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Struggling to be heard

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I couldn’t talk today: I have been struck mute by rogue laryngitis. I’m now fully reliant on my keyboard to convey messages, so I’m particularly focused on the ins and outs of communicating. Which brings me to something interesting that came out of our recent client seminar.

We were reviewing the results of Buck’s Global Wellbeing Survey and the conversation repeatedly turned to the problems of program communication. It’s a paradox that, in this age of workplace connectedness, how we talk with each other is more disjointed than ever. Email overwhelms people. Few people read paper documents. Not all employees speak the same language. Employees are not all in a single workplace. As much as work has evolved, the age-old challenge of getting a message to everyone hasn’t become any easier.

The challenge of channels

Employers trying to engage employees in today’s workplace environment need to accept that communicating has become multi-channel. While email might work for people in the office, it won’t work for front-line staff who are busy responding to customer needs or for drivers who are (hopefully) fully occupied navigating traffic. When trying to connect with employees you need to consider the communication needs and preferences of plan members as well as the physical constraints of the audience.

Video chat

I think we can be way more cutting edge in communicating than we are. Today we can have face -to-face conversations with people anywhere in the world through new technology – and at almost no cost. So why not use a video chat with that group of five employees in North Battleford, Saskatchewan? If the message is complex, this gives people an opportunity to ask questions in real time. I’ve been using this with clients lately (well, until I lost my voice, that is) and I love knowing how my message is being received from the looks on people’s faces. With video, it’s easy to see if someone’s confused, and it gives me an unparalleled opportunity to clear things up right away. The technology helps build a relationship that’s unattainable by email. (As an aside, Telemedicine is a growing benefit in Canada. Plan members can access doctors through video calls, eliminating wait times and lost work time. Not as interesting as talking about company benefits, I know, but a great use of video chat.)

Social media

A surprising amount of information is conveyed through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, school announcements are now shared with parents via Twitter. Many companies use enterprise social media like Yammer. In my work I find these vehicles a little unreliable for important stuff; however, parents who drop their child at school on a PA day quickly learn to read the Twitter feed.

YouTube and podcasts

I also think YouTube is under-used in communicating things like benefits. Ideally of course you’d want a cute kitten to present your information. But a YouTube video that explains to new hires the company’s benefits offering and the enrollment process could take pressure off a lean HR team. Depending on your plan design, it could stay relevant for several years. If a video is out of the question, consider a podcast.

With both of these technologies, employees can replay parts as required. They are also potentially portable, meaning they could be viewed or heard by other family members, thus enhancing the awareness of the benefit plan, and in some cases helping overcome language barriers.

And speaking of language barriers, these definitely present a challenge for communication. In Canada, according to the 2016 Census, 11.5% of the population speaks a language other than English or French at home. While many of these people will also be fluent in English or French, many will not be fluent enough to understand the language of a benefit plan. Many will rely on other family members or friends to translate. Using the right media to facilitate that will be welcome by these employees.

Paper

On the other hand, several factors can make communicating by paper the best way to reach a group. With digital transformation in the workplace, many insurers and employers believe everyone has access to electronic documents. This isn’t always the case. Digital services come at a cost and not every household is prepared to support their local internet or cell phone company. I’m still surprised when retiree booklets are only available online. While one of my great-aunts was miraculously emailing at 98, by 100 she had forgotten not only how to use the computer, but who she might email. Unfortunately, this is one of the realities of aging. A paper document is portable and permanent. Plan members can carry it home and can keep it for future reference. They can make notes on it. They can take it to their pharmacies or dentists when treatment is required. While it may be less environmentally friendly and lack the sizzle of electronic communications, it might be just the right fit for some audiences.

The character of your content

I encourage you to know your audience and consider your message. Employee engagement is tied to good communication. When it comes to benefits, employees who understand the plan appreciate it more and engagement increases as a result. Given the investment you make in a benefit plan, it seems a lost opportunity to rely on unintelligible insurer documents to communicate the value of the coverage. Insurers provide employee documents that are written for lawyers, barely intelligible to plan members (unless your plan members are lawyers).

Regardless of the channel or channels you use, benefits communication should be easy to understand. Communication is a complex area. Talk to an expert (I’d be happy to put you in touch with one of ours). Be sure your efforts resonate with your target audience. If the employee doesn’t have a clue what you’re trying to say, then the communication is wasted.

It’s a bit like talking when you have laryngitis. But I will be talking again soon. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

Stay healthy.

Lizann

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