Jane Birch, HR Benefits Manager of the GNER highlights the importance of communication.
Informative and creative communication is essential for the effective launch of any employee benefits scheme. In addition commitment from all involved parties is critical, and this commitment starts long before the first roadshow, poster or email.
From day one any new scheme must involve all relevant parties. Procurement to check contracts, Finance for VAT/Billing processes, IT for software issues etc. A cross-functional project group to oversee the smooth introduction of the scheme is essential. In addition to the obvious members, there are other personnel critical to the success of any new scheme – Union/Employee Representatives. Working in partnership from a very early stage will ensure their buy-in and support and if they are happy it’s likely their members will be too. Regular Project Team meetings will ensure the flow of communication right through the planning stage and into implementation and finally during the wash-up sessions.
A cross-functional project group will also serve another purpose; word of the new scheme will start to spread across the company (the grapevine, every company has one….). Never underestimate the power of the grapevine. Even in the most geographically spread workforce the grapevine is often quicker than the modern day method of email.
When developing your strategy for communicating it is very important to have a consistent and visual identity for benefits so staff know immediately its for them. Also you need to consider the diversity of your workforce, ask yourself a number of questions:
- How do we communicate with employees who are not office based/geographically spread/remote workers?
- How do we communicate with employees who are less skilled at reading or do not have English as their first language?
- When and how often do we communicate?
- How much should or can we communicate with employees at home?
- Who can help us communicate?
- What are the key messages that need to be conveyed?
- How should the communication be branded whilst ensuring consistency?
- How do we communicate with staff not currently at work (i.e. staff on maternity/paternity leave)
Even in these modern times not all employees have access to email, likewise not all employees receive regular briefings and employees have preferences regarding the way they intake information – one may prefer the email option another may prefer face to face discussions. A third group may welcome communications coming to home, allowing them to share the information with their partner/family.
Thinking through all these questions will help develop a communication strategy for a new scheme to reach every employee, will appeal to the majority and will convey all the necessary messages.
Investing the time to communicate with all the relevant parties early on is critical to the success of a scheme.
Communication – The Launch
For today’s diverse workforce there are many communication options available, and bearing in mind the difference in preferences it would be wise to utilise the maximum number of channels available. These channels include:
- Launch booklet
- Company intranet
- Scheme websites
- Payslip reminders
- Email shots
- Corporate briefings
- Internal staff magazine
- Dedicated helplines
- Employees representatives
- Q&A Sheets
- Video Link
- The Grapevine
It is important to ensure that communications effectively cover the ‘harder’ issues as well as the ‘softer’ ones. Literature should explain any contractual implications and any potential impact on, for example, pensions (bear in mind the remote worker, they need all the information to hand not just the headlines).
Question and answer formats are good to help get key messages across in a user-friendly way, have these included in the launch booklet and ensure the employee representatives have copies to hand too, this will help them provide reassurance/encouragement to constituents who come to them. Be prepared to amend during the launch, picking up any key issues raised.
When planning your strategy try to stagger the flow of communication, keep the momentum going. Having regular update sessions with the project team they can continue to influence the success of a scheme, remember the grapevine, if it’s proving successful, staff will want to jump on the ‘benefits bandwagon’!
Communication – After the Launch
As the initial launch period comes to an end it’s important the communication still continues. Wash-up sessions with the Project Team and Suppliers can prove invaluable. Questions to ask:
- How did the launch plan go, did it reach everyone?
- How was it perceived by staff – feedback received?
- How successful was the scheme/what was the take up?
- What would we change next time?
It is also important to communicate the success of a new scheme. Articles involving the staff that participated in the scheme are an excellent way of keeping the momentum going. If there were any other benefits, i.e. support for the local community, ensure these good news stories are included in company magazines/websites.
Ask the staff for feedback, did they find the literature informative, useful, and creative; were the questions and answers helpful? Don’t be afraid of any criticism, use this to continually improve, work on and improve this area next time.
Communication, communication, communication. Involve all the relevant parties from the moment the lightbulb switches on, especially employee/union representatives. Keep in touch with the Project Team, have regular update sessions. Ensure you utilise every communication channel available to you. Make sure the harder issues are covered and question and answer formats are included (remember the remote worker) and updated. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from the workforce, they will be honest and constructive feedback is invaluable in learning how to improve for next time.
The success of an employee benefits scheme relies heavily on the communication strategy, invest the time early on, communication, communication, communication, and never under estimate the power of the grapevine…
Jane Birch, HR Benefits Manager of the GNER