Are we really getting through when it comes to total rewards?

The environment for communicating compensation and benefits is not exactly upbeat, considering insurance-cost controls, increasing disability cases, pension plan deficits, minimal salary increases, and insufficient retirement savings. At the same time, communication has been disrupted by a new generation of employees – we are seeing the effects of a social media generation and a sharp drop in attention spans. All this could be called a “perfect storm” and it comes at a time when employee engagement is critical.

Traditionally, companies have tried to explain how their plans work; hoping that better understanding will translate into greater appreciation. This approach is still vital, but is no longer enough. For the past decade, communication has focused on the challenges of managing compensation and benefit plans: raising employee awareness of plan costs, educating them about retirement planning, and encouraging them to become better healthcare consumers. But is it working? When it comes to plan appreciation and overall engagement, the impact has been minimal.

A number of organizations have also adopted a total rewards communication strategy – informing employees about the advantages and costs of all the benefits they receive, usually in the form of a personalized statement. This too has received a lukewarm response.

Total rewards offers a complete and integrated view of all benefits – not just salary – in a personalized way. However, it has limitations that need to be addressed. More specifically, the emphasis on cost often takes priority over conveying the actual value of the company’s plans and programs. Also, most statements are structured in the exact same way – making it difficult to tell how one employer’s total rewards offering truly differs from another. Even worse, one-way communication may be viewed as company propaganda. Refocusing communication on employee engagement requires more emphasis on the “value” of the total reward components, and looking at it from the employees’ point of view.

There are key challenges to communicating total rewards – the main one being that employers may not have a clear idea of the value employees place on each element of total rewards. Another challenge – employee interest will vary considerably depending on job category and age.

To address the first challenge (i.e., to focus messages on the needs and areas that employees value most), there must be a consultation phase. We need to speak with employees, either formally or informally, to better understand what it is that drives and engages them. This step is crucial.

The generational challenge is more complex. Age has always been a key factor in employees’ interest in and appreciation of employer programs. Pension and benefits are a good example: their appeal increases as we age. So should we now abandon uniform communications and adapt messages to each generation?

If you have the time and budget, it can have great impact; but it’s not always necessary. Instead of creating a custom communication for each age bracket, try taking a multi-generational approach that reflects the diverse needs of employees. One way to do this is to design messages that are more universal and inclusive. Why not talk about financial health instead of pension? And how about discussing overall health instead of insurance plans, and link it to all the other measures aimed at improving employees’ overall wellness?

The message alone is not sufficient. To maximize our chance of actually reaching employees, we need to use the right media. Getting key information across to just 20 per cent is no longer enough. To achieve this, use short videos and emulate the conciseness, accessibility, and visual appeal of social media.

Should we still talk about total rewards? Of course – but messages should be refocused from just “costs” to those elements that employees truly value. This means a new approach, new messages, and new media. 


Article by Daniel Dumas, Principal, Communication, with Morneau Shepell and Isabelle Landry, National Practice Leader, Communication, with Morneau Shepell.


Source : Avantages