As an internal communicator there are several key dates throughout the year that you must be prepared for. One of the most important is Open Enrolment. In recent years healthcare costs have risen and plan designs have become more complex. Open Enrollment communications have become more challenging and more sought after by employees. To effectively communicate your company benefits you must create a clear and consistent communications plan.
With that in mind here are a few best practices to consider when planning out your Open Enrollment Communications:
Start with a survey
The time to start gathering information for Open Enrollment is now. The best way to find out where your communication gaps are is to go to the source. Design a simple survey (through Google or survey providers like Survey Monkey). Determine the level of awareness, what employees need more information about, and what you are doing well. This information will give you a good foundation when you begin building your communications plan.
Reach out early and often
Going from no information for 11 months, then lots of information all at once when decisions must be made immediately can be overwhelming. Rather than overloading your employees with a massive information drop, spread your Open Enrollment communications out over the year. Create a 12-month communications plan that delivers small bits of information every month. A consistent flow of communications about your benefits will increase understanding and engagement.
Keep it simple
Keep your messaging simple. Your job is to break through all of the confusing technical details and answer employees’ most basic questions. What? When? Where? How? Provide clear information, dates, checklists, and decision support tools that are easy to follow. Once your employees have an understanding of the process, they will find it much easier to come to a final decision.
Don’t sugarcoat the news
Your employees are intelligent. Be open and honest with them. Communicate any challenging news such as increased health plan premiums or rising deductibles. Messaging that is meant to conceal this information will be seen as a negative and will impact employee morale. On the same note, highlight the value of your benefits plan. Promote wellness and have your employees share their stories of personal wellness with their colleagues.
Being prepared for Open Enrollment will make the entire process easier. Get out in front of the issue and have a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message.
One of the most fascinating podcasts I listen to is NPR’s How I Built This. The people behind some of the world’s best known brands give an insider’s view of the process of moving from idea to ignition.
In every case, there is not a clear path to success. John Mackey from Whole Foods endured a devastating loss when a flood demolished his store (he had no insurance). Blake Mycoskie, one of the pioneers of social entrepreneurship, received more orders for TOMS shoes than he had inventory. He hired a team of interns to personally contact every customer to let them know there would be an 8-week delay. They only lost one sale.
If you’re not telling your company’s origin story, you’re missing and opportunity to inform, inspire and involve customers and employees.
Stories create memorable bonds. It doesn’t need to be a rags-to-riches chronicle to captivate. Sometimes a failure story teaches a greater lesson. A well-crafted origin story becomes a shared experience, a powerful way to connect your most important stakeholders to your brand. For employees, origin stories help to build appreciation for the past while ensuring their contributions are part of the ongoing narrative.
Here’s how to get started:
Connect visually. Your origin story is your business family tree. Share photos, documents, company meeting videos and artifacts.
Align with the business core values. Show how the values that grew the business are still relevant today. While businesses always evolve, the things that were important then are still important now.
Keep it interesting. Every great business story starts with an inspiring journey and experiences challenges along the way. Don’t just provide a timeline of dates.
Solicit stories. Ask your employees to share stories from their first days with the business. Who inspired them? What was the weirdest tradition?
Tell the truth. Be authentic and don’t embellish the facts. That’s a fast lane to losing credibility. If the founder was a grumpy old so-and-so, say that. It adds more personality to the story.
Our office is located in downtown Roswell and typically by 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon the streets are already beginning to fill with people getting an early start to their weekend. If you’re like me, once Friday afternoon arrives and the out-of-office auto-reply emails from clients start hitting your inbox, your mind begins to wander.
No matter what business you’re in, it’s likely that your employees begin thinking about weekend plans early on a beautiful summer Friday afternoon. Many companies now offer the inexpensive but morale boosting benefit of flexible summer work scheduling often known as “Summer Hours.”
A recent survey by CEB revealed that 42 percent of companies now officially sanction starting the weekend early, up 21 percent in 2015.
Offering a Summer Hours policy is an economical perk that builds engagement and can improve company culture. Typically summer hours schedules run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is also the most common time of the year for employees to take a vacation. So how can your company introduce a summer hour work schedule? It’s important to recognize that one plan will not work for every company. Tailor your specific program to what will work best for your company and employees.
