Why Your Benefits Information Should go Online – and on the Road

Here’s why you should have your benefits on the Internet – and literally in the hands of your employees.

Too many companies have their benefits information trapped behind their firewall, only on their Intranet, and out of reach of spouses, families, and large segments of employees. Many companies have rationalized that just having an enrollment system on the Internet (accessible outside the firewall) is sufficient. Or, that having information on the corporate intranet is all that’s needed for employees to access information and make good decisions.

It’s not. You need to get the information to the benefits decision-maker — not always your employee — and make sure that the information is easy to use and engaging. Having a custom benefits website is one of the most effective ways to improve benefits communication — and the use of your benefits programs.

Here are four really good reasons to have your employee benefits information online:

Access

The most important reason for you to have your employee benefits information online is access. And, not just access for employees, but for families — the spouses, domestic partners, parents and sometimes children who help make health care and retirement decisions. If you’re keeping information hidden from this audience on your Intranet, you’re missing an opportunity to engage the individuals who are using your program and driving 60 to 70 percent of your health care costs.

A common excuse is that not every employee has Internet access at work or home. While it holds true in some demographics, this kind of thinking is becoming harder and harder to defend. According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of English and Spanish-speaking adults use the Internet. Some 63 percent have broadband connection at home.

And soon, more people will access the web on the bus, on the soccer field or at the dinner table than in their homes. According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, the mobile web is forecast to be more popular than desktop Internet use by 2015.

We’re well on our way to seeing this come true. Smart phones are transforming our lifestyle, giving us the flexibility to make important decisions wherever — and whenever — it’s convenient.

Smart phones are bridging the digital gap in under-served demographic groups. They are helping minorities and lower-income Americans get online faster, according to a 2009 Pew Research study.

People are connected to each other all the time and everywhere. Your benefits should be, too.

Social networking

The Web has become a part of our culture. One of eight couples who married last year met online. Social media, from blogs to Facebook to Twitter, have tremendous potential to engage employees and families in health care and retirement decision-making. These new tools must be linked to an overall communications strategy and a comprehensive online resource to be effective. A branded company website is the best foundation from which to launch a social media campaign.

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Branding

Even if you have a fantastic benefits enrollment platform, it will be limited in terms of branding and not likely to provide the information in a way that engages your audience around the specific issues that are relevant to your company. You want your benefits information to be a direct reflection of your employer brand — everything you promise to employees. Usually, the only way to do that is to have complete control over the user experience by developing your own web site.

Recruitment and new hires

Having your benefits package available online for recruits to review and new hires to get familiar with helps attract key talent and makes the new hire orientation process easier. Instead of relying on a one-page overview or some high-level content, a prospective employee can get “inside” by going online and can see first-hand the commitment your company makes to their employees. Every company I’ve worked with has been surprised at the value this provides.

Three excuses you can now ignore

If you still are trying to find an excuse not to have all of your benefits information online, give up now. Have you been using one of these excuses?

  • It’s confidential. Benefits information is not proprietary nor does it need to be confidential. We’re talking about copay amounts and investment options, not trade secrets. If there’s some sensitivity around prices, OK, but there are easy ways to make that information more protected. But don’t let this excuse keep important information out of your employees’ hands.

If you (or your legal group) still insist that your benefits are somehow more unique or need to be more guarded than everyone else’s, I have some bad news: they are in the public realm, anyway. As soon as you distribute materials to 10,000 employees, you may as well have sent it to The New York Times and the Drudge Report. Anyone who wants to will find a way to get your benefits information, so don’t let that prevent you from providing a resource to encourage the people you want to have that information to use it.

Because it’s in the public realm anyway and these sites do not need personal employee data, I do not recommend password protecting benefits sites. In the time it takes to reset or find a password, you’ll lose your audience to YouTube or Facebook. Better to make access as simple and painless as possible.

  • It’s all provided in a printed book. Unless you have a segment of your employee population that really truly does not use the Internet or have access (yes, they are out there indeed!), you should ditch that big printed book and replace it with a benefits web site and streamlined print materials to drive people to the site. Your employees will thank you if you provide them with a robust, user-friendly site. And, you won’t have to justify your annual print budget and will get props from employees — and your corporate social responsibility group — for being more environmentally conscious.
  • It’s too expensive. With all the efficient web development technologies out there, it is no longer prohibitively expensive to build custom benefits web sites. And, if you are printing a large benefits booklet or distributing DVDs, you may be able to pay for the full development of the site in just a year or two of production budget savings.

In short, an easy-to-access benefits web site will be one of the most valuable investments you make in your organization’s communications infrastructure — so don’t delay doing it any longer.

Jennifer Benz is Chief Strategist and Founder of Benz Communications, a San Francisco-based consultancy that focuses on custom, comprehensive benefits and HR communications services. Jen is an active member of the Council for Communication Management, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Northern California Human Resources Association and Women in Consulting. Contact her at jen@benzcommunications.com.

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