By Mark Eaton, Director at Personal Group

Following a severe emergency budget, it is clear that there is unlikely to be a let up in the difficult economic climate. As a result, employees are looking at their benefits packages for ways to help them make financial savings and also have a positive effect on their personal and professional lives.

Because of this, employees around the UK want more from their employer's communications around employee benefits; which was clear to see in the new research from employee benefits specialists, Personal Group.

Employees want to know more about the specific products, services and solutions they have access to and they want to receive this information more often - with over a third of respondents agreeing to this statement. Reassuringly, employers too want to ensure their workforce is aware of and understand the value of their employee benefits offering - after all, they don't want to invest in a scheme which is misunderstood and therefore not used.

Only through effective, two-way communication can both employer and employee achieve their desired objectives. So how can you, as an employer take steps to make sure this is a reality for you and your people? Here, Mark Eaton, Director at Personal Group outlines some of the steps you can consider to ensure your benefits communications are just right for your people.

1. Failure to prepare means preparing to fail!

For many organisations, benefits communication can be a ‘box ticking’ exercise, but for those who recognise the potential of benefits to engage and support their people, planning and preparation is the essential first step they need to take.

To ensure you’re in a position to do this, look at what employee communication channels already work well within the business and discuss the existing communication tools and tactics available to the business - and which are most effective. Also seek advice and support from your benefits provider who will be able to advise you on what has worked well in other organisations, as well as new tools and tactics that you might want to consider.

2. Don’t presume you know what your employees want

As part of your communication preparation and planning, you need to involve your people in order to find out their preferences and opinions of benefits communication.

As well as providing you with essential information to help plan your communication programme, involving employees in focus groups, one-to-one discussions or by informal online surveys enables you to begin communicating about available benefits before the programme is formally launched.

By not investing time - and where necessary, resources, to learn what your people want when it comes to benefits themselves and their preferred way to hear about them - you do yourself and your investment a disservice and stand every chance of wasting your money.

3. Timing is crucial

Think about the timing of your benefits rollout as it’s better to delay the launch than to be unprepared or for your communication to coincide with a particularly busy time for the business and potentially be ignored.

Planning a calendar of benefits communication - for example, by promoting a ‘benefit of the month’ - will also enable you to retain control of communication and link your benefits offering with key dates and seasons.

4. Take a blended approach

There is no one single communication channel that will reach all your employees, so think hard about your workforce and what will suit them best. Take an objective look at your workforce; are many of your people home-based and therefore don’t see posters in the office? Are you a call centre where, although people do have internet access, the demands of their work schedule means they don’t have time to review benefits information? Or do you have lots of graduates within your business that are open to ‘newer’, online or social media communication channels? Utilising a range of communication tools and techniques to support your benefits programme ensures you can reach and engage all groups and segments within the business.

5. Understand your line managers

What is the benefit for your line managers to take an active role in the benefits communication process? Consider what’s in it for them and review how you can engage them individually and collectively with your objectives. Try to anticipate the objections they may put forward, for example, the pressure they’re under to meet targets or the difficulty of releasing their team for face-to-face sessions with benefits providers.

If you have the opportunity, try to talk with as many line managers as possible about the benefits programme and the role they could play in communication. These discussions will enable you to clarify their role in the communication process - that is as a channel of information rather than benefits experts - as well as sourcing their feedback on your benefits and communication plans.