Is the total rewards message still getting across?

The environment for communicating compensation and employee benefits is not exactly upbeat, considering insurance-cost controls, rising numbers of disability cases, pension plan deficits, low salary increases and insufficient retirement savings. At the same time, communications have been disrupted by new generations of employees, the emergence of social media and a sharp drop in attention spans. All this could be called a “perfect storm” and it comes at a time when ensuring employee engagement is critical.

Traditionally, our strategy has been to explain how plans work, hoping that a better understanding will translate into greater appreciation. This approach is still vital, but no longer appears to be enough. For the past decade, communications have 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 this working? The impact has been positive, yes, but only to a limited degree. In some cases, changes to pension plan design have been more effective. When it comes to appreciation of the plans offered, the impact has been minimal.

To try to reverse this trend, a number of organizations have adopted a total rewards communication strategy, informing employees about the advantages and costs of all the benefits they receive. The communication often takes the form of a personalized statement, but it too has met with a lukewarm response.

On the plus side, total rewards gives a complete and integrated view of all benefits, not just salary, in a personalized and regular communication. However, it has weaknesses that need to be addressed. The emphasis on costs often takes priority over the perceived value by employees. Also, the messages from different employers can be hard to tell apart. Even worse, one-way communication may be viewed as company propaganda. Refocusing the 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. Mind you, there are key challenges in this as well, the main one being that employers do not have a clear idea of the value employees place on each element of total compensation. Furthermore, employee interest may vary considerably depending on job category or age.

To address the first problem, and focus messages on the needs and perceptions of employees, employees must be consulted. The consultation could be formal or informal, but it is crucial.

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

We don’t need to go as far as creating a custom communication for each age bracket, but it’s important to take a multi-generational approach that reflects the needs of each generation. One way to do this is to design messages that are more universal and inclusive. Why not talk about financial health instead of pensions? Why not talk about overall health instead of insurance plans, and link it to all the other measures aimed at improving employee health and wellness?

Along with revamping the messages, we need to use media that maximize the chances of reaching the majority of employees. Getting the key information across to just 20 per cent is no longer enough. To achieve this, we need to use short videos and emulate the conciseness, accessibility and visual appeal of social media.

Should we still talk about “total rewards”? Of course, but the message needs to be refocused on improving employee appreciation of group benefits and retirement plans. This requires 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