Ep. 61

The Power of Storytelling in Employee Benefits w/ Leslie Carver

In episode 61, we talked with Leslie Carver who uses storytelling to educate employees about their benefits.
Leslie Carver

Leslie Carver

CEO
Carver Connections

How well do employees understand their benefits? Unfortunately, there are many people out there whose knowledge is fuzzy at best. Leslie Carver, CEO at Carver Connections, understands that the world of employee benefits can be difficult to navigate, whether you’re a small business owner, a worker, or part of HR. So she’s developed a technique that helps people understand how to take full advantage of their benefits: storytelling. On this episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, Leslie shared several ideas for using storytelling to take people from “This is so confusing” to “I get it now!”

Leslie and I discussed:

  • The power of storytelling throughout history
  • Why storytelling works well for explaining employee benefits
  • Examples of stories you could tell to teach about benefits
  • The importance of taking people’s life situations into account
  • Tips for continually educating workers about their benefits
  • Ideas for sharing stories in videos, emails, and group discussions
  • How storytelling impacts every level of an organization (and makes HR’s job easier)
  • Why small businesses should take benefits seriously

Get in touch with Leslie through her website

Episode 61 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice and today I’m joined by Leslie Carver. Who’s the CEO at Carver connections out in Ohio. Leslie, how are you doing?

[00:00:13] Leslie Carver: I am great. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

[00:00:17] Garrett Jestice: It’s great to have you on the show. I know that you recently joined the HR Mavericks community, and we’re super excited to have you and your wealth of experience that you bring super excited to dive into our topic today. But before we do tell our listeners just a little bit more about you and your background, and also your company, Carver connections.

[00:00:33] Leslie Carver: Sure. Well, I’ve been in HR, for a little over 20 years and I’d love to say that was very intentional, but I actually kind of stumbled into the field. And once I was there, I knew it was where I was meant to be. So I love people. I love being able to help in any way I can. I think my passion is more of helping people develop and grow in all kinds of areas.

as far as my experience goes, I’ve been with small companies. I’ve been with large companies. I’ve been in healthcare, higher ed, community agencies, and I’m even a substitute teacher. So I spend time in the public school system. And I just, if there’s people, you can find me there.

[00:01:10] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome. So, you know, you kind of hint at this a little bit. And one of the things I like to ask a lot of our guests is, you know, what got you into HR? You kind of mentioned that with people, but what’s really kept you in the HR space for your career.

[00:01:24] Leslie Carver: Well, this may sound a little, I don’t know. I don’t wanna say goofy or like pie in this guy kind of idea. But when you finally realize that you can make a difference and it’s, you know, making a difference in the life of an employee. And that can be something as simple as just connecting them with information that they didn’t know existed because employees are so busy.

Doing their job, whatever it is, they’re hired to do their technical abilities, their skills. So there aren’t, they aren’t as well versed in the whole HR side of things. And you don’t know what you don’t know. So I love being the connector, of that. And as time has gone on being able to see, not only do you make a difference, for an employee and allow them to perform better at work.

You’re also giving a lot of information to their families. And then as that family grows in knowledge, they become better advocates of themselves. They also spill over into the community. So it’s just a really cool ripple effect. and I love that we can all make a difference. So this is my space to my space to do it.

[00:02:26] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense. I can definitely see that there’s, you know, very few other departments that can have such an impact on the lives of people as HR. Right.

[00:02:37] Leslie Carver: right, right.

[00:02:38] Garrett Jestice: that’s awesome. So you’ve, so you’ve worked at small companies, you’ve worked at large companies and now Carver connections, your own company.

Tell us a little more about that.

[00:02:45] Leslie Carver: Yes. I work at my own company. well, it’s so funny. My husband made a, just an off hand remark a few years ago and he’s like, you know, you’ll never be fully happy until you’re working for yourself. And I was kinda laughing. And then I thought about what he said, and I thought. You know what he might be, right.

