In just a few months, the coronavirus has disrupted our daily lives and accelerated our use of technology. Now that we’re Zooming with our grandparents and chatting with our CEOs in their kitchens, our expectations for communications have never been higher. Our worlds have changed quickly, but what does that mean for benefits and benefits communications?
In our recent webinar, What’s Next in Benefits Communication, we discussed how the current crisis and technology are changing the way we reach people and how to help them cope with uncertainty.
What’s Driving Change?
Many of us can remember when SPDs were a primary communication vehicle for benefits information. We certainly have come a long way since then. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen a wealth of new consumer-focused technologies and sophisticated tactics that have changed the way we communicate about benefits. And the current crisis has accelerated this trend—it will forever change people’s expectations about digital access to accurate and frequently updated information.
Before COVID-19 took center stage, we were already seeing emerging trends in benefits communication—from using data to personalize and target content to making web content responsive, so information could be accessed anywhere from any device. And benefits providers and communicators had been using behavioral science to better engage people with decisions about their health and wealth. Yet despite these trends, people’s experiences with accessing information about their benefits lagged behind what they were accustomed to experiencing as consumers. COVID-19 is changing this by forcing companies to reach people in new ways more frequently.
Changing Work Environments Have Changed Needs
As thought leader Josh Bersin has observed, “After decades of work on employee engagement, culture, employee experience, and HR tech, it took a global pandemic to move the needle.” Necessity has forced organizations to prioritize its people, so that its people can continue to get their work done. While the coronavirus has taken a horrific toll on people’s lives and economic prosperity, it’s also brought about positive change. This includes:
- A swifter embrace of digital, cloud-based technologies
- A greater acceptance of work-life blend as schools and daycares are closed, and eldercare is not readily available
- A new emphasis—and appreciation for—maintaining our physical and mental health
This crisis has changed workplaces forever. Now more than ever, how you communicate directly impacts your workers’ perception of you. In March, Weber Shandwick and KRC Research conducted a national survey among 1,004 Americans, 18 years and older, to find out how they feel about the pandemic, precautions they’re taking, and support from their employers. Their results found that 73% of employees are confident their employers can handle the outbreak, with confidence much higher among employees who have received information from their employers (81%) versus those who have not (36%). And those who received information thought their employers put the safety of workers above profits (88%), compared to those who did not receive employer information (43%).1
It’s also integral to your brand and reputation, because the action you take with your employees is in the spotlight. Seventy-one percent of people say they’ll lose trust in a brand that puts profits over people.2 This is so important that websites, including Did They Help? or JUST Capital, are tracking it for very large brands. So, this is a critical time to build trust with your employees, because what you do and what you say will reverberate beyond your walls and your employees to the community and your customers.
There are drawbacks to our newfound, more connected world, though. While almost three-quarters of people find themselves equally or more productive working from home,3 Americans are working longer than ever before. Research indicates the average workday in America has increased by 40% during the crisis.4
Medical insurance, retirement plans, and well-being resources have never been more important—and more valued—than they are right now. Same goes for clear, easily accessible information about how to use those benefits.
What to Tell Your People Right Now…
Remind your people about their benefits. The pandemic is impacting our most basic needs—food, shelter, employment, health care—and benefits are top of mind. Going forward, continue to point people toward:
- Resources to manage holistic well-being—physical, emotional, mental, and financial
- Explanations of how their plans work, how to access care, and where to find resources
- Ways they can get needed care safely, so they’re not delaying care
- Full range of support to which they have access, not just during this crisis, but in the future too
Address anxiety head on. Your people are under tremendous stress right now, worried about benefit and pay cuts, the economy, returning to work and job loss, and the risk of infection.
- Tackle any potential benefit cuts head on—be open, honest, and transparent.
- Explain your return-to-worksite and business-travel policies and protocols.
- Help your people identify the physical response to financial stress and debt and what to do if they feel overwhelmed.
- Reiterate the importance of taking time off and of creative ways to staycate.
- Provide tips for paying off debt, building emergency savings, creating a budget, and saving even more for retirement.
Communicate frequently. It may seem counterintuitive, but you actually need to communicate more often during times of uncertainty, even if you don’t have all the answers. And there will be a greater demand for ongoing communications as we emerge from this crisis. So right now:
- Tell people what you know and what you’re still figuring out.
- Don’t retreat or stop communicating on a regular basis—according to Edelman’s latest trust survey, 63% of people want daily updates from their employer.5
Respond to employee questions and concerns. Your people are looking to you for answers and reassurance.
- Create a systematic way to field and centralize questions and answers, so you can identify patterns in the concerns that employees raise and work through new questions that arise.
- Be transparent in your communications—this instills more trust and helps alleviate worries and concerns.
Leverage your managers. Managers play an especially important role in humanizing your organization and addressing individual concerns. Remind managers to reach out to their teams, collect feedback, and reassure employees that their health and safety matters above all else.
…And How to Communicate It
We may not be together right now, but we’re still connected. So, think about how to reach your people where they are—here are some ideas to get you started.
- Use video—any device will do. In fact, less-produced content feels more accessible and authentic.
- Offer a combination of live and on-demand content that’s easily accessible so people can tune in whenever it suits their schedules.
- Use emerging technologies for their strengths—and be strategic when developing new content, so you get the most for your investment.
- Use new formats as opportunities to rethink experiences—don’t just lift and shift from one media to another.
- Apply best practices to reimagining benefits fairs in virtual formats.
Going forward, “back to normal” will look different, because we’re different. Our experiences during this pandemic—our use of new technologies and our need for frequent communications—have forever changed our expectations. So, keep communicating. Keep it direct, honest, and transparent. And deliver information in digestible, bite-sized chunks. Your people are going through a lot. Build and maintain their trust by being there for them now—and in the future.
For more information and additional ideas for what’s next in benefit communications, check out the following resources referenced in our webinar:
5 Changes to Expect in the Workplace After COVID-19
All the Things COVID-19 Will Change Forever, According to 30 Top Experts
Capitalism Meets Coronavirus: Our Daily Policy Blog
Coronavirus and the Future of Telemedicine
Coronavirus Has Forced Employees to Work from Home. Now, Almost 1 Out of 3 Are Less Productive
COVID-19 May Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Employee Engagement
Forget What You’ve Heard. Here Are the New Rules for Post-Pandemic Retirement
How a Handful of Apple and Google Employees Came Together to Help Health Officials Trace Coronavirus
How to Deliver Bad News to Your Employees
How to Lower Your Financial Anxiety
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained
Perceptions About COVID-19 and the Employer Response
Telehealth Visits Are Booming as Doctors and Patients Embrace Distancing Amid the Coronavirus Crisis
The Coronavirus Crisis Thrusts Corporate HR Chiefs into the Spotlight
The Pandemic Has Exposed the Fallacy of the ‘Ideal Worker'
The Post-Pandemic Workplace Will Hardly Look Like the One We Left Behind
Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic
Unintended Consequence of COVID-19: Fewer Parents Taking Kids to Get Immunized
We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
1 Weber Shandwick and KRC Research.
2 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic, March 30, 2020.
3 "The Pandemic Has Exposed the Fallacy of the Ideal Worker," HBR.org.
4 "Employee Work-from-Home Productivity," Digital.com.
5 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report.