluntary benefits. Then, once we state this information, we try to make it personal and add an emotional appeal.

Except most of these companies have it completely backward.

At Trustmark we recently shared research that found employees prefer the opposite of how many of us have approached benefit communications. It turns out that employees are responding and acting based more on emotional cues than factual ones.

Are you surprised? I was, until I started delving further into the research.

Our research found that 40 percent of employees said the primary reason they enrolled in benefits was “It’s important to have peace of mind.” Another 25 percent said “It’s the responsible thing to do.” Employees are making benefits choices with their hearts, not their minds. It’s a shift that benefits and HR professionals need to start taking into consideration as they develop communications plans for the upcoming enrollment season.

Our research also found that only 13 percent of employees cite the details of their insurance plan as their primary reason for enrollment. And just 18 percent of those polled said that liking the details of the plan was even a factor in their decision.

What’s happening here seems fairly obvious: Employees are making benefits-purchasing decisions based on emotions. Sure, facts still matter when it comes to communicating with employees about benefits, but they just aren’t the key reasons anyone is enrolling anymore.

In fact, the deeper you get into the specifics related to health care, the less it appears to resonate.

Only 7 percent of employees said the “medical gap” was the reason they enrolled in voluntary benefits. This has been a message the insurance industry has focused on for years. But now, it seems, that message is not resonating with employees. And it’s most likely another reason most benefits communications are failing to truly reach employees.

The bigger picture is this: Employees are making benefits-purchase decisions the same way they make other purchase decisions — with emotion. Consider the way you think about consumer brands:

  • Do you feel like you need the newest smartphone to keep up with friends and family?
  • Do you regularly buy a specific brand of peanut butter because your family always had it when you were growing up?
  • Do you get your coffee each morning at the same coffee shop because you like being greeted by the same barista and people in line each day?

It’s all about emotions.

So how do you take this information and start shifting your approach? First, resist the strong urge to rely on facts, figures and details. I know it will be hard, but consider not leading with them. Instead try driving home a sense of responsibility and play to that “peace of mind” 40 percent of employees mentioned in our survey.

Start your communications to employees by making it personal — provide an illustrative example to demonstrate your point. Consider different experiences and observations you can draw upon.

Let me give you a personal example. A member of my team recently experienced shortness of breath during exercise. After undergoing multiple tests, this relatively young man discovered he needed immediate triple-bypass surgery to treat an 80 percent blockage to his “widowmaker” artery. As he went through the treatment and recovery, this team member got a real-life introduction to the financial challenges that arise from a serious medical condition. What if you were to lead with THAT story in your next benefits communication to employees? Wouldn’t that be a great way to remind employees that something like this could happen to anyone? That it’s important that we are all adequately protected?

If you feel as though you might be approaching benefits communications backward — leading with facts and figures, and then filling in emotional color after the fact — you’re not alone. But it’s never too late to adjust your approach. Creating an emotional connection with employees can help you play on the feeling of concern employees have for themselves, their finances and their families, versus talking about the rational calculation of the benefit features or how the benefits fill in a gap with the employees’ existing medical coverage.