Because I don’t have to discipline employees. I don’t have to deliver a lot of bad news. I just get to help. And so he had mentioned that planted that seed in my mind, and one thing led to another and I thought, why not? What do I have to lose? You can always work for someone else, but try following, you know, your own path, what you were created to do.

And I’m so glad I did it. I’m so glad he made that comment.

[00:03:27] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome. So right now, with Carver connections, what types of businesses and what types of problems do you focus on helping them solve?

so I, I tend to work with a lot of smaller employees or employers, only because they’re the ones that are juggling the most hats. So you might have an owner and I consider small, like less than 50 or even 50 to a hundred, depending on what the organization is like. and that owner is. The owner, they are the ones with the ideas and where the business needs to go.

but they’re also trying to train employees and they’re trying to be marketing and they’re trying to be accounting. And the last thing they can really do is be HR, but they need it. So I found being able to step in a little bit, and I like to refer to myself as a translator sometimes because. In the HR world, you can have so many abbreviations and just terms that are thrown around that.

[00:04:19] Leslie Carver: If you’re not part of that and you haven’t spent time in it, it can be overwhelming. So I like to jump in, where I can and that’s even, you know, it’s being able to help people with resumes a little bit. That’s not quite what I really love to do, but again, if it’s helping a person and you’re saying, I need help, then I’m your person.

I’m gonna jump in. Where if it’s the local library, you’ll find me there, you know?

[00:04:38] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. You can, you can tell that in just a couple minutes of talking with you that you’re definitely a people, person love helping. So that’s awesome.

[00:04:48] Leslie Carver: Yes.

[00:04:49] Garrett Jestice: Well, I’m excited to talk about our topic today. I know, you know, in the past you’ve spent some time really focused on benefits in previous roles and kind of have some of that expertise.

And today we want to talk a little bit more about the power of storytelling specifically when it comes to employee benefits. So before we jump into this topic, tell us a little bit more about why you wanted to talk about this topic specifically today.

[00:05:15] Leslie Carver: Yeah, well, I’ve always been a natural storyteller. I didn’t realize it. again, my wonderful husband of now almost 30 years pointed out from the time I met you, you told stories. And I’m like, I told stories as a kid. Likethat was fun. but. And storytelling is something that’s been done for so long.

If you look back, you know, just over civilization, it’s been done as a way to entertain, or you, we look at movies, we love to go watch a movie because it’s telling a story of some kind. But then it was also done to educate before books were available before all these writings were available. These stories were passed down from generation to generation so we can learn so much.

And even when you think about. There is so much to learn. And it’s one thing to be given facts about something, but it’s something else when you’ve got the story piece of it, because you’re connecting with another person. You don’t have to be there. You didn’t have to witness it yourself, but I think you can start to relate a little bit.

And when we do that, We become better listeners and our knowledge, like it taps into a different place inside of us. It’s easier to remember information. So as I started with benefits, you know, 20, some years ago, I initially was the fact person here is, how you go find your doctor. And here is what a deductible is, but then people would say, Deductible copay.

Co-insurance what is that? So I naturally told a story. Well, let’s say you’re outside, you know, playing and you’re doing a volleyball game and you have twisted your ankle and you think that you’ve broken your ankle. And I said, you, you have options. If you go to a doctor, that’s in your network, you’re paying a copay.

But when you go to that doctor and they say, oh, you may have broken it. Then we need to send you for an x-ray. And so then your deductible would kick in and then co-insurance, if you needed to have surgery or, you know, whatever the case was. And we found that as we shared these even a fictional story, People went, oh, I get that.

You, they can relate to some of their life or, oh, my child went through something similar, but it was his arm in a bicycle accident or, you know, whatever the case was. So it made this foreign concept kind of come to life a little bit and I’ve sort of taken it from there.

[00:07:29] Garrett Jestice: I love that. I think that there’s definitely power in telling stories. And I think most people would agree with that. You know, it’s one of the oldest ways to communicate, like you mentioned, it helps us remember. And so I love the idea of applying it specifically to employee benefits because for so many employees, like you mentioned, it’s facts, facts, facts, what does this mean?

