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More Companies Turning To Employee Communications As Healthcare Benefits Change

With the changing face of healthcare benefits increasing the need to communicate with employees more effectively, many companies are beefing up their efforts in this area.

At the same time, they are reducing the help given to older employees nearing retirement.

These and other findings are being surfaced in a new study being conducted by Information Strategies, Inc. (ISI).

At the same time, a new study released by Watson Wyatt indicates that overall, companies are expanding their employee communications efforts.

The main objective, experts indicate, is to increase employee participation in benefits programs.  At the same time, efforts by companies to improve healthcare benefit participation is proving challenging.

Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Communication ROI study™ found that 53 percent of employers used communication vehicles such as printed materials, special mailings and employee meetings to increase enrollment in benefits programs in 2007.

This has more than doubled over the past four years, from 25 percent in 2003.

“As more companies take steps to rein in health care costs and update their benefit offerings, the need for better communication is becoming clear,” said Kathryn Yates, global director of communication consulting for Watson Wyatt.

“Companies expect employees to assume more responsibility for their financial and personal health, so it’s important to provide them with the resources to make informed decisions,” she added.

However, the picture is not all positive. In looking back at the communication trends since their initial study in 2003, Watson Wyatt found that employers are increasing their communication efforts in some areas, but lessening their focus in others.

For example, the number of employers offering personalized total reward statements has increased by 13 percentage points, but the share of companies offering educational material to ease the financial transition of workers nearing retirement has decreased by 11 percentage points, according to Watson Wyatt

In contrast, the number of employers that regularly measure employee behavior change to verify that communication initiatives are working has increased by 24 percentage points.

Watson Wyatt also said that more than one half (57 percent) of companies are using corporate communication scorecards to measure effectiveness in areas such as employee retention and manager performance.

However, the portion that allows employee input on decisions that affect the company has decreased by 5 percentage points.

While companies don’t always explain the reasons behind management decisions, they do tie employee performance to the prosperity of the organization as a whole.

The number of companies that communicate the connection between pay and business strategy has risen from 70 percent in 2003 to 80 percent in 2007.

“Good communication connects employee performance to the bottom line,” said Yates. “Companies that expect workers to perform at peak levels are explaining why they make certain management decisions.

She added that "these companies gather employee input and feedback to build workers’ understanding – an exercise that has been shown to increase their productivity and improve financial results.”

The 2007/2008 Communication ROI study™ includes the responses of 264 companies representing more than 6.2 million employees around the world.

More information is available at http://www.watsonwyatt.com/research/resrender.asp?id=2007-US-0214&page=1.

Top Five Positive TrendsOrganizations Implementing (2003)Organizations Implementing (2007)Percentage point increase
Takes action to increase employee enrollment in benefits programs25%53%27%
Regularly measures employee behavioral change29%53%24%
Employees use Web technology to gain access to training/development tools 37%57%20%
Collects information to assess perceived value of employee benefit programs 34%50%17%
Involves internal communication in organizational change 47%63%16%
Top Five Negative TrendsOrganizations Implementing (2003)Organizations Implementing (2007)Percentage point increase
Offers personalized education materials on income needs in retirement 58%47%11%
Implements a new communication initiative to support change38%32%6%
Gives employees the chance to provide input on how work gets done33%28%5%
Provides a systematic orientation for new hires 51%46%5%
Explains the reason behind major decisions 66%62%4%



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