In a competitive labor market, employers must implement innovative and cost-effective methods if they are to attract and retain qualified people who will have a positive impact on their bottom line.

A national survey conducted by Aon Consulting revealed that the most committed employees are those who believe their employers treat them as people-people with day-to-day life needs.

One way to convey that your company acknowledges "employees as people" is through a "life events" approach to communicating benefits.

What Is A Life Events Approach?

The life events approach can be compared to a map a traveler refers to on a long journey. In life events communication, this map guides the traveler (employee) through benefits and procedural information at various junctions along the way, such as joining the company, getting married, having a baby, or retiring. To develop the "map," identify the life events that are most common information triggers at your company. Then, list the benefits affected and the procedures employees need to follow when they experience an event.

What Is The Advantage?

As employees' lives become more hectic and benefits programs more complex, communicating from a life events perspective makes sense because it gives employees easy access to practical information they need on a day-to-day basis. Life event-based materials enable human resource professionals to answer benefits questions efficiently and consistently. By including life events-based media in your communications toolbox, you can reduce administrative costs, increase employee understanding of benefits and human resources policies and procedures, promote employee self-service, and enhance your company's image as a people-oriented organization.

Why It Works

Life events communication is effective because it directs employees to the relevant information and actions they need to take when they get married, add a dependent, buy a house, undergo surgery, retire, or experience other life situations. During these situations, an employee is most likely to seek benefits information. For example, in a traditional scenario, if an employee gets married he or she will probably call human resources and ask, "How do I get my spouse covered under my insurance?" In this case, the human resources representative and/or the employee will search through a plan-based handbook or a stack of complex booklets and forms for eligibility, enrollment, and coverage information. This hunting and pecking research method is time-consuming, frustrating and often results in misinterpretation and misdirection.

If benefits information is organized by life event, a newly married employee can access a section entitled Marriage in their handbook or enrollment guide. In this section, the employee will find an at-a-glance list of the benefits, programs and services offered through the employer. This section might also include more detail, such as premium rates, relevant policies and procedures, and any actions the employee might need to take. Once you identify which life events are important to include in your communications campaign, it makes sense to incorporate them into your existing media, including:

1) Summary Plan Descriptions (SPD)-In your SPDs, devote an entire page to each life event and include detailed descriptions of how benefits are affected. Or, produce a separate "At-A-Glance" life-events chart. In both cases, include procedures employees need to follow when they experience a life event to help them process changes, such as updating beneficiary designations, changing payroll deductions, and increasing life insurance amounts.

2) Brochures and Enrollment Materials-Include life events-based information as a separate section in your benefits brochures and enrollment materials. Or, consider developing a separate life events campaign to complement your traditional media. A cost-effective way to deliver life events information is to place separate life event "take-away" infosheets in a six- or nine-slot information rack. Hang the rack in a highly trafficked area, such as your employee cafeteria. Each infosheet would have a different life event printed boldly across the top and include benefits and procedural information underneath. Employees can grab infosheets as they need them. Another plus: infosheets are easy and inexpensive to update.

3) Online Communications-Placing life events information on your benefits Web site is one of the most effective methods for promoting employee self-service. Employees can click on dedicated buttons for each life event and launch instantly to specifics about what benefits are affected and what actions need to be taken. Depending on the complexity of your Web site, you can allow employees to access and print relevant forms, or make changes to their benefits via an interactive application. Employees can also link directly to an outside Web site, such as a health care provider or 401(k) plan administrator.

In this fiercely competitive global marketplace, many employers are taking another look at their benefits, compensation, and human resource strategies with an eye on retention, commitment, and productivity. Successful implementation of these strategies springboards from an effective communications plan, one that includes a life events-based approach.

Syndine Imholte is the Organizational Communications Practice Leader for Aon Consulting's Los Angeles office. Aon Consulting is a full-service human resource consulting organization providing human resource, compensation, employee benefits and change management service.

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