Create better benefits communication using demographics

Get to know your employees and what they need

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The most effective way to reach employees — and to motivate them to take action — is to understand who they are and what they need. This may sound like common sense, but assessing employees is a crucial first step that’s often overlooked in .

Why? Many assume that every employee is the same so one way of communicating will work for all. But over the years, the workforce has become more diverse: different genders, races, regions and languages. If you don’t consider these differences when creating your benefits communication, you run the risk that employees will tune out.

How can you make sure you truly know your audience? Start by taking a close look at employee demographics. Then take a deeper dive into what employees need from benefits communication through qualitative research, such as focus groups.

This information will provide you with valuable insights for your benefits communication, including:

· What to communicate (content)

· How to communicate (e.g., print, electronic or face-to-face)

· When to communicate

You know how many people work for your company, but you also need to know other important facts about your employees. Here are four key demographics you should focus on when creating benefits communication:

1. Geography

Even in the age of electronic communication, where a person lives and works influences how he or she experiences communication. So explore the following data on geography:

· Geographic scope: What countries or regions do employees work in?

· Number of employees: How many work in headquarters versus other locations?

· Location: How many employees work at smaller facilities?

· Remote employees: How many are field, work-from-home and client-located employees?

Here’s an example of how geography impacts communication:

Scenario: You’re in company headquarters in a large city. Most employees don’t work at headquarters, but at small offices, with eight to 10 people, located throughout North America.

What should you do? Engage managers to communicate important benefits information, since employees are likely to turn to their managers first with questions.

2. Length of service

How long an employee has been with your organization makes a difference in how you communicate. For example, if turnover is high, you need to ramp up communication quickly and provide updates frequently. Gather the following data on tenure:

· Less than 1 year

· 1 to 3 years

· 3+ to 10 years

· 10+ to 20 years

· 20+ years

Here’s an example of how length of service impacts communication:

Scenario: You’ve been with the company 12 years, but the average employee has three years of service.

What should you do? Re-introduce information on a regular basis, since institutional memory is low. Assume today is someone’s first day.

3. Age

Generational differences influence the way employees think, behave and prefer to receive information. Take a look at the following demographic data on age:

· The Greatest Generation: 1901 to 1926

· The Silent Generation: 1927 to 1945

· Baby boomers: 1946 to 1964

· Generation X: 1965 to 1980

· Millennials or Gen Y: 1981 to 2000

Here’s an example of how age impacts communication:

Scenario: You are in your 40s. The average employee is 28.

What should you do? Millennials have high expectations about communication. So ensure your benefits communications are fast, easy to digest and candid.

4. Salary

This is especially important when communicating about any financially based plan, such as savings, retirement or stock-purchase plans. You’ll want to show examples of how the plans will work for employees at various salary levels. Here are the types of employees you should gather salary data for:

· Hourly employees

· Exempt salaried employees

· Nonexempt employees (from new hires to executives)

Here’s an example of how salary impacts communication:

Scenario: You make $120,000/year. But most employees earn less than $55,000 a year, and many are paid by the hour.

What should you do? Tailor benefits communication to avoid “have” versus “have not” perceptions; use examples that employees can relate to at any position or salary level.

Other demographics

These are four important demographics to focus on, but you may also want to explore these other questions for more employee insights:

· How many employees fall into each pay/job grade or job/function?

· What languages do employees speak?

· How many employees support dependents?

· How many employees have access to computers?

· Do shift employees need paid overtime to attend meetings on HR programs?

· How many union workers are there?

· How many employees are customers or shareholders of your company?

Dig deeper with focus groups

Demographics can provide you with valuable information to guide your benefits communication efforts. But to get inside the minds of employees, you need to go further. And the best way to do this is to conduct focus groups.

Why focus groups? This proven qualitative research method has been used by marketers, scientists and other professionals for decades. It can help you:

· Explore an issue or test a concept.

· Follow up on the launch of a new benefits initiative to see how well it was understood or received.

· Find out why employees aren’t enrolling in a benefits program.

Unlike surveys, focus groups don’t provide statistical data. But they do help you gain insights into employees’ needs and preferences by asking open-ended questions, such as:

· Do you feel the new compensation structure was communicated effectively?

· If you didn’t sign up for the new 401(k) plan, why not?

· What is one thing you’d do to improve benefits communication?

To coordinate a focus group, most HR professionals look to research firms or external moderators for help. But if you decide to manage it on your own, take a look at for effective strategies and tips.

Knowing your audience is so important to delivering effective benefits communication. But if you invest time in exploring demographics and talking to employees about what they need, you’ll be more likely to reach your goals.

Want to know more?

Learn how to transform your HR communications from boring to inspiring by reading my book: You’ll discover how to capture employees’ attention and engage them in benefits, pay and performance with this new, first-of-its-kind book.

Written by

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis and Company, the award-winning employee communication firm. Visit to know more.

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