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Employees Not So Social on Benefits Communication ... Yet

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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While employees may be excited about using social-media tools for wellness initiatives, they are not as enthusiastic about employers using the technology to deliver communications about health benefits.

More than eight in 10 (82 percent) U.S. employees said they weren't interested in receiving information about their employer-provided health benefits, or tips on how to exercise, eat healthy or save money on healthcare via Twitter or text messaging, according to a study of 1,500 employees by the National Business Group on Health. The 2010 study also found that about three in four employees said they had no interest in getting benefits information via Facebook.

"While all the rage outside the workplace is on social media, most employees aren't ready to mesh that part of their routine into the workplace, at least when it comes to health benefits," says Helen Darling, president of the Washington-based organization. "In fact, a vast majority of workers would prefer their employers stick to tried-and-true communication methods -- mailings to home and e-mail."

But Darling believes that could all change soon.

"Despite the current low interest level among workers, at some point, social media will begin to resonate," she says, "especially as young employees enter the workforce and older ones retire."

Social media could also provide a good supplement to the long pages of information in a written benefits guide by delivering information in smaller, more manageable chunks, says Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist at Benz Communications, which is located in San Francisco.

"People really want simple information," says Benz. "They really crave benefits information they can do something with and understand."

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With modest effort, she says, employers can provide benefits information in interesting ways.

"A blog that's updated once a week or even twice a month is going to be so much more frequent than any other benefits communication that goes out," according to Benz.

Brenna Shebel, senior manager of the Institute on Health Care Costs and Solutions at the NBGH, says blogs or videos can be good ways to start.

If companies did increase communication via social networks, it could lead to employees helping one another navigate the health-insurance-claim system -- which can be a clerical challenge for many, says Benz.

"We all know how confusing and overwhelming healthcare and wellness can be," says Benz, "so the more you can talk about it in different ways [and] the more you can engage with people in different ways -- the better."

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