What does this mean? What’s this number and trying to figure that piece out, but when you can really tell a story, that’s why it helps them remember and better understand what all this stuff means when it comes to benefits. Is that.

[00:08:06] Leslie Carver: Yes, absolutely. Because it’s overwhelming. And if you think about when benefits are typically covered for an employee, it’s when they first start a job. So they’re nervous. They’re consuming a lot of information. So they have HR information, they have job specific information. They have supervisor information.

You can only retain so much and your brain, even the most well intentioned person saying, I’m taking notes, I’ve got this, I’ve got this. Your brain just gets full and you’re trying to process. And so that retention side of it is missing too, because it’s just too much at the same.

[00:08:42] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense. And I love the example you shared of, you know, the story of, you know, you’re playing volleyball and you hurt your ankle and you have to go to the doctor. What other types of stories should HR and benefits, you know, personnel be sharing with employees.

[00:08:58] Leslie Carver: Well, I think it’s trying to relate to where that employee is. So an example, you know, that I give when I would educate employees on benefits. sometimes we’re in a group setting, occasionally you’re one on one, but I think a lot of times you’re you’re with other people, maybe other employees starting at the same time or their benefits are effective at the same time.

So you may have a young, single person in their twenties. You may have someone, in their mid thirties, their family is growing. They’re at a different season of life. So if I’m focusing solely on family type of benefits or referring to your child, this your spouse. That single person is just kind of tuning out a little bit.

So it’s important to make sure that you have the stories that can relate to that person, as well as you know, people that are in the empty nest. They’re not thinking about, you know, their children, their children are taking care of themselves. Now they have to look at what are they going through and are they single, or are they in a relationship with some kind so trying to meet them where they are.

So, as I educate on benefits, I may not say, you know, for example, I give three examples there. I may not say single person, family person, empty nest, but I will say various things that maybe on this benefit, the family person goes, okay. That makes sense. But maybe on a different benefit. So for example, like disability, you know, short term disability, if you’re talking to a single employee who is perhaps living on their own, they really need to get what short term disability is and understand how that affects them.

Because if you are married or if you are further along your life, you might have a savings account. You might have a spouse or a partner to get some income from, but that single person living in an apartment all on their own, they’re probably responsible for themselves. So I think that’s important to.

Just make sure you’re not doing one story for everything, but having a variety in there.

[00:10:57] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, such a great point. And that kind of leads me to my next question, which is when should you be sharing these stories about benefits with employees? You know, so often companies might do one big meeting. Right before open enrollment to talk about benefits and they kind of go through all of the details and answer all of the questions.

And like you mentioned, you know, they might be telling stories along. They’re talking about things that half the people zone out about because they don’t really care. So is that the right setting or are there other opportunities where you should be sharing some of these short, these stories with employees to help really explain benefits?

[00:11:32] Leslie Carver: Yeah. So I’m a firm believer in share often and share always. So, you know, I understand the whole open enrollment thing because at that time, Any plans are changing. You’re offering something new, you know, rates are increasing or decreasing, whatever it is. That’s important to say that. But again, going back to when an employee’s first hire, that’s still a lot of information, even for the employee that, is completely vested and wants all of that knowledge.

It’s still a lot to process. So I always encourage employers. You know, we’re gonna do it when the employee first starts for sure. Giving that information. While knowing they can’t retain all of it. So I think it’s really important to focus on your benefits monthly as well. Now, one thing I like to do is one benefit a month.

So maybe this month it’s vision insurance and maybe next month it’s, short term disability or things along those lines because you don’t, you tend to not pay attention to the benefit until you need it. So an example that I’ll give for us is long-term care insurance. I’ve heard, Dave Ramsey, a financial expert many years ago say that’s so important.

You know, people need long-term care. I. When you’re in twenties, you’re like, whatever, you know? So the term goes in one ear and out the other, as we get a little older and we see things happen to our family and our friends or grandparents, whatever it is, you go, oh wait, is that what he was referring to? So we take that same approach with our benefits and start suggesting things.

