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Category: Communications Strategy

A Tale of Two Layoffs

Navigating workplace change is never easy. For many of us, our job is our identity. When you lose that, it’s crushing. That’s why events like mergers, restructuring, and layoffs drive turmoil even among employees who are not impacted.

The announcements of layoffs at Twitter and Stripe, in the same week, provide a sharp contrast on how to manage this issue. Both businesses cut headcounts to grow profitability, but they took very different approaches.

For weeks, speculation was brewing about layoffs at Twitter. It’s been reported that close to 50% of the employee population was impacted. When the day arrived, impacted employees were notified not by phone call or meeting, but by email to their personal accounts. Their corporate email was deactivated. They were told they’d receive severance details by the end of the week (which seems to be 60 days’ salary in lieu of notice). And don’t come into the office. You’ll get instructions about returning company equipment later. There was also a reminder that while you’re still an employee, you’re required to comply with the Code of Conduct and corporate policies.

The following week, some separated employees were asked to return to Twitter—they’d been laid off by mistake. Oops.

Compare this to the announcement at Stripe, a digital payments provider. The CEO, Patrick Collison, penned an email so clear, accountable, and empathetic that it raises the bar for downsizing communications.

He starts out with the bad news: the employee population is being reduced by 14%. No need to scan all the way down to the bottom; he leads with the headline. Then he provides “the why.”  Shifts in the global economic climate require the company to be leaner. He outlines a comprehensive exit package that includes severance, 2022 bonus, PTO payout, health care, and career support. He says the people leaving “will be fantastic additions at almost any other company.” 

And then he does something I’ve never seen before: he details two mistakes the leadership team made in underestimating an economic slowdown and growing costs too quickly. That’s accountability. The rest of the letter is about what comes next and why the business will be well-positioned for the future.

Which type of announcement would you prefer if you were being let go? Which company seems like a good place to continue your career?

When the dust settles and both these businesses move to the “new normal” people will talk about how it all happened. A detailed communication and change management plan increases the chances that employees will trust and be engaged following a significant business event.

Accountability, transparency, and a view of what comes next make the transition easier for everyone. But what employees will remember is compassion and empathy. 

Three Ways to Improve Benefit Communications

The Great Resignation is leading companies to rethink their approach to employee benefits. While flexible work initiatives seemed cutting edge only a few years ago (remember summer hours and Fri-Yeahs?), today a hybrid work environment is a standard consideration for many job seekers. Well-being offerings (financial, mental health support, parental/family care leave) are edging up the list of must-haves for job seekers.

While HR leaders grapple with which offerings to add or remove from benefits packages, an immediate solution is at hand:  do a better job of communicating the value of the benefit programs you have now.  Then promote new offerings as an extension of your company values.

Consider these three steps:

1. Market your benefits like you do your brand. Go beyond employee orientation and open enrollment and talk up benefits year-round. Research indicates that only 49% of employees understand their benefits and close to 80% do not review their open enrollment materials. Let’s do better! Develop monthly educational updates and interactive tools for employees to get more detailed information. Dive a little deeper into how your benefits make a difference to employees.

2. Survey employees about their benefit preferences. To really understand why some benefits are popular and why others are underutilized, conduct a detailed benefits survey. Just adding a few questions to the annual employee engagement survey won’t provide the insights needed to make accurate decisions. Times change and some of the current offerings may not meet the needs of today’s workforce. This data can also guide decisions on what benefits are needed to remain competitive.

3. Keep it simple. Remember, everyone learns differently. Use a variety of communication channels and tactics. Brief, visual content delivers a big impact. Few are willing to spend the time required to read through a Summary Plan Document. Clear language and easy-to-understand scenarios entice employees to learn more. 

When employees believe they are valued in the workplace, productivity, retention, and engagement rise. Telling a compelling story about your company’s benefits can contribute positively to that result.

Did I say that? Think before you hit send

With hybrid work environments becoming the rule, not the exception, it’s time for a reminder about what’s appropriate to put in writing. The informality of email and digital channels permits communications to be fast, funny, and even sarcastic. Most of us would never take this approach in a formal letter or document.

