Understanding the case for harnessing emotions in benefits communication strategies

It’s easy to take employee benefits for granted. These days, employees are overwhelmed with choice, not to mention flexibility.

Understanding the case for harnessing emotions in benefits comms strategies

They can access their packages via online portals and dashboards, receive targeted comms to make them aware of the options available to them and they can reap the rewards that online, flexible and/or voluntary benefits have to offer.

It wasn’t always like this: several decades ago, the only benefit available to an employee was their remuneration package plus a few days’ holiday, and that’s if their employer was feeling generous.

A new issue to deal with

We’ve come a long from the ‘head down, clock in, clock off’ workplace culture, but today, HR is battling with a typically modern issue: engagement.

Employers want to support their staff, they want to provide relevant benefits which make employees feel valued and feel cared about, yet they tend to ignore the key word in this agenda: feel.

By focussing on the rational value of any employee benefit proposition, employers are forgetting the very thing that makes us human: our emotions.

Employees are people too

They’re not cogs in a machine. In fact, it’s when employers – and HR – start to embrace the humanness of their workforce, with all its flaws, imperfections and myriad of emotions (apathy, disengagement, moodiness), things start to happen. Emotions are powerful. Tapping into them can bring about a sea change of staff behaviour and attitudes. 

It’s about how staff feel rather than what they think. As humans, we’re imperfect and we don’t always work in logical, rational ways. When faced with financial decisions, like saving for retirement or pension contributions, staff may find it boring or too complicated or even a bit scary. These thoughts can make them feel apathetic, confused or anxious which can trigger them to stop engaging all together.

It’s what Harvard psychologist Jennifer Lerner has been saying for years: emotions influence every aspect of our lives, whether it’s to avoid a particular product or service because of how it makes us feel or to be drawn towards it. According to Lerner, emotions have a huge impact on our perception, our decision making and our memory. It’s emotion that is behind our purchasing decisions, and our decisions to hire candidate A or candidate B.

Writing in UXdesign, a specialist product design and user experience publishing platform, Lisa Zeitlhuber argues that the emotional pull is the difference between an average product and one that gets people raving. She says: “Think of a digital product you love and have raved about to your friends. Often, in this crowded market, these products are not one of a kind — there are competitors who offer almost identical functionality. So why do you prefer one over the other? It’s more than what the product does, it’s how the product makes you feel.”

Advertisers and marketers have known this for decades. It’s partly why the John Lewis Christmas advert is usually so popular, and why their main competitors are now also producing emotionally leveraged ‘stories’ as central elements of their festive advertising.

So if how your employees feel about a particular benefit, or even how they feel about the employer, is a key objective, it feels like a good idea to consider the emotional angle as well as the rational.

Jerry Edmondson is strategic communications and engagement proposition lead at Aon Employee Benefits.

This article was provided by Aon Employee Benefits. 

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