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401(k) vs. Que Sera, Sera – Workplace Communication That Matters

November 11, 2011, 12:00 AM

What’s the Big Idea? 

In the corporate world of yesteryear, workers' healthcare and retirement plans were far more straightforward and standardized affairs than they are today, left for the most part in the (hopefully) capable hands of Headquarters. Today's workers (those lucky enough to have jobs with benefits) are presented with an often dizzying array of options, prompting questions like: "What disease might I conceivably get that the 'Pro Option 2000' plan wouldn't cover, and what's the probability that I'll contract it?" Or, "Should I split my IRA assets 30/70 between the 'Klein High-Yield Package' and the 'Net Safety Low-Risk' umbrella?" In theory, these choices should give people more control over their money and destiny. In practice, they can confuse employees to the point of paralysis.

For younger workers especially, those who rarely have huge reserves of discretionary income and may view retirement and serious illness as things that happen mainly in the movies, the temptation to opt out of optional benefits altogether rather than trying to parse all that paperwork can be enormous. Bruce Finley is the communications guru at Mercer, a strategic advisor to corporations worldwide. For him, the benefits discussion is a major (and often lost) opportunity for companies to reach young workers in a meaningful way, getting them more deeply invested in their careers and their futures.

Big companies in particular spend a lot of time worrying about how best to communicate with – not at – their employees, meeting their increasing demands for instant information and transparency, and keeping them engaged and motivated. For while it’s true that job security in this economy is in rough shape, so (not coincidentally) is employee loyalty. Businesses are having a tough time holding on to their most promising workers. For Finley, successfully empowering workers to manage their benefit options – a tricky yet all-important task – may be the first step toward a beautiful relationship.

What’s the Significance?

As remote and technical as benefits plans may seem, they represent the most concrete commitment (beyond salary) that companies make to their employees' personal well-being. That's something that can get lost in all the fine print.  

What’s needed is a conversation that works, even when it’s difficult. For large organizations, this is no simple matter – it involves decisions about tone, the channels and frequency of messages, and how to gather and respond to employee feedback in a timely manner. Simply creating a cool looking app or snazzy “employee service center” website won’t cut it.

More broadly, though, it’s a matter of corporate philosophy. The particulars of communication aren’t quite as challenging to sort out for companies who have programmed into their DNA the view that each employee is essential to the lifeblood of the organization, and a commitment to recognizing even entry-level workers not only as “resources,” but as people.

This post is part of the series Inside Employees' Minds, sponsored by Mercer. 

Photo Credit: rangizzz/Shutterstock.com


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