Content shared via email, texts, or through team collaboration channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat, can become problematic in litigation, particularly if it involves an employment situation. There are countless stories of people who thought their business emails were private. They’re not. They may be discoverable if relevant in a lawsuit.

Here are five tips to ensure a quick and “harmless” message doesn’t become a future problem. 

1. Choose the correct channel. Would a call or an in-person meeting be better? Emails can be forwarded to individuals they were never intended for and anyone with a smartphone can take a screenshot.

2. Watch your tone. Email is eternal. Business communications should be appropriate, safe for work, and inoffensive. Don’t write anything that you’d be uncomfortable with others reading. Including your grandmother.

3. Is it clear? Read it over. Could anything be misconstrued or taken out of context? If you enter litigation, your intent will be analyzed closely by the other side.

4. Don’t begin or continue an argument. If someone shares incorrect information, it’s OK to clarify and provide the facts, but don’t debate or argue through email. 

5. Avoid irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration. A message dashed off in a hurry often falls into this category. So does humor. But these are exactly the communications that can be problematic if a lawsuit occurs.

The office setting may have changed, but the risk has not.  It’s even more important now to raise awareness about appropriate workplace communications so everyone understands what’s at stake.

Marketing Your Workplace Benefits to Employees

Too often employees only think about their workplace benefits once a year–during Open Enrollment. Perhaps that’s because many Human Resources groups focus on the administration of benefits, not marketing the variety and value of the employee benefits package. Internal communicators can provide value by partnering on this issue and adding a little sizzle to benefits marketing efforts.

As the Great Resignation shows no signs of slowing down, companies that provide better support, education, and marketing of workplace benefits may obtain an advantage in employee retention. When benefits usage rises, businesses also realize the full value of this investment.

Here are three steps to consider in promoting your company’s employee benefits.

Understand benefits usage

While the list of benefits offered may be long, it’s unlikely that all benefits are equally as popular. Pinpoint the benefits that are underused by employees and set participation goals. Show you care by surveying employees to understand their interest in current offerings and identify potential new benefits that they value. Not surprisingly, benefits that support wellness and mental health/resilience

Prioritize benefits education

Market your benefit offerings to employees year-round. A deep dive each month on individual offerings can be effective, particularly if employees share their stories about why they use them. Create an annual calendar aligned with notable month-long observances (such as May-Mental Health Awareness Month; October-National Financial Planning Month).

Take a multi-channel approach

Covid-19 has forever changed the delivery and pace of internal communications. With remote work becoming the norm, it is imperative that benefits communications are available through digital channels. Lunch and learns can move to webinars. Intranet content must be compelling and regularly refreshed. Offer digital coffee breaks to engage employees to discuss workplace benefits. Raise the profile of your offerings and provide multiple opportunities for employees to learn more. When employees feel informed and supported in the workplace, engagement, retention, and performance increase.

ESG Reports: Getting Started

Investors and stakeholders are showing increasing interest in responsible business practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiativesThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 52% of public companies surveyed publish voluntary corporate sustainability or ESG reports outside of their SEC filings. While this type of reporting is currently voluntary, the SEC is expected to propose mandatory reporting rules this year.

The ESG report shines a light on the strategies and activities a business undertakes to be accountable and responsible.  While the annual report may have captured some of these elements in the past, the ESG report focuses on making a positive impact on society.

Implementing an ESG reporting process entails extra work and coordination across business functions.  For corporate communicators, the challenge is to hit the right balance of content and to transform data into compelling, human stories.

What is an ESG Report?

An ESG Report (and accompanying website) captures the environmental, social and governance impacts that arise from company business activities.   Before embarking on ESG reporting, the strategy, framework, selected metrics and tracking plan must be in place.

What should be included?

Right now there’s flexibility in the scope and content of ESG reporting, but investors and rating agencies typically want to see decision-useful information.  It’s tempting to cram the report full of success stories.  Remember, longer does not mean better.  Content will vary by industry, but may include:

Environmental:  Climate change; waste reduction; sustainable supply chain; Green initiatives

Social: Community engagement and philanthropy; diversity, equity and inclusion; corporate values: health and well-being

Governance: Corporate governance; ethical business practices; information security and data privacy; board diversity

Telling the story with impact

Evaluate the ESG issues that are most material to your company and be transparent about performance and opportunities for improvement. Then show how and why your business operates with integrity.

