Corporate Do-Gooder!
June 3, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my fellow employees get the most out of their benefits program via efficient, lively, multi-platform communications?

I'm in a terrific new Communications job in the very progressive HR department of a global business information company. My initial mandate is to improve Benefits communications which are currently complex, and myriad.

I have a wide-open opportunity to shape how a large employee population accesses healthcare and financial planning information -- and acts on it to get the most they can from their benefits program -- from a company that really wants to do the right thing.

I'm interested in any and all ideas, from program gripes or praise to content to delivery, that would keep your eyes from glazing over everytime you heard from HR about Benefits! Creativity, technology and simplicity (or at least, pitch-ability for budget allocation) will be extremely appreciated.
posted by thinkpiece to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
People's eyes glaze over because communications on this subject are often "junk mail" in a certain sense -- they arrive unbidden while employees are in the middle of doing something else. IMO the best thing to do is make really great, clear information available in a form they can access on their own schedule - ie, when they have set aside some time to think about benefits. A web page (maybe one that requires a corporate ID to enter) would be good for this.

The format of a FAQ is a nice clear way to organize such information. Ask and answer questions in a clear way, and then give links to whatever page gives compete info for each type of plan.

What are the options for health plans?

We offer three main plans, and a number of a optional add-ons.

The main plans are:
1. most expensive, most complete coverage [give key details and link]
2. medium [give key details and link]
3. least expensive, least complete coverage [give key details and link].

For add-ons, we have:
- dental [key details and link]
- vision [key details and link]
- prescription drug [key details and link]

Here is a chart comparing the options. [lots of columns, like "low co-pay (under $100) for routine doctor visits?" "full coverage for hospital stays?" etc. with checkmarks for which plans offer each]

Here are some common situations where each plan would be the best:
Young healthy single person
Young couple looking to start a family
Family with young children
Family with children in high school
Older couple
Older single person
Person or family with pre-existing chronic condition like diabetes
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:57 AM on June 3, 2007

(er, for that last section, I was imagining that for each situation, you would have a little discussion of why that person should choose a given plan. Eg, "You might choose Plan 1 if you're thinking of having kids, because it has the best pre-natal coverage. You might choose Plan 3 if you're young and healthy and single, because your risks are low." etc
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:59 AM on June 3, 2007

I would set up a wiki, and see if you can get a budget to do some exceptionally short informational videos on how to make the choices -- the advice that Dad would give.

Real world examples: The university I work for has a mess for an HR department, and it's not clear how to make use of any choices. You get a stack of paper in the mail when you're put into the HR system in the first place and it's daunting to read through. On top of that, you have a limited amount of time (90 days) to make certain choices, like optional retirement programs, for your ENTIRE CAREER. Of course, most new employees don't find out about this until they've already been enrolled in the Teachers Retirement System.

We need a 'new employee' guide that walks employees through what choices they make and how to make them.

Honestly, I'm not the best person to ask about all this stuff (dammit, Jim, I'm a programmer, not an HR specialist!) but a bunch of our newly full-time student workers came to me when they graduated because I'm the youngest person in the department and have had to make similar choices recently. So I needed to walk them through how to pick a health plan (Ask yourself: "If I get sick, how much can I cover out of cash? What if I need to see a specialist or a doctor that's not in network? How important, financially, is it that I be at work all the time? If that's high, choose a better health plan. If that's low, choose a cheaper health plan. Can I afford the hassle of dealing with an HMO? If not, don't choose one. ) Decision trees might be a good way to walk people through the questions they need to ask themselves.

Your key with this is to a) NOT be cutesy or fake, b) Make the information that they have questions about instantly accessible without providing ad nauseum detail on the page they're reading -- this is why I suggested you use a wiki, c) NOT waste any of their time by trying to force information in front of them. BE CONCISE AND ADULT in the way you're presenting the information -- this is a serious topic to the people who are accessing the information. Putting little cartoons or Alice Bob and Charlie stories in to make it "entertaining" or whatever will make most cube farm employees roll their eyes and click away in disgust.
posted by SpecialK at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2007

I hope you can maintain your enthusiasm and energy. Your company's lucky to have you doing this.

I would imagine that a wiki would be helpful, both as a means of disseminating information and to find out the types of questions your employees are wondering about. You would want to put caveats on it, of course, that the information in the wiki is meant to be helpful, and not authoritative, official company policy. (On preview, SpecialK mentioned this already.)

Other than that, it's hard for me to offer much anecdotal advice, as I've never worked for a company larger than 30 people.
posted by Alt F4 at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2007

This is all fantastic, and aligned with my own thinking. If you have any wiki examples, or any examples of anything that you think is complex information organized and presented in a wiki-wonderful way, please point me to it. Many many thanks.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:07 AM on June 3, 2007

I think the advice given so far is pretty good, especially the examples of types of questions people have. I wonder, though, why a wiki (as opposed to just a website)? Do you *really* want employees editing the benefits information? Accidentally (or purposefully) deleting something? I do agree that you need to be able to get feedback from the employees, but you can do that with email or a web form or something like that. From my perspective, a wiki is best suited to collaborative document editing, but I don't think what you want to do here is collaborate, because you are the authority, in terms of knowledge held re:benefits. Also, if you will have specific sections where employees can access their individual account information, then that obviously has to be password protected. But I would suggest that general information regarding plans, etc., be left open, so that spouses, partners, and other relevant parties can read this stuff. (My own experience is that, despite multiple graduate degrees, it usually takes both me and my husband reading and digesting this kind of stuff to make any sense of it.)
Just my 2 cents, YMMV.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:26 PM on June 3, 2007

Discourse -- I suggested a wiki because it's a good way to have a content management system where you can crosslink heavily without a whole lot of load. I assumed that thinkpiece would have thought about access controls and would protect the pages as per her company policy.

Unfortunately, getting feedback FROM users and having them have honest conversations about this -- true interactivity, web 2.0 style -- is something I've never seen done. It doesn't make sense for benefits because people want to keep their information private, and don't want to let either their other coworkers or their employer know that they have the high end insurance because their family has a huge risk of cancer and they want to go in with the highest coverage possible because it's very likely they'll get sick.... things like that. And that's the kind of information that really matters to a kid going into making these decisions... most of the adults working for the company will know HOW to make these decisions and just need the basic information on how the policies work and what their options are.

I think that things like calculators, decision trees (maybe even done in flash) and a site that has questions to think about -- done in an understated, "here are TOOLS" fashion as opposed to a cutesy HR-major-fresh-out-of-school-oh-do-you-like-my-hair-giggle-giggle kind of way ... which is how most HR communications get done ... is the best way to organize the information.

As for wikis with complex information ... learn and love the Mediawiki's templates, tables, and plugins. I don't know what the best way to present the information would be, I'm sorry ... I'm just a computer nerd without much knowledge beyond how to tell people what decisions I've made and what questions I came up with. Wikipedia is frighteningly complex, so go browse around some of the scientific articles and other articles that are all related to get an idea of the fatures. The power of the wiki is the ability to crosslink on a word, so wherever you have 401k, you can do [[401k]] and it'll be a link to a page about 401ks in general, what options your company provides, and how you can make the choices... use the wiki to create a kind of 'wizard'. It's not the user-power of the wiki that's helfpful here, it's the power of the wiki syntax as a content management system that is.

I'll second the "good to see your enthusiasm for this task"... Just keep in mind what your audience wants and you'll do just fine.
posted by SpecialK at 2:28 PM on June 3, 2007

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