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Lost in Translation: 5 HR Disconnects and How to Overcome Them

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on July 13, 2017 12:00 PM

Sometimes it's like hearing, “The dog ate my homework.”

As an HR professional, you come to class prepared.  You do everything you can to fulfill your role in the benefits communication curriculum: you give your employees all the information you’re not only required to deliver, but also believe they need to know.  So, it’s tough hearing time and time again that employees aren’t following through on their end of the deal. They don’t seem to be getting the message – worse, they’re just not getting it.

Like marketing, benefits communication boils down to saying the right things in the right way to the right person – all at the right time. It’s one thing to post information, it’s another to educate, interact and reach understanding. It’s a tough relationship to get just right – for both sides.

Here are five common employee-HR disconnects and suggestions for overcoming each.

  1. “I had no idea our company offered that benefit.”
    Onboarding is often regarded as the most critical time to educate employees about benefit offerings. But think about how many times you’ve seen your new employees’ eyes glaze over the moment you hand them that over-stuffed folder of glossy brochures and confusing forms. Consider staging HR meetings during the first few weeks of employment to get the cursory paperwork out of the way first, and then can focus on separate interactions and staged messaging to engage employees with the good stuff – in more digestible bites. Benefits education can also be incorporated into recruitment. Not just as part of the compensation package at the offer stage, but throughout the interview process.  Encourage your employees to incorporate benefits talk in a personal, value-added way - it helps sell your company culture and impress your candidates.

  2. “I didn’t understand the survey question.”
    Who doesn’t love a good employee survey? Many employees, unfortunately. Oftentimes, respondents race through surveys, feel some sections are irrelevant to their lives, or simply, don’t understand the questions.  While they’re a valuable method for designing and evaluating programs, they’re just one tool in the toolkit. Consider setting up a survey advisory group (a diverse mix of employees representing a cross-section of your staff) to help test-drive your surveys and identify potential misunderstandings or further insight. Or, let employees know an HR representative is always on-call to text or Skype during a series of “survey response days" to provide quick clarification of a question.

  3. “When did we add this – nobody ever told me?!”
    More than half of HR organizations report they post documents on an internal website, offer information from an HR call center or provide packets during onboarding, but they also report nearly half of employees don’t read or access that information.1  It’s easy to pass over a “Benefits Update” email from HR over the course of a jam-packed day. Organizations reporting a higher level of engagement are using a different approach to reach employees: town hall-style forums – in-person or virtual (37 percent), video-based messages (85 percent), and interactive tools (11 percent) to aid selection. Mandatory VM messages and a series of staged texts can also help get the message through.

    RELATED: Want to Refresh Benefits Communication? Try Thinking Like a Marketer

  4. “This benefit isn’t relevant to me.”
    HR now answers to the needs of five generations in the workplace, where one size doesn’t fit all. Providing a menu of choices to employees is essential to recruiting and retaining top talent. The challenge comes in communicating the relevant benefits to the right individuals. Knowing your employee demographics, as well as their generation, and where they are in their work and life lifecycles can help you better target and customize benefits messaging.  Utilizing technology to support this segmented communication delivery is one method. Training and enlisting the support of your managers is another.  Managers make great, front-line benefits ambassadors. They can capture and respond to benefits questions in a timely, trusted, impactful way.  And they can also help feed information to HR about what’s happening within their team.

    RELATED: Retention by Generation - What Matters Most

  5. “Nobody ever uses this benefit, why should I?”
    HR professionals quickly learn that if you build it, they don’t always come. Utilization is a major challenge for all organizations. Benefits must directly answer the needs of employees, but they should also answer to the voice of the company culture.  And if they do, chances for utilization will be higher.  And where sign-off from senior leadership is required, so should be 100 percent buy-in. If employees don’t see their immediate managers, senior leaders and C-level executives walking the talk – particularly for new, more forward-thinking benefits, it’s just not going to get utilized.

Just like in the classroom, layered repetition is key. And so is finding a way to connect with employees in meaningful, authentic ways.   If both sides come with their listening ears on, greater learning – and benefits utilization will happen.

Source: Aptitude Research Partners, "Hire, Engage, Retain Study," 2016.  All rights reserved.
Source: Aptitude Research Partners, "Hire, Engage, Retain Study," 2016.  All rights reserved.

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.