Here are a few idea and suggestions for implementing a summer hours program at your company:
Longer weekdays for time off on Friday. Employees work extra hours Monday through Thursday in exchange for a half day or the whole day off on Friday. Employees still work 40 hours total. This method allows each employee to decide the schedule that fits their needs. Employees can choose to opt in or out of the program depending on what works best for them.
Every other Friday off. Stagger days so that half of the office is off on one Friday and the other half is off the next Friday. This is a useful program for companies that see a dip in their workload during the summer, especially on Fridays.
Holiday half days. Many companies embrace a summer holiday half day policy. This gives their employees a half day off the day before Memorial Day weekend, July 4th, and Labor Day weekend. In many cases, there’s not much work going on during this period anyway and employees have more time to spend with friends and family.
Friday half days. Is there anything better than receiving an email informing you that you can take a half on Friday? Not every company will have the flexibility to introduce a full summer hours schedule. If you can’t implement one of these programs but would still like to reward your employee choose a Friday where business is slow and give your employees the afternoon off.
After graduating from college, a friend of mine moved to Colorado. As an outdoorsman, he couldn’t wait to move out west. To fund his outdoor hobbies (skiing, fishing, hiking), he got a job working for a finance company. He had recently attained a promotion and was doing well but he felt like he wasn’t being fulfilled. He wanted to do something to give back to the environment. So he’s making a career change. He recently was accepted to law school where he will study Natural Resource and Environmental Law.
He’s not alone in seeking a career that’s focused on purpose, not paycheck. Pew Research reports that millennials are the “most sustainable generation to date.” Sustainability is not a short term trend. Sustainability and green initiatives are important issues for today’s workforce. Employees expect the company that they work for to do what it can to help the environment.
Earth Day is April 22. This is a great time to promote your company’s green initiatives. Here are five easy to introduce strategies that will improve efficiency, reduce your carbon foot print, save money and build engagement with employees:
Incentivize carpooling or car sharing programs for employees
Promote electronic document usage to reduce paper waste
Provide recycling collection areas with signs about what can be recycled
Reduce plastic waste. Instead of stocking disposable water bottles, provide employees with reusable water bottles with your company logo
Inform employees about your company’s recycling and green programs. Ask for volunteers for a “green team” to make recommendations about green initiatives.
For many corporate employees, this is bonus season. In February, when year-end results are being finalized, the buzz builds. Will we make bonus, and by how much? In March, the anticipation is unmistakable.
Whether the news is good or bad, bonus season gives leaders a spotlight to connect individual performance and business results. While the architecture of bonus plans vary, most include a performance-related reward with a pay out when the company’s financial results and the individual’s performance meet set criteria. For example, when Apple missed sales and profit goals for 2016, Tim Cook saw a cut to his performance-based cash incentive. Don’t worry about Tim. Overall, he still did pretty well.
Whether the news is good or bad, the way you tell the story will impact employee engagement. Let’s look at communication strategies for both scenarios.
When the incentive target is achieved
Explain how it works. The only people who truly understand the bonus system work in Compensation. Prior to bonus announcement, send out a review of the bonus program with visual examples. Provide an online bonus calculator.
Celebrate. Good news should never be buried in an email. Create a brief video from the senior leadership team thanking employees for their contributions last year. An authentic thank you is always appreciated.
Set expectations for the current year. High performance cultures innovate, collaborate and continuously improve. Now is the time to be talking about 2017 stretch goals and aligning performance and priorities so bonuses are achieved in 2018. Create talking points for managers to cascade.
When the incentive target is missed
Explain how it works. See above. Talk through the plan structure. If thresholds were not achieved, clarify how that impacted pay outs. Remind employees that the bonus is just one component of a comprehensive rewards package and it’s performance-based. It’s extra pay for exceptional results.
Pre-announcement preparations. Prepare for this like you would for a customer or shareholder meeting. Compose key messages, draft FAQs and ensure managers are informed and prepared. Set up a channel for employee questions.
Hold town hall meetings. Where did the company fall short? Talk about it. Listen, answer questions, and discuss priorities and opportunities for 2017.
Proactive communications help connect the dots for team members. Businesses win when everyone knows, understands and lives the company’s values. Show them their contributions make a difference.