Magazine article Personnel

Let's Talk Benefits- Electronically

Magazine article Personnel

Let's Talk Benefits- Electronically

Article excerpt

Let's Talk Benefits--Electronically

When employees are uninformed or misinformed about their company's benefits package, they may not appreciate its value. If the company offers a wide variety of benefits, the task of communicating benefits information becomes more crucial--and difficult. Unfortunately, the most common solution to this problem is not the most effective one: dedicating a large portion of the HR staff to answering routine questions. Besides adding to HR payroll costs, this arrangement often results in incomplete, inaccurate, or inconsistent answers to employees' questions.

A better solution is electronic communications. Some companies are already using high-technology systems to disseminate benefits information. At the heart of these systems is a computer, which stores applicable information and makes it accessible to employees. The systems vary in terms of size of computer, software, and means of accessibility used, but the four basic types are:

* A personal computer system with employee access.

* A personal computer system enhanced with an interactive screen (a light pen or similar device is used to permit easier interaction with the computer).

* A mainframe-based, operator-assisted system.

* A minicomputer-based system with voice-response capabilities and telephone access.

Of these systems, the minicomputer with interactive voice-response capabilities is perhaps the most cost-effective. It is sophisticated enough to select, retrieve, and report specific information from a large pool of data yet simple enough to be used by anyone with access to a Touch-tone [TM] telephone.

Because the system provides benefits information via a central computer, employees' routine questions can be answered consistently and accurately. The computer can be accessed at any time of the day, seven days a week. Moreover, information can be obtained with complete privacy.

For employers, the system adds significant value to their benefits program without adding significant cost. It frees HR staff members from the time-consuming task of answering employees' routine benefits questions. Before installing an interactive voice-response system, for example, one large company had to employ 25 people to answer its employees' benefits questions, 75% of which were routine. After installing the system, the majority of those 25 people were assigned to other, more productive functions within the company. Further, because the system provided more accurate responses, the number of questions asked decreased.

A voice-response system greatly reduces the need for other forms of benefits communications. The computer can be programmed to monitor incoming information requests to pinpoint issues of greatest importance to employees and weaknesses in the company's benefits communication program.

Reach Out and Touch

Voice-response technology can turn any Touch-tone [TM] keyboard pad into a computer terminal. To use the system, employees simply call the benefits information number, and they are greeted by a friendly computer-generated voice that reads a menu of possible information categories, each preceded by a number. The caller then enters the number of the desired category on the telephone key pad.

Information can be either down-loaded from an existing computer system or entered through batch systems. The kinds of information provided may include specific personnel data such as payroll, medical benefits, and 401(k) plan status as well as general human resources information such as job postings, weather-related plant closings, and holiday schedules. …

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