Another perfect example is a flexible spending account. So there are some dental plans that cover, brace. and there are some that don’t well, flexible spending is a great bridge. If you don’t have a plan that covers braces and your children are old enough for brace. Well, if you mention it, I’ll say last year and mention it this year, one of those months, maybe next year, your child, the dentist says, you know, think they’re gonna need braces.

And you’re going to say, oh wait, I, we said something about that. I don’t remember the details, but I know my employer talked about it. HR said something that employee goes to HR says, Hey, what did you say? Do we have coverage or do we not? So you’ve planted that seed that then grows when it, when it needs to.

[00:13:48] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I love, I love the idea of in addition to, you know, the open enrollment period one benefit a month. Right. And so what’s the typical format? what works best is that an email sharing, a short story about a benefit? Is it, you know, a meeting in person? Is it all the above? Like what have you seen work best?

[00:14:04] Leslie Carver: Yes, it’s absolutely all the above because each of us learn differently. So you will have some people that can read an email and go, okay, I get it. And, and they move on. I am not that kind of person. I love to write, but like, if I was listening to our podcast, I’m gonna listen and I’m gonna watch. And I think a lot of employers are afraid to put out videos and I’m like, no, no, no, they’re easy.

You don’t have to have this fancy setup. Sit and talk. It can be a two minute video. So if you share a video, you’ve sent an email, maybe you do have a group meeting, or if you have a lunch that goes on or a, some kind of a team building activity, a two minute blurb on something that just says, Hey, don’t forget, you have this benefit and you need to do this.

It’s always just a nice way to do it. So I say a variety of ways and also keep in mind, people have different abilities. So if it’s someone, who might have a hearing impairment, being able to see something visually is really good. If it’s a video and you can, you put subtitles on the bottom, which is easy to do today, just think about the different people and where to meet them.

And you just can’t go wrong. Anything you’re trying is better than doing nothing for sure.

[00:15:17] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I think that’s such great advice. And so, you know, the next question I have for you is really who does this benefit when you’re telling stories specifically about benefits? You know, there’s obviously a benefit for helping employees better under. Stand your benefits, but are there others across the organization that this can really benefit?

[00:15:37] Leslie Carver: Yes. and I think it’s easy to say it benefits everyone. The one person we can forget that it benefits is actually the people in HR, because the more you are teaching, the more you are repeating your information is becoming more consistent. So if you think about, anytime you start in a job, anytime you start something new.

You’re kind of testing some things around. And I look at the different trainings, you know, that I do, and the different things that I teach, the more I teach it, the better it is. And even as silly as, vacation Bible school. So I am one of the teachers at our, at our, church and these little groups of kids come in.

I normally have five in a morning. Well, if you would see my first one at nine o’clock versus my last one at 11 o’clock, I’m much better at 11 I’m like, oh, I wish I could pull the kids back in. It’s the same thing with benefits. So if you are starting to say something, it gets stronger and it gets better, but then it has this ripple effect again.

So you mentioned the employee definitely benefits. But the coworkers benefit. So, those conversations that happen when leaders are not around or an employee picks up on their coworker, who’s down or they’re worried, or, you know, whatever it is. And it’s easy to say, Hey, what’s going on? And the employee goes, well, I just found out.

My kid needs braces and I don’t have $5,000 and our, you know, our dental insurance doesn’t cover it. So if that one employee then says, well, you know, there’s something with flexible spending. Why don’t you go talk to HR? They’re empowering each other in that way. And then it even spills outside of work.

Because again, you’re sharing that information in your families, but ultimately. Work productivity improves. So the managers, the leadership team is seeing, oh, my employees aren’t struggling as much because they know we are offering things to make their life better. So it’s just, it really is a win-win for everyone in the organization and everyone in the community when we do it.

