design principles you can take to the bank—and your benefits website

June 3, 2013

in communication,communications your employees crave,design

need to make your communications hum and your employees happy? then look no further than the design principles created by the android user experience team. sure, android devised them to improve your phone experience, but that’s no reason not to use them to improve your employees’ benefits experience as well. i’ve pulled my favorites from their generous list and applied their advice to your situation, specifically your online experience. if you want the full “unadulterated” list, go here.

1. only show what i need when i need it. most employee benefits websites don’t operate at the level of, let’s say, amazon or zappos, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do more to help people find what they need when they need it. there are a few fixes short of a complete design overhaul that will smooth your employees’ path. one is to secure real estate on your benefits website’s home page to highlight deadlines, announcements and other time-critical information. another is to add a search feature to your benefits website, which can quickly get employees to the information they seek (more on this in #2). behind the scenes, pull together an editorial calendar to document what content you’re writing for whom, how you’re delivering it and when. the calendar keeps multiple communications in sync and properly spaced. in this case, though, it serves one more need: it provides an advance heads-up to whoever’s managing your website. they’ll be prepared for and can schedule in your requested content changes.

2. make important things fast. when employees come to your benefits website, it’s with a purpose. they have a task they want to complete and they want to get in and get out. make this possible by elevating widely accessed information. one of my favorite techniques is adding two highly visible drop-down menus to the home page of your benefits website: “i want to” and “what should i do when..?”. “i want to stop smoking.” “i want to lose weight.” “what should i do when i need to get a new insurance card?” “what should i do when i need to add my spouse to my medical plan?” these drop-down menus give employees fast links to the things that are important to them, and you.

3. do the heavy lifting for me. in a perfect world, you’d love to spit out personalized recommendations based on your available benefits and resources and drawn from each employee’s family history and current behaviors. you’d tell an employee to enroll in this plan and not that, to invest this much in an HSA and that much in a 401(k). of course you can’t do this level of heavy lifting in most cases, for legal and financial reasons. you can, however, provide real-world model scenarios, tip sheets, and other decision-support tools to take the massive guesswork out of health care decisions and alleviate at least some of the burden.

4. it’s not my fault. benefits information is flummoxing, and it’s getting more complex as we move forward with health care reform changes. the android team offers inspired advice: make people feel it’s not their fault. let them feel smart and confident, especially when something’s not going right. as android does, plan ahead for errors employees are likely to make, whether that’s during enrollment (submitting an incomplete form) or throughout the year (not getting pre-authorization for a service when it’s required). it’s never to late to user-test your website to see where employees trip and correct for it. if you can’t alter something about the website, you can still coach employees through their errors with simple, direct language for how they can fix the error themselves. 

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