Revitalizing Your Company’s Recruiting Marketing

The Great Resignation has hiring managers on edge and recruiters working around the clock to fill ever-growing vacancies.  With turnover reaching new highs, organizations are scrambling to implement systematic changes in compensation, remote working, and rewards to boost retention.

Recruitment marketing is now a hot topic. As options for job seekers increase, it’s more important than ever that recruitment channels and materials are relevant, concise, and refreshed. Think sleeker, more digital, and more engaging.  If you’re not refreshing your content, you’re likely to lose out in the Great Talent Hunt. These three steps are a good place to start.

Audit your online presence

What does your recruitment marketing say about your business?  When was the last time it was refreshed?  Take a sharp look at your marketing materials the way a potential hire would, focusing on the areas listed below.  Then develop a plan to address any gaps.

  • Does your messaging explore why your company is a great place to work?
  • Is the design vibrant and engaging? Does it feature your employees?
  • Does your careers site look like your workforce? Does it support multi-dimensional diversity–age, race, gender identity, disability?
  • What’s your social media mix?  LinkedIn is still the world’s largest professional network, but Gen Z job seekers prefer Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Expand your social mix and reach, but ensure you have the bandwidth to produce fresh content.

Lean in to an employment brand

Potential candidates want a simple answer to a simple question: What makes your company a great place to work?   If you can’t answer that succinctly, it’s time for an employment brand. An employment brand builds clarity, quality and consistency in the way you describe what it like to work at your business.  It helps you stand out from the crowd in the race to recruit the very best talent. To be successful, it should be clear, concise, relevant, relatable, and memorable. For current employees, an employment brand supports building a One Team culture, bringing your values to life, and recognizing and celebrating team members.

Connect with specialized talent

While an employment brand sets the look, feel and strategy for recruitment marketing, segmentation will help you attract key audiences.  This will support distinct marketing strategies, allow you to create targeted content, and improve visibility for your business within each segment.  Review your careers website and social channels to identify opportunities to connect with specific audiences like military veterans, interns/early careers, and experienced professionals.

Employee Engagement: Still Low

Gallup’s latest study on employee engagement revealed the awful truth that only about 3 in 10 American workers are truly engaged in their work and workplace. Following the havoc of the pandemic, leaders are struggling to inspire team members to take initiative, commit to their company’s success, and be more productive.

The long-running survey on engagement has shown that employees are engaged when their deeper needs to feel valued, grow and develop, maximize their strengths and make a meaningful contribution are fulfilled.  

The results of Gallop’s studies point to three specific things employees need to feel good about their jobs and be fully engaged. Here are some suggestions communications teams can use to make these three elements work for your company:

  1. Employees want a leader and a company who care about them and their development– When you truly believe employees are the company’s most valuable asset, it shines through in the frequency and manner with which you communicate with them. Let them know specifically how the company is working hard to ensure their success. Share information about important changes and initiatives as freely as possible to show employee how their contributions matter to overall business success.
  2. They’re looking for a role that matches their strengths– Every job presents interpersonal and character growth opportunities. Help employees see what mountains they can successfully climb right now and show how they can gain skills and experience on their career journey.
  3. They want to know that their contributions matter– Chances are, your employees believe—or once believed—in your company’s mission and values—what you contribute to the world at large. Keep this purpose at the core of your communications. Be sure you regularly articulate the relationship of the work employees do every day to your mission.

What’s the connection between all of these elements?  Proactive, inspiring, and consistent internal communications. It’s the most productive way to get everyone focused on priorities and engaged in their work.

Communications That Help Employees with Return-to-Office Anxiety

While your office may reopen soon, the pandemic is not over for many employees. Return-to- office communications should help employees feel safe, seen and supported.  Their needs have shifted during the long work from home period.  That’s why effective communications can go a long way to build trust and let them know their health and well-being is important to you. 

