It can be frustrating when employees don't rush to take part in optional benefits like elder care services, financial-planning seminars or even the EAP program.
But don't take it personally; just one in four employees participates in discretionary benefits, according to industry estimates. That's because different benefits are relevant to employees at different points in their lives.
Yet when an employee does need help with a child care referral, retirement-planning tips or some other assistance, the availability of your benefits can go a long way toward relieving stress and keeping that person happily employed.
The two keys to greater use of your work/life benefits: constant communication and the right kind of communication. Here are seven suggestions to achieve those goals:
1. No news = no use. You've heard the saying, "No news is good news." Forget it. If employees don't receive constant reminders about a benefit, they'll forget it was ever there.
It's not enough to introduce a benefit with a one-time internal marketing blitz. If you publicize a benefit for new parents, the only employees who will take note are new parents. What about the employee who becomes a new parent six months later? And what about new hires?
Reintroduce your benefits at least once a quarter. And publicize anything that employees might consider a benefit: everything from the obvious, like a day care center, to the subtle, like a relaxed dress code.
2. Commit to a communication schedule, and stick with it. Check the calendar: Is there a good month to talk about child care—like May, when we celebrate Mother's Day, or August, when school starts? Find a "hook," something you can attach your information to that makes sense and grabs attention.
3. Use allavailable, including e-mail, your organization's intranet, the employee newsletter, single-sheet fliers in every employee mailbox, paycheck inserts, bulletin boards, even bathroom walls and podcasts.
4. Mail information to employees' homes, where spouses and children, who might not know about the services, can read about them.
5. Recognize differences in communication methods. Employees of different ages like to receive information in different ways. Generation Y employees have grown up absorbing their information immediately and interactively. They zoom around the Web, navigating sites that ask for information and tailor a response based on that input.
Most baby boomers, on the other hand, are more comfortable receiving their information in printed brochures and newsletters, or at least having the option to print information from a Web site.
Your intranet should offer users the option of downloading documents or keying in data that will customize an on-screen response.
6. Teach employees to rethink common benefits. The EAP, for instance, is thought of as being for employees in distress. But if you make an effort to explain that the benefit is also for employees who provide elder care, members of that group might realize it has more to offer than they thought.
After one large health care organization tried this approach, half of its EAP calls the next quarter were about elder care, up from 19 percent the quarter before. Likewise, explain that services like backup emergency care—typically thought of as a child care benefit—are available for elder care.
7. Cut the jargon. You may not realize how much "benefit-speak" you use. Make a concerted effort to talk about benefits using everyday language, without the HR jargon. And get employees to talk about them, too. Nothing speaks louder than testimonials from employees who have used the benefits and loved them.
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