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The truth about benefits self-service programs is that, “If you build it, they will not necessarily come.”

Employers are automating and outsourcing benefits administration to free up staff time, improve the quality of the services offered to employees, and improve the quality of data delivered to carriers and vendors.

But the likelihood that employees will actually use an automated system depends on how well organizations communicate the value of the system to managers and employees. Without a clear, concise communication program that tells employees “whats in it for them” and sets reasonable expectations, employees will revert to barraging HR with telephone calls.

When employers and benefits advisors are developing a benefits self-service communication program, the first step is to come up with a program that really meets employees needs.

An employer should start by picking an automated benefits administration vendor that knows the employers market and has worked successfully with other organizations of the employers size.

Next, system designers should analyze the employer and its employees. What are the employees like? How much experience do they and the employer have with online systems?

Factory workers in a traditional manufacturing environment are different from software engineers who sit in front of computers all day. Self-service programs that fail to provide kiosks and other “after hours” access channels for the factory workers may end up with low adoption rates.

Employees at some companies may fear that “self-service” means “no service.” If so, the self-service system team had better develop a program to show employees that they will be getting access to new services, such as 24-hour Web access to plan information, and keeping access to old services, such as support from HR call centers. This combination of sensible program design and active communications can prevent a negative reaction to change and instill confidence in the employees that the new self-service system will address their needs.

Generally speaking, introducing the concept of automated benefits administration should be done 1 to 2 months before implementation to ensure successful rollout. And repetition is key. Employees need to hear and read information many times in brochures, e-mails, posters, Intranet postings and employee meeting presentations before they truly understand it.

The goal should be to create buzz. If employees are excited about the launch of the self-service system, they will be more accepting of the employers efforts to reduce costs while improving employee benefits programs.

Once there is a wave of interest among employees, the next step is to launch a detailed education program. Employees need guides, tutorials and, in some cases, training sessions to understand how to use the new system.

Rolling out a Web-based system also can be an occasion to re-brand the company benefits program and educate employees about the tangible and intangible value of all the programs available.

For example: a big, national home building company introduced an enrollment while providing new branding for the companys benefits program. By developing a new creative image, “Benefits by Design,” that included a new logo and a new program identity, the company reinforced the value of the exciting new benefits offering.

In another case, a global digital imaging and photographic equipment company wanted to convey the message to employees that an online solution is efficient and easy to use. A “Service Made Simple” program did the trick.

With a solid communications plan in place, a company can ease employees into the changes that come with the implementation of a Web-based self-service HR solution.

Once the stage is set, the “audience” will come to understand and accept that changea change that, in this case, helps a company cut costs while enabling employees to take control of their own benefits transactions.

is manager of communications services at Workscape Inc., Framingham, Mass., a provider of benefits and workforce management solutions. She can be reached at amy.crosby@workscape.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, August 5, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.