“Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the contents and policies of our Employee Handbook and feel free to contact your HR representative if you have any questions.”
Does that sound familiar? Probably not, because in all honesty, who actually reads through their entire Employee Handbook?
Most of the time your Employee Handbook is distributed, put in a drawer and then thrown away when the next handbook is distributed. They are often an afterthought to both employees and employers that are only brought out in when someone wants to check company policies.
I recently read an article about one such extreme situation. The company, Quicken Loans, was summoned to the National Labor Relations Board offices this past December. The case against them alleged that the Detroit-based company had violated the First Amendment rights of employees and their protections under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss salary and benefits information. The allegation claimed that company policies in their Employee Handbook restricted discussions to the formation of a labor union.
Whether or not Quicken Loans is found in violation, this is a perfect case of why it is important to know what is in your Employee Handbook and why companies need to periodically update and revise it. Attorney Daniel Schudroff made a great comparison when he said “It’s like taking your car to the shop every six months for a checkup, the preventative maintenance could save an employer a costly event.”
It’s Open Enrollment season and that sound you’re hearing is not a cheery holiday carol, but the collective shriek of millions who are reviewing their medical benefit costs for 2016.
According to the Healthcare Cost Institute, a non-partisan non-profit entity, health care spending among those with employer-sponsored insurance increased 10 % from 2011-2014. The Milliman Medical Index (MMI) calculates the annual cost of healthcare for a typical family of four with employer-provided PPO insurance coverage. According to Milliman, this year’s Index is $24,671, an increase of 6.3% over 2014. Employers still pay the majority, but as cost sharing for medical benefits continues to climb, employees may be paying over 40% of the tab.
For internal communicators, there is no way to spin this. Businesses must manage their benefits costs, and since medical service is becoming more expensive, cost sharing is the prevailing technique to manage the company budget. But there is a way to make it less painful for employees and the business. There are 11 months leading up to Open Enrollment. Each month is an opportunity to inform and educate about the value of your company’s benefit plan. The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.
Start with a survey—Let’s get really basic: Do your employees know what benefits you offer? Design a simple survey (easy to develop on Google or through providers like Survey Monkey). Determine the awareness of all your benefits. Include Employee Assistance Programs, discounted purchase programs and retirement plans. Anything and everything. You’ll have a good foundation for the second step of this plan: education.
Develop a 12-month communication plan—Many companies cover all their benefits communications once a year to meet compliance requirements. Think about this from the employee’s perspective. No information for 11 months, then lots of information when decisions must be made immediately. It can be overwhelming. Use multiple channels to promote your benefits programs: news items, Lunch and Learns, posters. Consider highlighting one personal employee story every month. A consistent flow of communications about your benefits will increase understanding and engagement.
Be transparent—No one likes higher fees. However, if employees understand what’s driving cost increases, when the prices go up they’ll be more prepared. The time to share this information is mid-year, so the foundation is prepared for Open Enrollment. Telling that story during Open Enrollment is ineffective because your employees will be focused on their out of pocket costs. Get out in front of the issue.
Want more benefits communications ideas? Let connect.
Want to learn something during your internship? Add one employee handbook, five blog posts, one print check, two client meetings, and the launch of a start-up. That should do the trick.
Throughout my seven week internship with Insight Strategic Communications I had the opportunity to work on projects that ultimately gave me a better understanding of brands, employee ownership, and proofing with the audience in mind.
The word “brand” was not new to my vocabulary; however, throughout the course of my internship, I gained a better understanding of the definition. I had never realized how many factors went into creating and maintaining a brand and how many different types of rules and standards must be considered when developing products—things such as font, color, positioning, and tone. As a communications consulting firm, we have to be aware of a client’s brand as we write, proof, and create content for them.
I spent a bulk of my time writing and proofing content and materials for our new company Nest Egg Communications—a communications agency that provides communications toolkits for employee owned companies. At the start of my internship I had no idea what an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was, let alone what it meant in terms of business. I now know that ESOPs give employees a way to share in the wealth they create, no matter what job they hold.
I had the opportunity to refine and practice my writing and proofing skills while also learning to consider the audience and how the message might be perceived. Before I started reading something I would ask “who is the audience?” This was new for me, I had always edited content by determining if it was perceived well by me; but, what I gained from my experience is that the writing is ineffective if the intended audience can’t understand the message.
