Benefits Communication: 5 Tips to Boost Your ROI

By Laura Singer, Senior Communication Consultant

Communicating about benefits shouldn’t be hard. These are, after all, benefits. But benefit plans are complicated, the sheer volume of offerings can be overwhelming and there are lots of other corporate communications competing for your audience’s attention.

Follow these time-tested tips to make sure employees hear your messages, understand them, and take action:

Humor Helps
Benefits are serious business, but your communications don’t need to be boring. Find ways to inject humor into a video, plasma screen, or social media post. A lighthearted comic strip to promote benefit programs – why not? If you have a colleague with a great sense of humor, leverage that talent to create an amusing scenario.

Timing Is Everything
Annual Enrollment has its own timeframe, but many other benefits lend themselves to seasonal messages. Early January is when folks typically begin fitness programs. June is when parents may need different child-care options. Think about not only what – but when benefits may be of interest.

Use Personas & Tell a Story
Creating fictional employees who mirror your actual demographics allows you to connect more authentically. Personas help your employees better understand the value and relevance of programs and benefits for them personally.

For example, a 30-year-old single mom will be interested in the fictional single mom, Jessica, and her benefit choices. Then walk employees through a common scenario with a story (Jessica put $75 a month in her HSA to finance the cost of her son’s orthodontia).

Promote the Good Stuff
Use the Annual Enrollment period to promote other benefits that may appeal to employees and their families. People need to be reminded about programs such as tuition reimbursement, pet insurance, elder care, your EAP – and anything that sets your company apart. So while your audience is focused on benefits, grab the opportunity to highlight some of the other great resources you offer.

Get Graphic
Whenever possible, use infographics to communicate. Employees are constantly bombarded with words, so any visual representation will grab attention. A well-executed graphic can help people quickly and easily make sense of a complex subject.

Communication Insight
When you craft benefit communications that place employees at the center and reflect their experiences, you can break through the noise and drive action.

Need help building your benefits communication strategy? Contact us.

Expertise on Demand: Top Tips to Create Effective Toolkits

by Oonagh Power
Head of Editorial Services & Senior Communication Consultant

Toolkits. Playbooks. Blueprints. User Guides.

These helpful “how to” guides go by many names, but all provide users with expertise on demand. And that’s why they can be so successful.

No matter what you call them, they are easy-to-use resources that drive consistent messaging, processes, and ways of working.

Toolkits offer targeted audiences a “one-stop-shop” with quick access to communication tips, content, assets, resources, and processes. They can be used for program launches such as rolling out a Global Parental Leave benefit or celebrating a company-wide milestone, and for specific functions or complex processes such as an M&A playbook.

So, how can you create a best practice toolkit?

Follow one guiding principle: keep the end users in mind. As you gather and organize your content, keep your team focused on why and how users will access and use the information.

Proven practices to keep in mind: 

Do we really need so many details? Probably not. Limit the technical content to just the essentials. If information applies only to some readers or you’re required to include specific language from your lawyers or SMEs (we’ve all been there), create a one-page fact sheet and link to it “for more info.”

Do I talk like this in real life? Expert tip: read it out loud. Seriously. If you feel overly formal saying the words, edit with a goal of using simpler language and keeping the tone conversational. Take out the jargon. Think about what you’d say if you were explaining the content to a friend.

Is the content relatable? Toolkit users need to see how they can apply the information. Make it more meaningful by including examples, proven practices, cautions, success stories, expert advice, and links to helpful tools. And remember to spell out acronyms, even the ones you think everyone knows.

Is it useful for everyone? Add value and create synergy for the wider organization: If a tool or template was created for a specific group/sector/function/region, think about how to broaden the scope so more people can benefit. For example, a compliance or communication toolkit may be of value in many areas of an organization.

Is it visually overwhelming? Think about the last time you opened a file that was page after page of long paragraphs. You were probably tempted to just close it. Make your information more appealing by using short paragraphs, subheads, bullets, charts, and other visuals. If you have a budget for design, use it to help break content into bite-size pieces.

It’s ready! Have you launched your toolkit for success? Your team has spent months developing a comprehensive toolkit, now you want to ensure the right employees know about it – and they use it! It’s important to walk users through the toolkit, and explain where they can access it. Educate users so they can hit the ground running.

Communication Insight
Toolkits make it easy for you to share information consistently and broadly across borders and functions—but only if they are organized and communicated in a way that is easy to understand and simple to navigate.

