By David Meckle, Communications Practice Leader, McGriff Insurance Services

Does explaining benefits have you feeling like you’re talking over your employee’s heads? Use these practical tips to help make your benefits communication more engaging and effective.


Pretty basic, right? It’s a no brainer that tends to get overlooked when it comes to communicating with employees about their benefits. Effective communication requires a clear understanding of the audience and having a clear understanding of what’s important to them. Are your employees younger or older, male or female, single or married with a family, executive or entry-level, in an office or in the field? Remember, it’s not unusual to have multiple generations represented in a workforce, and age has a direct impact on how people prefer to receive communications. Think about how Millennials communicate versus Baby Boomers. There’s a big difference. Beyond basic demographic information, do you know what motivates your employees, what their concerns are, and what they want from their benefits? Knowing your audience is key to developing messaging that’s relevant, impactful, and that drives employees to take action.


As the saying goes, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And as we all know, there’s not much brevity when it comes to explaining things like high deductible health plans, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums. Complex, wordy benefit guides and hard-to-read medical plan summary charts are common. In today’s world, attention spans are short. Social media has taught us how to communicate in 280 characters or less and we’re still doing 48-page benefit guides wondering why employees don’t understand their benefits. Focus on the key points and make sure you messaging always answers the question, “What’s in it for me?” 

Try and keep sentences concise, impactful, and direct. A good rule of thumb for a concise sentence is 16 words or less. Want to know what your employees do and don’t understand? Conduct a series of informal focus groups or surveys and ask employees what terms, concepts, and acronyms in your current materials they find confusing. Then develop common, easy-to-understand language to explain these complex topics.


A common communication mistake is writing as though you’re addressing a room full of people, or writing for the masses. Keep in mind that people read as individuals, not as a group. Instead, try writing as if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with the reader. Another way of saying it is to write like you speak. It’s a more welcoming, relaxed, and engaging style of writing. Set aside the formal writing guidelines and use common, less technical language. Use positive and strong words like “do, be, new, can” not passive words like “maybe, perhaps, could, and might.” It can be challenging, but whenever possible stay away from the “benefits-speak” industry jargon and acronyms. When you’re finished, read the message out loud so you can hear how it sounds. If it doesn’t sound quite right, make changes until it flows. 


Everyone likes a great story. There’s an aspect to storytelling that appeals to people’s emotions and we have a tendency to respond positively to a story. It also makes your benefits real and personal. Try this technique for this year’s open enrollment. Invite employees to participate in your open enrollment communication campaign and have them tell a story about how their benefits have had a positive impact in their everyday lives. It could be about how your wellness program helped someone quit smoking, or how a flexible spending account helped a single parent save money on childcare, or how supplemental insurance helped pay for an out-of-pocket expense that was not covered by traditional medical insurance. 

Incorporate these stories into your communications and your employees will become more engaged and better informed. You’ll also find that employees are much more receptive to a message that comes from a colleague than from HR. 


Find yourself with writer’s block every time you start planning communications for open enrollment? Answer these key questions and you’ll be well on your way to developing messaging that gets results. 

  • Who am I trying to reach? What do they need to know? What’s in it for them? 
  • When do they need to know it? 
  • What’s the best way to deliver the message? 
  • What do I want to happen as a result of the communication or what action is needed? 
  • How do they take that action? Where do they go for help? 


Communications should be attention-getting, thought-provoking, empathy-building, action-inducing, and appropriate. And if you’re not achieving at least three of these objectives, odds are the communication will fail. Providing quality benefits is a substantial investment for your company. Improve your communications to get the most out of your investment.

For more, visit