[00:17:33] Garrett Jestice: And I think that that’s such an important piece to keep in mind, because I know so many of our listeners, you know, are those solo HR people in small businesses, right? Where you are that HR generalist with everything on your shoulders, benefits is only one part of your job. And so, you know, I know someone could be listening to this thinking.

I don’t know if I could do it. Fit in a training every month in an email and everything else. But when you can understand the benefit that comes from doing this right, it’s a little bit easier to prioritize that, is that right?

[00:18:03] Leslie Carver: Right. Absolutely. and that’s where I would encourage that person too. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It does not have to be this beautiful 15 minute video. It can very simply pull out your phone. We see it on social media all the time. Pull out your phone and say, Hey guys, I’m just gonna talk for a minute about this benefit.

You upload that video to YouTube, right? From your phone. You can have it as unlisted and you share a link. It took you no time at all to do it. And the better part of it is knowing. Your employees don’t care. If you mess up your employees don’t care. If the dog was in the background or when you did it or what was going on, they care that you care about them.

And I think in a time where we need employees, retention is challenging. To let employees know, Hey, we really care about you. We’re not offering benefits because we’re supposed to, we’re offering them because we want to help you as a person and help you as a family. And I think that comes through a lot and I don’t know about you, but if you read something and then you hear the author read a book, you’re pulled in a little more, the same message travels, that emotion travels, the feeling travels.

And I just, I think it’s a win-win for everyone.

[00:19:19] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I, I totally agree. One of the things we talk a lot about is, especially for those solo HR teams, right.

[00:19:26] Leslie Carver: they’re juggling everything.

[00:19:28] Garrett Jestice: So much. and, and the struggle that so many times they have is moving from administrative HR tasks, which just take up the day to really strategic people strategy, right? Like how do you be more strategic?

And, you know, a lot of things take up that person’s time that are really administrative.

[00:19:47] Leslie Carver: list is a mile long,

[00:19:48] Garrett Jestice: So much, and especially when it comes to benefits, I’m, you know, those people are getting questions all the time from everyone that’s really administrative work. And I think what I’m hearing you say is by pulling out your phone recording a short video and scaling that message.

Across, you’re gonna reduce the amount of people coming to you and asking those one off questions. You’re gonna reduce some of that administrative work. That’s that’s gonna free up time for you to focus on more of the strategic HR work that your company needs you to focus on,

[00:20:17] Leslie Carver: you’re doing it once. So whatever that benefit is, you’re doing it one time instead of talking to 10 different employees. And then when those employees still come to you, they now have an understanding. Their questions are probably gonna be much more specific. You’re not spending as much time educating as you are giving them the answer. and something else I wanna mention based on what you just said, we also need to look at our resources.

If you have a broker that you’re working with, send that broker a message, you know, call them and say, Hey, I just heard this podcast and they’re recommending this. And I think it’s great that broker can do it for you as well. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just send that information.

And ask whoever’s involved, you know, something else to mention on this one too, sometimes the best stories don’t even come from HR, you might find employees that would love to share their story. And some people, especially the younger generation, my daughter is 10. I give her a phone and she can just whip together, all kinds of fun stuff.

So maybe you let your employees share some of the information about your benefits and just simply say, Hey, next month we’re focusing on dental insurance, anyone have a story they want to share. So then you’re not doing all of the work yourself. And I think it, it could be even more effective from someone who’s walked in those shoes and said, Hey, this is what happened to me.

And this is how we got it to work out. That’s another tip too.

[00:21:41] Garrett Jestice: Such an awesome tip. Leslie, this has been such a great conversation. I’m sure we could probably just continue

[00:21:46] Leslie Carver: Oh, no,

it’s great, but there’s so much good stuff in this, you know, as we get close to wrapping this up, one of the last questions that I really want to ask you, though, that’s not necessarily related to this topic is, Because you’ve worked with so many small businesses specifically, and you’ve been able to see, you know, the ins and outs you’ve worked in them.

[00:22:04] Garrett Jestice: You’ve worked with them as a consultant. I’m curious from your perspective, what’s a commonly held belief in the HR space among these small businesses. That is something that you actually disagree.