Need help developing a toolkit that really works? Contact us.

3 Reasons You Need a Professional Writer for Your SPDs

By JoAnn Gulbin
Communication Consultant 

Raise your hand if you procrastinate updating your Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs). Yep, thought so.

While we all know that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires SPD updates on a regular basis, actually making the updates can be time-consuming and difficult, and can fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

That’s where a professional benefits writer can help. While your first instinct may be to look just to your ERISA attorney or plan administrator, partnering with a writer who has SPD expertise can ensure a better outcome. Here’s why:

SPDs are required by ERISA to be written in plain English and easily understood by the average employee. A lawyer’s focus on fulfilling the requirements of ERISA can mean clear and concise descriptions of key plan provisions are often sacrificed. While it’s essential to include legal input and review during the SPD drafting process, it’s best to leave the writing to someone focused on effectively communicating the plan provisions and how to best utilize plan benefits.

An inadequate SPD is a liability. SPDs offered by third-party administrators are often “off-the-shelf” products that are minimally customized for your plan. This approach runs the risk of critical plan provisions being omitted or inadequately described, leaving you open to legal action by plan participants in a claim dispute. And remember, the plan documents provided by administrators do not fulfill ERISA’s SPD requirement unless they are accompanied by a wrap document that includes the information required by ERISA.

Your SPD is more than just a legal requirement. Viewing your SPD simply as a legal document is too often a lost opportunity to educate plan participants about their benefits; instead, give employees a communication that helps them make informed decisions and appreciate the overall value of the plan.

Communication Insight

Transform your SPDs into valuable communication tools by thinking less like a lawyer – and more like your employees. Need help drafting or updating your SPD? Contact us.

Reminder! For those of us who haven’t memorized the ERISA requirements for SPDs:

SPDs for new plans must be provided to participants and beneficiaries within 120 days of that plan’s effective date.

SPDs for existing plans must be provided within 90 days of the date a participant begins to be covered.

If material changes are made to a plan, a Summary of Material Modifications (SMM) must be provided within 210 days after the end of the plan year in which the change was effective.

Every five years, assuming a plan has changed, a new SPD must be provided to all participants (every 10 years if there have been no changes).

There are serious financial penalties for noncompliance.


Are your new hire materials sending the right message?

4 reasons to make a positive first impression

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant 

We know that good benefits communication is essential for helping employees make smart decisions during annual enrollment. But what about your new hires? Are the materials they receive an afterthought?

Here are 4 reasons why it’s so important for your new hire materials to make a positive first impression:

  1. New hires are a captive audience. If there’s one time when employees (and their spouses/partners) are laser-focused on benefits, it’s during the hiring and onboarding process. This is your chance to broadcast all the great benefits your company offers and reaffirm their decision to join. It’s also an opportunity to quantify the investment you’re making in them through your total rewards package.
  2. As Mom always says, you only have one opportunity to make a good first impression. Even though they’re already hired, sending enthusiastic new employees—especially millennials—a huge packet of paper forms or multiple PDFs they need to download gives the impression that you haven’t joined the digital age. Chances are you used cutting-edge tactics like social media and digital advertising in your recruiting process, so don’t stop there. Offer new hires a simple, clean microsite with everything they need to know and do about benefits. As an added advantage, a website outside the firewall means spouses can log on, too.
  3. You get the chance to market those perks and programs that don’t require annual enrollment. Again, back to that captive audience thing. If you’ve got great perks, like student loan repayment, volunteer time off, fertility benefits, back-up child care programs, or even pet insurance…this is your chance to advertise them. These benefits provide a huge bang for the buck, especially with younger employees. And—bonus marketing!—they’ll also tell their friends and family about them.
  4. New hires are expensive, so make sure they stay. With the unemployment rate so low, talent is in limited supply. Research shows that new hires make the decision to stay with a company long-term within the first six months on the job. So, engage them right away with new hire materials that impress.

Communication Insight

Great new hire materials don’t have to break the bank. The New Year is the perfect time to repurpose your annual enrollment communication so that your new hires get the same top-notch benefits information as long-timers.

Need help with your new hire materials? Contact us.

Project Management: Make It Work for You

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant 

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that good project management is essential to the success of any communication project.

We’ve provided project management support for hundreds of projects—from small benefits rollouts to large-scale communication campaigns for IT and HR systems implementations—and want to share what we’ve learned (often the hard way)!

