How to Make Your Employee Benefits Messages Stick: Real Ideas from a Pro

“Hello? (Hellooooo…hellooo…helloooo…) Is anybody out there? (Out there…out there…out there…)”

If you’re an HR pro, it might feel like you’re shouting into a cavernous void every time open enrollment rolls around. It’s our most important time of year, when we’re tasked with sharing allll of our benefits materials with each and every employee, in an effort to provide them with the resources they need to stay happy and healthy. But what happens when we’re met with radio silence?

This year at Camp Engage, we asked Maddison Grigsby of Gallagher that very question. In turn, she shared her best strategies and tactics for making your benefits messages stick every time—to drive engagement, action, and appreciation for your organization’s total rewards package. Here’s what she had to say.

Meet the Speaker

Maddison Grigsby

Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

Step 1: Know your audience

The first step in driving more engagement with your benefits messages this open enrollment? Grigsby says to consider your audience. 

When we think about the best ways to communicate in the workplace, a certain level of emotional intelligence is necessary. It’s not just about being aware of yourself and your own communication preferences. We also need to be aware of the person with whom we’re speaking. What’s their body language? What’s their tone? Are they more direct or passive? Do they prefer email or Slack? 

That idea also applies to benefits communication. The better you know your audience and their unique needs and preferences, the more your benefits messages will resonate. And Grigsby says the key to better understanding your employees is to seek feedback—and then do something with it. 

According to a recent Gallagher study,

of respondents agree that their organization values employee feedback
say their organization does something with that feedback
believe their organization has a robust process in place for capturing feedback

It’s great that most organizations want to hear from their workforce, but there’s a gap when it comes to acting on the feedback employees share. Most organizations don’t have an ongoing process in place to solicit ideas from their team, and there tends to be a lack of follow-up. 

So what are the best ways to ask employees for their thoughts and translate them into measurable improvements across the organization? Of course, engagement surveys are the most popular channel, but Grigsby recommends a multi-channel approach:

Maddison recommends using a multi-channel approach when it comes to benefits communication since preferences vary from person to person.

Once feedback is collected, it’s time to acknowledge what was shared and incorporate it into company strategies. Grigsby offered one example of how the Gallagher team worked with their partner, Penske, to make it happen.

How Penske incorporated employee feedback into their hiring practices

Penske, a transportation company, recently approached Gallagher for help with their recruitment communications. Penske’s team found that there was a disconnect between new hires’ employee benefits expectations versus their actual experience, and they were looking for ways to better communicate what it looks like to work for their organization. 

Gallagher’s team reviewed Penske’s benefits messages and identified a branding problem. The company’s educational materials were bland and didn’t grab employees’ attention, and they were disconnected from the company’s external branding. So Gallagher launched an overhaul of Penske’s benefits materials, introducing a brand that was brighter and easier to digest.

"The brand became more colorful, dynamic, and made a splash. We created simple headlines, giving employees an opportunity to review their benefits in a way that was digestible and not overwhelming. And we tied Penske’s external branding into their internal messaging."
Maddison Grigsby
Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

What’s next in terms of audience-focused benefits communication trends? Grigsby says it’s hyper-personalization. 

We’ve come to expect a personalized experience in so many other areas of our lives—from how Instagram advertises to us to how Amazon suggests our next purchase for us. But we’ve been slow to apply that concept to the world of benefits. So how do we embrace hyper-personalization during open enrollment? 

"It can look like including employee names on emails. But it can also be using what you know about your employee population to send targeted messages about what people are interested in, or what relates to their current stage of life. The more we can personalize our messages targeted, the more employees will feel like it’s relevant and want to engage."
Maddison Grigsby
Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

Step 2: Know your story

The next key to making your benefits messages stick? Understanding your organization’s “why.” What makes you special? What unique opportunities and resources can you provide for your employees? 

Grigsby highlighted that for most organizations, communicating a strong company culture is a top priority:

That means both leading by example and encouraging other company leaders to be vulnerable with their own struggles. When employees see others sharing their challenges, they’ll be more likely to come forward with their own and trust that they have a safe space to share.

of organizations say culture and belonging is the main purpose of internal communications
0 %

Yes, employees join your company to perform a job and receive a paycheck. But perhaps more importantly, they have a human need to belong, and to create community with their coworkers. So how can your organization tell a story that caters to those needs, and authentically connects employees to a shared mission?

