By Mark Eaton, Key Account Director, Personal Group (www.personal-group.com)

When it comes to any employee communication, planning and preparation are essential to effectively engage with your employees. And when it comes to talking with them about the rewards and benefits available to them, this planning is arguably more important than ever. After all, when one in four employers rate rewards and benefits as a key driver in engaging their workforce, the payback of your investment in benefits communication should not be underestimated.

A growing number of employers acknowledge the advantages of face-to-face communication when it comes to talking with their people about benefits. The sheer number of communications an employee receives on a daily basis means there’s huge scope for the impact or importance of benefits information to be lost or diluted. So, faced with impending information overload, many employees welcome the prospect of being able to sit down, face to face with someone to discuss their benefits package and options.

If you’re thinking about adopting a face-to-face led communication strategy for your people, here are some of the issues you might like to consider, according to Mark Eaton from Personal Group (www.personal-group.com).

1.Testing, testing

Before employees are even invited to attend face to face meetings about benefits, there is much work to be done. Invest time to develop the key messages to be discussed with employees and make sure they reflect your corporate and benefits objectives. If you choose to work with an external provider to design and deliver benefits communication, take every opportunity to attend training and briefing sessions prior to the programme rollout. This will give you a valuable opportunity to feedback on the format or focus of sessions and enable you to brief them on your organisation and what makes a ‘typical’ employee.

2.Timing is everything

Just as the timing of a benefits programme rollout is critical to its success, the timing of face to face employee communications is also vital. Scheduling sessions must take into account peak trading hours or particularly busy periods in the business, such as Easter or Christmas. Being sensitive to individual and business pressures will ensure employees are not under pressure and can focus on the information being offered to them. This will also support line managers and mean that they don’t feel deprived of key staff at a business critical time.

3.Welcome any feedback

Employees should be offered the opportunity to provide feedback about their face to face meeting. Benefits professionals will naturally ask employees about their experience at the end of a meeting and confirm there are no outstanding issues or queries to be resolved. In addition to this, though, employees should be given the chance to offer anonymous feedback on the meeting to confirm it meets organisational objectives and, for example, made the employee feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the benefits on offer without any pressure to purchase. The specific focus of any feedback form should be agreed prior to rollout of the communication programme. However, if you do ask employees for feedback it is good practice to make them aware that you are acting on the information and suggestions supplied and are taking steps to remedy any issues that have arisen.

4.Regularly review progress

Once the schedule of face to face meetings has commenced, make time to assess how it’s going. This is your first opportunity to review employee feedback received to date and make any changes to the format or focus of face to face meetings and if timed correctly, can ensure your benefits communication programme has the maximum positive impact on your employees.

5.Remove employees from their regular environment

The most effective face to face sessions are held away from an individual’s regular work environment. It’s important to identify a location where employees won’t be disturbed and where they can ask questions without feeling that they might be overheard by colleagues, especially if they’re discussing personal issues or finances.

6.Don’t force people to participate

Employees should not feel compelled to take part in face to face meetings. It’s likely you’ll get a number of employees who feel the sessions aren’t appropriate to them and who do not want to attend. Accept this and focus on those that do want to participate to ensure that they are prepared for and get the most out of the meetings. There’s every chance that those who do have a great experience will naturally tell others and positive word of mouth referral from colleagues is a powerful tool that can help influence even the most cynical employee!

7.Prepare employees for the experience

To make the most out of a face to face benefits meeting, employees should receive information about the session beforehand. Individuals should be made aware of, for example, what the meeting will involve, how long it will take, what they can expect to ‘get’ from the meeting and be assured there will be an opportunity to ask questions about their own circumstances, if required. Preparing employees in this way will reduce any anxiety they have about the meeting or fear that it’s just an opportunity for them to be sold to, enabling them to get the best out of it.

8.Make face to face part of your wider benefits communication

The most effective benefits communication strategies do not rely solely on one communication method or channel for success as no one single communication method will reach all your employees. Consider the type of people in your organisation, the type of work they do and their location to help you decide how best to reach them. Once armed with this understanding you can make sure you have a plan in place to help your employees listen to and understand what you’re saying to them when it comes to rewards and benefits.