The way employers communicate benefits information has a tremendous impact on how well their benefits programs are understood, utilized and perceived by employees. Providing your employees with ample informative resources will help better convey your message. The better your benefits are communicated (and the better employees understand them) the more valuable they will become.
Many employers think that managers and supervisors are the best choice to share benefits information with employees. This makes sense, since direct managers are more approachable and accessible for questions. But as with all internal communications, there is a risk if done incorrectly. Take caution when communicating benefits information by taking the following best practices into consideration.
1 Avoid verbal communication hiccups.
Communicating inaccurate information to employees is always a major concern when using managers and supervisors to relay benefits information. Keep in mind that misinformation not only causes an employee relations problem, but also carries legal risks. Consider these tips to avoid problems:
Allow only Human Resources personnel to discuss benefits information with employees.
Remind supervisors and managers to review plan documents carefully in the case they do receive questions. Stress that they should refer employees to HR with any question they are unsure of how to address.
Communicate to managers and supervisors that they should never make any promises regarding any aspect of the benefits plan that the company is unable to keep, whether formal or informal.
2 Take caution with written communications.
All written materials (even informal documents) about benefits information prevails in court. As a precaution, make sure all written benefits communication is consistent with the official documents before distributing.
Employees often rely on summary plan descriptions to determine their rights under a specific plan. In the event of an issue due to discrepancies between plan documents and the summary plan document, the summary plan document can hold up in court. Because of this, it is crucial to make sure that the summary plan document is correct, current, clear and in agreement with the plan documents, handbooks and all other benefits information.
As a safety measure, be sure that these materials state clearly that the plan document has absolute authority over them. This information should appear in a separate paragraph in a prominent position. Consider using larger, italic or boldfaced type or a distinct border to make the information readily apparent.
Take further precautions by implementing the following processes:
Storing a copy of each communication or disclosure sent to employees, however informal.
Granting discretion to fiduciaries in the plan document.
Ensuring all documents relating to the plan do not include any misleading information before distribution. Requesting any additional information from the plan administrator regarding information that you believe may be misleading.
Reserving the right to amend the plan at any time, for any reason.
Developing a benefits guide that reflects your organization’s brand and includes all benefit information in one place.
State in the plan documents that plan amendments are to be made only in writing and approved by the business owner or plan administrator, if applicable.
3 Remember to keep your broker involved.
Your broker can help you customize your benefit plan communications and materials so you’re not relying on the generic information provided by the insurance companies. At the very least, they can add your logo to all communication pieces. Your broker can also help you create a communication plan to help you and your management team do the following:
Get the word out about how your benefits stand out in the job market by sharing your benchmark data.
Creating a multi-channel communication strategy to reach all generations of your employee base. For instance, younger employees might prefer on-demand resources (recorded videos or webinars, virtual avatars or decision-support tools, etc.), while other employees might prefer in-person meetings or one-on-one support.
To learn how to take employee engagement to the next step, join me next week for a webinar, “Employee Engagement + RBP: Employers’ secret to lowering healthcare costs,” on April 9th.