What that looks like has shifted as new generations have joined the workforce.

"Before, new hire conversations centered around compensation and benefits. Now, millennials are asking about DEI, environmental sustainability, community involvement, and the values of your organization. So the total rewards conversation is much broader than it used to be."
Maddison Grigsby
Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

She went on to say that as Gen Z enters the workforce for the first time, young new hires aren’t even asking these questions—they’re expecting employers to have strong, mission-driven values with the resources to back it up. So the pressure is on to tell more authentic stories that make employees feel connected to their work and to each other, without all of the corporate jargon. 

And as Grigsby shared, we still have some work to do to “unsanitize” our company communications:

1 in 3
employees say their organization’s culture allows them to inject personality into their communications
say their organization allows them to use creativity and humor in their communications
0 %

Here’s how one company is leaning into a more trustworthy, genuine storytelling style. 

How Old Mutual communicated with empathy during layoffs

Like many organizations, insurance company Old Mutual was faced with a recent round of layoffs. But as they explored how to best communicate this change with employees, they wanted to ensure that they could be honest while also acknowledging their workforce’s very real concerns about finances and future careers.

So, Old Mutual sought Gallagher’s help to tell their story authentically. While layoffs were happening, the organization rolled out resume reviews, interview practice, and looked for ways to transfer laid-off employees to other departments where possible.

"We partnered with Old Mutual to tell that story, to acknowledge that layoffs were really tough—but that the organization is committed to walking with employees through the process and coming out stronger on the other side. We rolled out a campaign called ‘Hello Tomorrow’ that was still very truthful, but was told with empathy so that it was received in a supportive way, not a transactional one."
Maddison Grigsby
Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

The last way to make sure your organization’s story is shared in a more human way? Rely on people managers. These folks have built real relationships with employees on the ground level, and are often more trusted than company leaders.

of employees say their people managers are expected to reinforce corporate messages and make them relevant for their teams
0 %
"If you want your people managers to champion your company’s messages, it’s critical that you’re giving them the tools to do so. That could be stakeholder toolkits, talking points, leadership conversations, webinars, and focus groups to talk through changes before they’re announced to employees. Empowering people managers to share your messages will help perpetuate your story across the organization."
Maddison Grigsby
Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

Step 3: Know your limits 

Lastly, it’s important to know when to stop. 

As benefits pros, it can be so tempting to draft a pages-long email that includes every single detail employees need to know about their healthcare plans for the year. After all, we think about these plans all day, every day—and they’re complicated! So we want to make sure we transfer all of that knowledge to our employees. 

But the truth is, attention spans are incredibly short. Employees have limits on what they can take in, and what they really care about. We’re inundated with emails, Slacks, Zooms, texts, and phone calls all day long, and we only have a few seconds to capture our audience’s attention. So today, it’s even more challenging to make those benefits communications stick. 

What are some common pitfalls when it comes to capturing attention quickly? Grigsby highlighted that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive benefits plans every year, and then we send out communications that look like this:

During Maddison’s session, she shared how benefits communication can be hard to capture employees’ attention and get the information they need.

Resources that are incredibly valuable to our employees won’t be perceived that way, simply because of how we communicate it.

Here’s how one company is modernizing the benefits experience for shorter attention spans. 

How Moderna made their benefits messaging more relevant and inviting

Moderna was faced with a unique challenge during 2021 open enrollment. In the midst of COVID-19, all eyes were on their company as vaccine development made international news, and employees were under immense pressure to produce new products at a rapid pace.

So as open enrollment rolled around, Moderna’s benefits team was stuck: on a good day, employees might not pay much attention to healthcare plan selection. But this year, when they’re tasked with providing the antidote to a global pandemic? Open enrollment felt nearly impossible. 

That’s why Moderna approached Gallagher for help making their benefits messages highly relevant and timely, in a moment when employees didn’t have much time to think about their selections.

"We tied what was going on in the organization’s world with what was happening in employees’ worlds. We said, ‘We know you’re on a global stage right now, and this is our moment as an organization. But it’s also your moment as an individual to take care of you and your family’s health.’ We made a splash visually with simple headlines that are much more relevant and attention-grabbing, with QR codes if employees wanted to dig deeper."
Maddison Grigsby
Director, Benefits and Rewards Communication, Gallagher

The end result: what the Gallagher and Moderna teams came up with.

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