[00:22:18] Leslie Carver: Hmm, this is a really easy one because I hear it so often. And it’s, I can’t, I’m too small. I can’t do that. And I’m like, no, you are not limited. I think being small, sometimes that’s an advantage because you can be so much more creative and I’ve heard a lot of businesses say, you know, for example, I can’t compete with the large person down the street because they offer X, Y, and Z and benefits.

And my first response is, well, do your employees need X, Y, and Z? You know, maybe they’re covered in other ways, or maybe that’s just not important to them at this time. So I always tell small business owners. Let’s talk, let’s talk to your employees. Don’t assume what they need or that you are not good enough because especially I think since COVID, and you’ll probably agree with.

Our world changed what people value, you know? Yes. Pay is important. Yes. Benefits are important, but there are other things that are just as important. And if it’s being able to put your child on the bus or get them off or stay home with them and work from home while they have something going on, you know, if it’s, you know, they were exposed or whatever the case is, that flexibility I think is just as important.

And then back to the benefits piece of it too. Please don’t assume that you can’t offer benefits because there are so many resources, things are changing daily. So I always encourage people just because five years ago, you couldn’t offer a benefit that does not mean you can’t offer it now. So talk to brokers and choose your brokers carefully.

And like I said, I’m a translator. If someone wants help, I can tell you, I like this person. I don’t like this person. Why like, you know, empower them. our incredible entrepreneurs and small businesses are so much more powerful than they realize they are. So I wanna be their cheerleader.

[00:24:11] Garrett Jestice: I love that tip. It’s so true. And if I could just add one thing to it as well, in addition to the, I can’t like I can’t provide this benefit, a lot of times I think that those small businesses get caught up in the, I can’t because I don’t have time. Right. And it

[00:24:26] Leslie Carver: Why? Oh,

[00:24:26] Garrett Jestice: what we were. What we were talking about before, right?

When you can eliminate that administrative burden with some of this stuff, then you have more time to focus on the strategic stuff that actually moves the needle for your business and for your people, which is exactly what you just mentioned.

[00:24:43] Leslie Carver: Right. and to add to that too, I think asking others to join you in what you don’t have time to do, if it’s any of your employees, you get to realize you’re also helping them develop skills. So you never know what you’re going to uncover if it’s just simply, okay. So you’re interested in pet insurance and as the owner, you say,

I don’t know anything about pet insurance. Do you wanna gather information for me? I mean, you could be leading that person to an HR career and they don’t even know it, but by starting something, unlocking those passions within people, and then that loyalty piece is there. I mean, I could go on and on forever.

I just, I’m a, I’m excited about it. And I want small business owners to realize they can do so, so much. They’re not limited because they don’t have the degree or the education or the resources it’s there. We just have to connect and help each other with it.

[00:25:32] Garrett Jestice: Amen. This has been such a great conversation. Thank you so much, Leslie. As we kind of wrap up here, what’s the best way for listeners to get in contact with you. If they have further questions about this topic or are interested in working with you?

[00:25:44] Leslie Carver: Well, the thing I wanna say is on my website, I refer to myself as your HR friend, and I want people please connect, you know, I’m on LinkedIn. And when you go to LinkedIn, it will actually say that I prefer to be followed because I have a creative status on there. Connect with me anyways. I, you know, if you are HR, I want to help.

I want to connect. So you can find me on LinkedIn. Under Leslie Carver. And then my website is Carver connections and I’ve got some freebies out there. So if anyone downloads a freebie, they automatically go on my email list. I send out like a weekly email with some information, and then I also have a newsletter on LinkedIn.

So those are probably the two easiest spots to get

[00:26:21] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Great. We will drop links to all of those things in the show notes, so you can find them there if you’re listening. So, Leslie, thank you again for taking the time to share some of your knowledge with us. We hope you have a great rest of the day.

[00:26:32] Leslie Carver: Thank you. Thanks for having me and same to you.

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