With this internship being my first real-world job, I was both nervous and excited; I was eager to learn but also afraid I didn’t know enough going in. However, through lots of questions and experiences I now know that not only can I meet expectations and do the work, but with some more practice I can thrive in the communications field and create great work.
Anyone who has ever been on a job hunt is familiar with sifting through hundreds, if not thousands, of job descriptions looking for the perfect match. Every day, job applicants around the world go into an interview thinking they are a perfect fit for a role, only to find that the position isn’t exactly what was described. From the hiring employer’s perspective, it’s a waste of time to use years-old job description sheets for positions that are new or have had a recent change in role or scope. It’s a waste of time and energy for both parties, but for the employer there’s also a financial cost, which twists the knife. Yet this continues to happen. Why?
The answer is simple. It’s boring! It’s a tedious exercise that needs to be given careful consideration and planning. Taking these steps on the front end will reduce the length of the hiring process and increase the retention rate of new employees. But it’s understandably difficult to afford so much time to a task so dull and time consuming.
I’ve talked to some managers about this, and while they understand it makes sense to revise and update job descriptions, they say it’s not totally necessary because “I have more pressing matters to focus on, and I can use interviews to make sure I hire the right candidates.” There’s no doubt that interviewing job candidates is a skill that will help you select the best option — the manager is right about that. But this rationale doesn’t account for the possibility that the manager will probably have to block off more time for more interviews. Using inaccurate job descriptions increases the chances of you bringing in the wrong candidates, costing you time and money.
Here’s an analogy. On your way home from work, your significant other asks you to stop by the store to pick up some bread. You pick up a loaf and bring it home. As it turns out, your SO failed to be clear that dinner rolls would have been ideal. The loaf of bread will work, but it’s not the best choice. If you need dinner rolls again tomorrow, you’re going to go back to the store to pick them up instead of using slices of bread again. The slices of bread will be…. reassigned, as they say, to lunch duty.
The best solution for updating job descriptions might be hiring outside consultants like us here at Insight to help you take it off your plate. We have experience creating and amending job descriptions for publically traded companies. If you feel you could use some help, email me at email@example.com.
There’s also the story about how Faulkner walked into the writing class he was supposed to be teaching at the University of Mississippi and asked everyone who wanted to learn to write to raise their hands. He said, “Go home and write,” then turned around and walked out the door.
Maybe that attitude works for geniuses like Faulkner, but for the rest of us, generating leads through content marketing or explaining a new incentive or benefit plan to employees, some guidelines for keeping writing simple, clear and effective would be helpful.
The good news: there’s a lot of information out there about how to write well. The bad news: see the previous sentence. So whom do you trust for writing advice? People who know. For the brief list of “rules” below, I’ve combined overlapping advice from Hemingway, Orwell, and Strunk and White from their The Elements of Style (remember that from college English?)
It seems to me that the basics of good writing are as applicable to an employee benefits brochure as they are to a novel or short story. Great writers connect with their audiences and convey their meaning as simply as possible.
So here goes:
1) Use the simplest language possible:
Leave out unnecessary words.
When common, ordinary words will do the job, don’t use fancy ones. (That includes jargon.)
When possible, keep sentences and paragraphs short.
2) Write vigorously:
Use active instead of passive voice when possible.
Choose powerful verbs over weak ones like forms of “to be.”
Let nouns and verbs carry your meaning. Avoid decorating your prose with adverbs and adjectives unless they add depth and weight to your message.
3) Be positive, not negative: say what something is, not what it is not. For example, say, “The procedure will be relatively comfortable,” instead of “pain-free.” Your audience will unconsciously focus on the most potent word in the sentence, which is “pain” and the rest will lose power.
4) Have a design for what you’re going to say. Most of the time for business communications, that’s an outline or a communications plan. Know your audience, your purpose, and the value of what you have to say for that audience before outlining your key points.
5) Revise, revise, revise.
Fortunately, most of us aren’t required to write even one page of masterpiece, but the writing we do is no less important. Effective writing can impact employee morale and the company’s bottom line. At Insight Strategic Communications, we offer deep experience in internal communications and can help you with everything from your communications planning to execution. Call us and let’s talk about how we can help you. Contact Maureen at firstname.lastname@example.org Ben at email@example.com.