Whether you’re moving to a hybrid work arrangement or expect employees back at their workstations in-house, the way you communicate will impact employee engagement. We’re counseling our clients to focus on the Big Three for re-entry communications:  safety, well-being, leadership.

Make your commitment to safety visible

Employees can’t perform if they don’t feel safe. Be clear about steps undertaken to maintain a safe in-office experience, including the deep cleaning of the facility, protective equipment availability, or health checks.  Are masks required? What changes are coming to the break rooms? Set up an online Coronavirus Info Hub where employees can get information, news or policy changes. Being specific about this is more important than ever before. 

Prioritize well-being

Many companies are broadening their wellness programs to focus on mental health maintenance and self-care. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), often an under-utilized resource, are being more urgently promoted within benefits communications.  Consider providing access to guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm.   Mental health apps, like Sanvelo and Moodfit, provide support for stress, anxiety and other issues.

Train and support front-line leaders

Train your managers and front-line supervisors with a comprehensive workplace re-entry plan. Ensure they understand any key changes in policy as well as safety protocols. Equip them to support team members with empathy.  Supply guidance on regular check ins as well as fun activities like safe team bonding experiences, virtual happy hours and curated playlists.  And don’t forget to praise good work and say thank you to managers.  This group has been through a lot too.

Looking Ahead: Communicating in a Hybrid Workplace

One of the key takeaways of the past 16-months is that work from home is no longer a perk, but rather the future for many businesses. The hybrid workplace, where employees are co-located and have the ability to work remotely, is a hot topic, particularly with employees. A recent survey from SHRM revealed that 52% of respondents would like to continue to work remotely forever while 35% would accept a pay cut to work from home.

The shift to hybrid working means that companies have the opportunity to reset the workplace culture in many ways.  But the tenets of pre-pandemic employee engagement have not changed. Communication continues to be the key to ensuring alignment and building company culture. Here are four recommendations we’re making to clients.

Conduct a health check for online collaboration tools

When the pandemic hit, businesses moved quickly to stand up collaboration tools that would keep employees connected and working productively.  As hybrid workplaces evolve towards permanency, now is the time to assess how these tools are working and if remote workers have the right support and infrastructure for the long haul. If you don’t know how well they are working, survey employees now.

Create consistent person-to-person connections

Whether through group or individual online sessions, every remote employee should have a regular touchpoint with his/her manager.  This ensures understanding of expectations and opportunities for feedback. Engagement lags when employees think their manager does not know, or care, what they do.  Consistent interaction helps to build pride and performance.

Reimagine employee onboarding

The first 90 days in a new role is a pivotal time that can set up an employee for success or failure. Learning a new role while working remotely can feel isolating.  Put practices in place to ensure the new employee understands the role, who to go to for support, and where to learn about the mission and culture of your workplace.  Show your team personality with online Welcome party or a Hi There kit with company swag.  Most importantly, give the new hire something to do and help prepare them to contribute.

Make recognition visible

The days of bringing everyone together for cake to celebrate a win or a milestone may be gone, but don’t skimp on saying thank you. Research indicates that when employees feel recognized and valued, they tend to be more satisfied, are more productive, and are more likely to engage with the rest of the team. Reevaluate your company recognition program with a lens on remote workers so that everyone knows their contributions are celebrated.

Four Ways to Write Actionable Content

While the best practices for business writing have changed over time, the need for clear, communications is as important as ever. If you dread the thought of writing anything from a blog to a business letter, use these four tips as guide to more effective writing.

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 high dollar words, foreign words, and 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.”

3. Be positive, not negative

  • It’s more effective to say what something is instead of what it is not. For example, use “The procedure will be relatively comfortable,” instead of “The procedure will be pain-free.” Your audience will unconsciously focus on the word “pain” and the rest will lose power.

4. Put the audience at the center of your plan

  • Know your audience, your purpose, and the value of your message before you create the key points.
  • Revise and simplify

Fortunately, most of us aren’t required to write even one page of a masterpiece, but the writing we do is no less important. Effective writing can impact employee morale and the bottom line. But you’ve got to get your readers all the way through the message first in order to educate, inform or inspire.