Make a schedule.
No matter the size of the project, it makes sense to put a schedule together. Appoint a single person to be the keeper of the plan. Schedule in some wiggle room, as delays are inevitable. Be sure to note vacations, company holidays, executives’ travel schedules or other impacts on the timeline.

Establish a review team upfront.
Gain consensus early on how many reviews are necessary, who should sit on the review team, and the appropriate length for review time. Consider including those closest to the project (e.g., subject matter experts) in the initial drafts; add in Legal, Corporate Communication, or other key stakeholders in later reviews.

Hold regular touch-base meetings.
Weekly meetings are essential for both keeping projects on track and resolving open issues. Send out an agenda in advance, assign a note taker, and send a recap with follow-up items. Include representatives from the major stakeholder teams—even if communication is not their area of expertise. We’ve found that “satellite” teams can raise important issues the core team are not aware of. Hold meetings consistently, even if all stakeholders cannot attend. You’d be amazed at how skipping just one meeting can cause delays.

Ask for consolidated edits.
Nothing can be more frustrating and delay-inducing than edits from multiple reviewers that conflict or come in piecemeal. Make sure there is a final arbiter—someone who has the last word. Ask for edits via track changes in Word documents and via Adobe Comments for PDFs. Before communications go into design, schedule at least one “roundtable review.” Ideally held in person, this is the one chance to go through the document page by page, allowing the team to talk through any open issues or variations in interpretation. It can be time-consuming, but worth every minute in the end!

Agree on the number of rounds of review ahead of time.
This is an area where projects can tend to go out of scope and this translates in to higher costs and delays. Be diligent in sticking to the original number of drafts. If you must adjust, be sure to document a “change request” so the team is aware that the project is going out of scope and can make a plan for how to handle it. The fewer surprises, the better!

Engage the printer/programmer in the early stages.
If you are planning to print or program an online communication, touch base with the printer or programmer early on to ensure they can meet your schedule and alert you of any red flags. If printing, decide whether a press check is needed. Confirm who will review blue lines and provide ultimate signoff. For online communications, be sure time is built to check links and navigation.

Communication Insight

Breaking up a complex process into manageable steps will help you stay on course and on budget.

Need help managing your communication project? Contact us.

HDHP with HSA Plans: Tailoring Communication for a Union Population

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant

High deductible health plans (HDHPs) with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have been popular for over a decade, but some unions are just beginning to offer them. As we know from rolling out HSA Plans to non-union employees, a good communication plan is the key to getting employees to enroll!

While you can certainly leverage your non-union communication materials, you’ll want to pay special attention to the unique needs of the union environment.

Prep union leadership.
They know the new plan is coming, but can they really explain how it works? Union leaders are key influencers, so make sure they know their stuff. Prepare a leader “cheat sheet” with high-level details about the new plan, examples, and a few FAQs.

Hold on-site meetings.
It’s critical to hold an in-person meeting during each shift. A thorough PowerPoint presentation is essential, but be sure to leave time for lots of questions. A large consumer products company attributes their successful 98% HSA union enrollment in part to the multiple meetings they held at each union location. According to our client, “With a complicated plan like this, the personal touch can’t be underestimated.”

Do the math.
Lay out exactly how the features of the plan work, including deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, and how the company’s seed money (if any) can help to defray costs. Develop easy visuals to guide employees step by step. Encourage them to think through a “worst case scenario” to determine their HSA contributions. In many companies, employees pay less for the HSA Plan than for other plans, so share how these cost-savings add up over the course of a year.

Talk about January 1.
We find it extremely helpful to paint a detailed and realistic picture of what will happen if an employee needs care on January 1 of the new plan year. This helps employees prepare for a little “sticker shock” at first. For new plan participants used to paying a $10 or $20 prescription drug copayment, this is especially important.

Provide the details, but not too much.
It’s OK to use active enrollment materials (such as an enrollment guide) as a starting point, but consider whittling down the content. Offer ways to get more details for those who want them—additional handouts at the meetings, content on your benefits website, or live call center help.

Provide hard copies of materials.
Many employers have switched to digital enrollment communication, but old-fashioned print copies work best here. A recent client even had enrollment materials drop-shipped to each location and handed out at the meeting, so employees could refer to them real-time. Do your research on who is most often the decision-maker for medical plan choices—the employee or the spouse at home. Consider inviting spouses to face-to-face meetings and be sure benefit materials go home.

