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10 essential rules for writing benefits communications

Our viewpoint

There is one inescapable truth that we’ve witnessed in the workplace over the past few years, and that is the changing priority of the ‘people’ agenda.

Creating a workplace environment where people can flourish is now a board-level issue. At the same time, technology has driven huge change in the way we communicate and spend our time. In response, we’ve seen a host of new products and digital services launched which hope to become part of every company’s benefits strategy.

But deciding which products – pensions, insurances, savings, debt consolidators, discounts, lifestyle apps etc – to provide is one thing. Whether they are appreciated by your employees is quite another – and that’s where communication comes in. There’s no universal truth to what will work and what won’t, because each workplace is different, but here’s a list of ten things to consider when writing to employees:

  1. Make sure you really know the message
    I mean really know it. A fashion retailer was asked about the huge cost of the handbags he sold. The response – “I don’t sell handbags. I sell dreams” – showed that this person really knew his message. Are you launching a new default fund for the pension, or are you helping people to save for the future?
  2. Write to get a reaction
    If you are writing, you are trying to communicate. But communication is best judged not by what the writer writes, but what happens between the reader’s ears. The invention of the printing press heralded the boom in mass media where we got used to ‘telling’ rather than ‘communicating’. But with the advent of social media, the 21st century audience expects to be able to interact with their content. Think about letting them like it, or share it, or comment on it. Use your technology to get a reaction you can measure.
  3. Write for the Twitter generation
    We are brought up on nursery rhymes which start ‘Once upon a time’. They set the scene. Then things happen. And then there’s a resolution. And they all live happily ever after. Newspapers aren’t written that way. All the important information is up front, and the backstory comes later after most people have stopped reading. The rise of Twitter, where you are limited to characters rather than words, has brought this style to the mainstream. Imagine your audience will only read the first paragraph, and then use it well. If there’s too much to explain in the first paragraph, make sure you let people know why they should choose to read the second.
  4. Understand your audience
    Can you picture who you are communicating with? If not, how do you know what medium to use to get your message across? Would you be better off creating a video or doing a desk drop or sending people chocolate? You can’t decide if you don’t know your audience.
  5. Personalise, and be personal
    We use data and communications to deliver bespoke, personalised messages that are relevant and timely, and have a big impact. But if you don’t have the data and the system to create a communication that is targeted to me, you can still add a touch of ‘personal’ to the communication, either in tone of voice, or referring to real people. Launching a new retirement service? Include a case study featuring Roberta from accounts that brings it to life. Better yet, ask a communication expert how they would deliver your messages to the right audience in the right way.
  6. Use pictures
    Words are wonderful. We invented them for a reason. But long before words became the must-have accoutrement for any advanced civilisation, we had pictures. A good proportion of people will engage with pictures before words, so use that to your advantage. And pictures of people are more engaging than pictures of things. Using a case study about Roberta in accounts? Include her photo. If you can use pictures which move – film, animation, interesting typography – even better. I’m sure Roberta would agree to be filmed – she’s already vlogging to 750 people on YouTube each week.
  7. Little and often beats lots and seldom
    Think of an advert or a political campaign statement you can recall. Why was it memorable? It might have appealed or had a subject that was relevant, but it’s also probable that you’ve seen the message a few times. If you want to get a message across, repetition is your friend. Catchy slogans work. There is a place for a newsletter which covers multiple topics, but saying something once along with lots of other things won’t drive a message home as well as saying one thing clearly and repeating it often.
  8. Unleash your enthusiasm for the subject
    There’s no such thing as a dry subject – only dry content. Find a tone of voice that suits your audience – irreverent and funny might not work but interesting and personable might – and so use that.
  9. Hold back your enthusiasm for the detail
    Yes, it’s fantastic that the opening hours for the travel insurance is extensive, but if you are trying to evoke an emotional response or even raise awareness that the service exists, keep the detail away from the headlines and put it where it can be found when needed.
  10. Think of other ways to get the message across
    You could write an intranet article. It could start with a paragraph of text, followed by three more, with contact details at the end. Or… you could do a quiz. Ask a survey question. Do a ‘did you know?’. A case study. A competition. A game. An infographic. A video. A pre-arranged flash mob chanting in the restaurant at lunch time. Or a top ten list. I have no idea why people like lists, but they are enduringly popular. They don’t need to be ten, but no one ever does lists of eight or nine or eleven. Go figure.

There are, of course, many other ‘rules’ you could adopt – this list is by no means definitive. If you can think of any, please do let me know – I’d like to compile a list of the best ones. But there’s probably one more thought to leave you with, and that’s the pace of change within communications, driven by the increasing power of technology. It’s certainly worth being aware of the changing landscape, and the best way to do this is either speak to an expert, or to talk to someone in their early 20s about how they keep in touch with their friends. What sounds wild today will be mainstream in five years, and if you can do something innovative, your audience will thank you for it.

Employee wellbeing - the state of the nation's financial health

Employee wellbeing - the state of the nation's financial health

Read our latest report, from a survey of over 10,000 employees, which gives a real snapshot of their financial wellbeing to help employers to understand the main issues, and how they can support their workforce.

Download the report