DC Reports » DC Report 2019

Inside view: Seven steps for better pensions communication

Oil_platformThe key to providing good communications to pension fund members is having a good process to follow, says Johanna Nelson, a communications expert at Punter Southall Aspire.

A recent research report on pensions communications, Punter Southall Aspire’s ‘It’s Time to change’, highlighted that employees want better communications around workplace savings and pensions. The survey covered 2,000 UK employees aged between 16 and 65 and we found that:
     •  72% want more support and education from their employer about pensions; and
     •  68% want their employer to keep reminding them about any actions they need to take concerning their pensions.
Engaging people with workplace savings and pensions has traditionally proven tricky for employers but with the right approach, any company can create a successful communication strategy.

We’ve created a seven-step communications process that companies can follow to better engage their employees with pensions.

Step 1: Set clear objectives with the end goal in sight
The first step is to identify the campaign goals and the desired impact on employees’ saving habits. Specify the results you want, such as a 10% increase in the number of over-55s accessing financial advice or a 50% increase in new staff attending a pensions seminar. The more specific, the easier it is to measure results.

Our research highlighted that people are more concerned about existing financial pressures than saving for retirement. For this reason, over 60% are most likely to respond to communications focused on their current financial situation. This means it could be more useful to help people reduce their outgoings before encouraging them to increase their pension savings.

If you can improve employees’ general financial wellbeing, there’s often a positive knock-on effect on their attitude towards pension savings too.

Step 2: Segment staff
Employees fall into different brackets demographically and financially and will have different attitudes to savings and money. Financial messages that ‘speak’ to one group may be irrelevant to another. Divide staff into several groups and send tailored communications that will resonate with each. The more targeted, the more effective the campaign will be.

Step 3: Time the communication correctly
Time your communications to make an impact. With retailers, for example, there’s no point sending staff important pensions information in the run-up to Black Friday, when everyone is super-busy. On the other hand, HR might consider running a pension campaign to coincide with a general pay rise. Everyone will be thinking about money anyway.

Our research found people are most open to communications about savings when starting a job (56%) or leaving a job (76%), and when they are talking about changes to their remuneration (60%) or benefits (72%). Roll out campaigns at these junctures, when staff are most receptive.

Remember, one-off campaigns won’t change employees’ behaviour long-term. Drum messages in with ongoing comms.

Step 4: Create some key messages
It’s now time to connect the dots. What key messages will your business convey? What arguments will persuade each group to act? What questions need answering and what objections need addressing? These messages are the heart of the campaign. Express them simply and avoid jargon to get the audience’s attention.

It’s tempting to scare employees into saving more, highlighting the negative consequences of not saving enough. But using scare tactics to discuss pensions has become so common, people have switched off.

Just 38% of people told us they would respond to scare tactics, and even fewer – 32% – said they would respond to guilt tactics about not saving. Use positive messages instead. Help people imagine a retirement they’ll love, where they have time to enjoy the hobbies they have now.

Step 5: Pick the channels
Use communication channels favoured by employees. There’s no point sending out emails about how to plan for retirement to staff based on an oil rig, with no internet access. On the other hand, if employers know their employees are glued to their phones, they’ll want to receive texts.

Whilst digital is all the rage, don’t discount print and face-to-face meetings. Remember, it’s not about the way the business likes communicating – it’s how staff like receiving information. If unsure, ask them.

It’s also important to consider reaching employees at home. Seventy-two per cent of people prefer making decisions about their pensions and finances in the evenings or weekends, outside the office.

You could send letters to their home and ensure that any material posted about workplace savings on the intranet is accessible from home too.

Step 6: Perfect the design
Everyone wants sleek and professional comms, but if that’s all the design does, it’s missing a trick. Good design can provoke emotions that can help to change people’s savings behaviour.

Avoid standard stock photos. Find graphics that provoke reactions. Make readers laugh, excite them, inspire them to think about the life they want to lead.

Just over 60% of people said they want to see pictures that reflect their life currently, rather than pictures of their retirement decades ahead. Today’s reality will always provoke stronger emotions than theoretical future events.

Colours will influence emotions, too. A good designer will make sure that the design reinforces the key messages.

Step 7: Measure success
Measure the effectiveness of any campaign. Revisit the campaign objectives again. Did the campaign fulfil them? What worked well and what can you learn? Analyse the campaign’s performance and feedback the lessons into the next set of comms, to see continuous improvement. The seven-step model is a circle, not a straight line, so as soon as one campaign is finished, revisit Step 1 and start again.

Remember, digital campaigns provide lots of data about how well comms performed, so monitor the stats in real time. Ask people what they think too. We found 86% of employees believe employers should seek feedback on their workplace savings communications, so survey staff regularly to find out how they rate comms.

By following this seven-step process, HR can develop a successful comms strategy around pensions and financial wellbeing and change savings behaviour for the better.

Johanna Nelson is an associate director, communications, at Punter Southall Aspire

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