Communication Insight

When communicating to a union population, be sure to tailor your messages as well as the delivery vehicles.

Need help meeting your HSA enrollment goals for active or union populations? Contact us. 


Effectively Communicating Corporate Change Initiatives: Where do you begin?

By guest blogger Darlene E. Arroyo, RN, BS, COHN-S

Senior management has just approved a corporate change initiative. Your leaders are excited about the change and ready to communicate to employees. How do you ensure the information is effectively conveyed?

Ask yourself:

Who is impacted by the change?
Identify your audiences. Think about salaried, union, part-time, and hourly employees; contractors and interns; as well as inactive groups like retirees or employees on a leave of absence. Then consider any need to segment your messaging to managers, leaders, or other specific groups.

What should each audience know, feel, and do?
As you draft your key messages, consider any differences in how the change impacts each audience, and tailor the key messages to each group. Ideally, hear what your employees have to say first to learn what the change means directly from those being impacted. A listening “road show” can be a series of focus groups, a brief “pulse” survey, or even informal conversations.

If union employees are affected, get input from the union leadership team to ensure the language aligns with Collective Bargaining Agreements.

If the change impacts employees outside the United States or who speak different languages, plan to get input from local representatives to confirm understanding and translation.

How much detail does each audience need?
Employees want to know what is changing and what the change means to them. Tell them as simply and clearly as possible. Use visuals (infographics, before-and-after diagrams, process flow charts, etc) whenever possible to reinforce the message.

Vague content can create confusion, causing your team to spend hours replying to e-mails or telephone calls. But you don’t want to overwhelm readers with too much detail.

The solution? Pair your base communication with a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document, anticipating as many questions as possible. As the change rolls out, update the FAQs as new questions come in.

What’s the best way to reach each audience?
While email can seem to be an effective approach to reaching a large number of employees at one time, your communication could get lost in overloaded inboxes. There are lots of additional digital and print choices available; using a “surround sound” approach that includes a variety of vehicles can successfully reinforce the message.

Other channels to consider:

  • Intranet banners and articles
  • Social media posts
  • Manager or HR toolkits
  • Plasma screens or poster announcements
  • Postcards, print newsletters, or other home mailers
  • Interactive infographics
  • Digital guides
  • Short videos
  • Texting campaigns
  • App notifications
  • Webinars/lunch-n-learns

If the change involves financial or regulatory changes to retirement or 401K plans, or an update to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulation, be sure to include a home mailing component.

When should the communication go out?
Coordinate timing with your internal Communication department so you can be sure you won’t overload employees or compete with other important announcements.

Also, avoid sending communications about major changes at times when an employee may be distracted, such as directly before a holiday or during a corporate down-sizing or reorganization.

Communication Insight

Communicating corporate changes successfully means focusing on each audience’s needs.

Need help planning your change communication? Contact us.



When Parental Leave Goes Global

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant

Paid parental leave is a hot corporate benefit in the U.S., especially among millennials. But what happens when your company decides to make parental leave global?

Cultural differences and country regulations make communicating this benefit no easy feat. Here are some pitfalls to watch out for and tips for ensuring a smooth rollout.

Demonstrate senior leadership support. While actual benefits may differ by country, it’s critical to show unilateral support for the concept of parental leave at the highest levels of leadership. Suggested launch tactics include a post on the CEO’s blog, town hall meeting, webcast or video.

Be sensitive to cultural differences. Global attitudes about gender and family vary widely. For some men, in particular, there may be a stigma associated with taking parental leave. One client tackled this issue head-on with touching videos about the experiences of two new dads in Brazil and Japan.

Provide a customizable toolkit. One size definitely doesn’t fit all when it comes to global parental leave. A customizable toolkit with templates for employee emails, PowerPoint presentations, manager tip sheets, and article copy cuts down on the work for local communicators, and also ensures message consistency.

Get managers to walk the talk. Employees may feel reluctant to take leave because of the perceived impact on their careers. Managers should openly communicate their support for the policy, and actively encourage employees to take advantage of the benefit.

Anticipate the questions. Questions about how the global parental leave benefit will coordinate with country-specific maternity and paternity leave are inevitable. It’s smart to develop an exhaustive list of FAQs to help sites anticipate questions beforehand.

