Staff rely on their employer to effectively communicate the available rewards and benefits it offers and ensure they fully understand the products and services, as well as appreciate the financial value of benefits.
But a recent study of rewards, benefits and employee engagement by Accor Services, found that only one-third of employers (33%) believed staff understand what benefits are on offer.
And the picture is not much better for employees, with just one in five (21%) claiming to have a good understanding of the value of the benefits available and one in 10 admitting to having no clue about the value of these rewards.
Employees also seemed unsure whether their pay, benefits and incentives packages were competitive when compared with people doing similar jobs in similar organisations. Only 33% felt their company was competitive on pay, 25% on benefits and just 17% felt their organisation offered competitive incentives. Pay was also listed as one of the biggest concerns among UK workers, with nearly half (46%) of employees citing it is as their biggest job-related concern.
And in the current tough economic climate, it's more important than ever for HR to communicate its benefits package effectively to staff. Successful communication is an important factor in securing employee engagement - a Holy Grail for many organisations - and the ensuing performance, motivation and productivity benefits cannot be under-estimated.
Benchmark your current position
It is not enough to guess where your people are when it comes to their perception of the employee benefits and rewards available to them - you actually need to ask them.
Too often rewards and benefits are designed simply to recruit new people or tie in existing staff, with not enough thought being given to how they can contribute to wider business objectives, such as securing employee engagement. It really doesn't take much to quiz employees about a range of factors, including their motivation levels, how valued they feel, whether they would recommend the business and its products or services to a friend or family member and its benefits offering.
Understanding your employees' perceptions of these issues will help establish a benchmark from which you can develop an appropriate action plan to address the emerging issues, and ensure you have a communications plan in place to keep your people updated and informed.
Select your benefits with care
The rewards and benefits you offer need to reflect your workforce. People at different stages of their careers want different things. For example, at a simplistic level, new graduates might want money towards their holidays rather than a pension contribution. Investment of time and money in rewards and benefits communication will be wasted if the products you're promoting are unwanted and uninspiring for your people.
Introduce two-way communications
Successful communication is a two-way process, and organisations need to recognise that their people want to be able to communicate their ideas and raise any questions or concerns. However, data from Accor Services' survey suggests employers tend to impose benefits on staff, with only 15% of employees feeling they can influence the benefits on offer to them.
As part of your two-way rewards and benefits communications, you should also keep up to speed with changing employee needs - which might include childcare and flexible working - and revisit communications systems to ensure they keep staff up-to-date with available products and services.
Employees need to know what's available to them and what the reward is worth to them as an individual.
To achieve this, consider dividing benefits into different categories that mean something to employees rather than simply offering them a massive, but perhaps confusing, suite of benefits and incentives. Categories might include, for example, 'enhancing wellbeing', 'meeting life's essentials' and 'improving performance'.
Enabling employees to understand the value of rewards and benefits will engage them with the offering.
Total reward statements are an ideal way of showing workers what their benefits are worth and the best total reward systems take into account the less obvious financial benefits, such as training and development spend. Currently, less than one in 10 employees (9%) say they receive this, and only one in eight (12%) employers say they offer it.
Talk to your advocates
One in three employees is neither engaged nor disengaged with their employer and as such should be a key target for rewards and benefits communications.
These 'floating voters' should be targeted as a priority to ensure they do not make the transition to disengagement, so consider employing concrete and immediate communications tactics to re-acquaint them with the reasons why they joined the business in the first place.
With this group it's the little things that show you care - suggestion schemes that value their ideas or rewards in the shape of store discounts that show you are listening to them and are willing to make the effort for them too.
Case study: Newcastle City Council
Newcastle City Council uses football-related communications with male workers to promote its childcare voucher scheme and encourage them to sign up for this benefit.
Accor Services, in partnership with the council's HR team, used the popularity of football among the male employees to develop a range of childcare voucher-focused communications. This included posters featuring a father and son at a football match with the number 1,195 written across their T-shirts to illustrate the number of pounds that could be saved by fathers each year if they use the benefit.
"A range of posters was designed, and the one we chose had a picture of a father and son in football shirts to target male employees. A lot of our male staff didn't realise they were eligible for the childcare voucher scheme so we were very proactive in targeting them," says Jill Hunton, HR adviser at the council.
"This included making sure information was available throughout the organisation, including being featured in every council depot, on notice boards and in staffrooms."
Since the football-related images have been used to promote the childcare voucher scheme, interest in childcare vouchers from employees has increased.
Additional communication tools have included awareness days with Accor Services, the childcare voucher provider, as well as e-mails and personalised letters on the available benefits.
Communicating rewards and benefits: top tips
Put the management structure and supporting procedures in place for listening and communicating with staff.
Check your managers have the right skills and attitudes to enable positive listening and communication with their teams.
Develop communications programmes to support rewards and benefits that are 'above and below' the line. Consider broad online and offline internal media, reinforcing this through managers and their local, one-to-one communications with employees.
Segment your audiences and build communication programmes for each group - a real opportunity for HR to work in partnership with marketing teams and apply customer marketing techniques to employees.
Make research a regular event on the business calendar and use the findings to inform your benefits choices and accompanying communication programmes.
Source: Accor Services
by Andy Philpott
Andy Philpott is marketing director at Accor Services, one of the UK's leading providers of employee benefits, rewards and loyalty and expense management services, with more than 14,000 clients. The main focus of his work is stakeholder communications and product development. Prior to this, he held a similar role with National Express.