Don’t go it alone. Form a combined team with Corporate Communications early on. Brainstorm ways to tap into existing communication channels, or create impactful custom pieces. Identify a local point of contact in each country to serve as communications coordinator and hold regular touch base meetings.

Communication Insight

Successfully rolling out a global parental leave program is a big job. It takes planning, coordination, and commitment at all levels of the organization.

Need help with your plan? Contact us.


5 Tips to Help Employees Navigate Your High Deductible Health Plan

By Tammy Kleinman
Change Communication Consultant & Writer

Congratulations! You survived Annual Enrollment and your employees are participating in the High Deductible Health Plan. But do they know how to use it?

Share these 5 tips with employees to help them navigate the plan throughout the year:

Save Money on Taxes – 3 Ways
One of the best parts of a High Deductible Health Plan is the triple-tax benefit of the health savings account (HSA). You don’t pay taxes on contributions, investment earnings, or withdrawals for eligible health care expenses…even in retirement! That leaves more money in your pocket for things like prescription drugs and vision care. So start saving now for future health care costs.

Comparison Shop
High Deductible Health Plans are all about putting more control in the consumer’s hands. Remember, it’s your responsibility to research your options and find the most cost-effective care. But don’t go by price alone. Quality of care is also important.

To become a better consumer, you can research and interview doctors, and check online reports like and

Preventive Care Is a No-Brainer
Most High Deductible Health Plans cover preventive services at 100%, with no deductible. It just makes sense to schedule regular preventive health screenings and primary care visits—so you don’t incur higher costs down the road for untreated illnesses.

Invest the Balance
Most HSAs offer an investment option. Be sure to advantage of this extra way to help your money grow, tax-free, until you’re ready to spend it on health care expenses.

Get the Big Stuff Out of the Way Early
If you know you’re going to need surgery or a major procedure, schedule it early in the year. This way, if you need care later in the year, you’ll already have met the deductible, and the plan will start paying benefits sooner.

Communication Insight 

High Deductible Health Plans can be confusing to navigate—even for a seasoned health care consumer. Educating your employees about their benefits requires a deep understanding of your company’s offerings, a solid communication plan, and a year-round commitment.

Need help with your plan? Contact us.


Mission Accomplished – Now Take Some Time to Debrief!

by Laura Singer
Senior Communication Consultant, Writer & Editor

You’ve finished that big project. Relief rushes over you: It’s finally done.

There’s a saying that goes, “Our work may be finished but it’s not complete.” And that’s where debriefing comes in.

Why Debrief?
Even the most successful projects can benefit from a debrief. In the unlikely event that everything went seamlessly, wouldn’t other teams benefit from your best practices? When your annual review comes up, or when you’re looking for that next career move, understanding why this work was successful gives you powerful talking points.

But more likely, there were some stumbling blocks: stakeholders who were not onboard, tasks that took too long, messages that were not communicated effectively. Analyzing why this happened can save you time, money and headaches next time.

How to Debrief
As the project is winding down, send an invitation for a debrief session and ask key team members to begin capturing discussion points. Depending on the size and location of your team, the meeting can be face-to-face or virtual. Have a good facilitator and someone to document input on a spreadsheet that everyone can see. Carve out sufficient time and provide snacks!

Once you have your issues recorded, spend the rest of the meeting analyzing the issues and brainstorming what you could have done better. Start with the items of greatest impact (What undermined the project’s goals? What affected the most people? What created a drain on resources?). Tackle them in order of importance.

3 Rules for Debriefing:

  1. Sooner Than Later: Schedule a debrief session as soon as possible after your project wraps up. Remember: memories fade quickly, and you don’t want to lose valuable insights.
  2. Find the Root Cause: Understanding the root cause of an issue is critical. If an important mass email didn’t get the intended results, you might assume it was not well crafted. But maybe the message would have been more effective if managers had delivered it to their direct reports.
  3. Share Your Findings: Create a short slide deck or report with an Executive Summary. Include the good, the bad, and the ugly (be sure to give your team credit for what you did well). Share it with the entire team and appropriate stakeholders. You’ll be better equipped for future work – and you’ll be driving the success of future projects in your organization.

Communication Insight 

Today’s pace is demanding. When we finally finish a project, it can be tempting to immediately move on to the next to-do. It’s important to take the time to debrief so you can take those learnings to your next project.

Need help planning your debrief session? Contact us.