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.
One of the clearest memories of my childhood is connected to Veterans Day. At the end of the church service, the priest asked all current and former military members to stand and be recognized for their service. My father, who never spoke about his military service, would stand up, a little straighter than usual. There were dozens of others who did the same. As they left the church, they chatted and joked with each other about who had the easier tour of duty.
Recognition is meaningful.
Veterans Day, November 11, provides an opportunity to strengthen support for employees who are current and former service members and their families. A simple recognition or expression of thanks means so much to those who’ve served. Within the workplace, consider these actions to show that your company values the service, experience and commitment of military veterans and their families:
Invite employees who served in the military to a special gathering or luncheon.
Establish a military veteran Employee Resource Group.
Make a contribution to a community veteran scholarship program.
Highlight employees who served in the military in company media and websites.
Host a community day of service for employees to give back at local veteran facilities, national cemeteries, or VA hospitals.
Current service members and those transitioning from military life make excellent employees. Recruiting veterans can be a successful component of your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
Connect with non-profit organizations like American Corporate Partners to provide career coaches and mentors to veterans, active duty, and military spouses.
Partner withhiring programs that benefit veterans, transitioning service members, and their families.
Expressing thanks and support makes all of us better leaders, partners, and colleagues. Make a commitment to show appreciation, develop, and hire those who served our country.
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.
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.
Tom Peters was so right when he noted “People don’t forget kindness.” It’s the same with gratitude. The power of a sincere thank you cannot be overestimated. In a recent study on employee engagement, the top factor of job satisfaction was respectful treatment of employees at all levels. Second on the list was trust between employees and management. If you practice the first item, you achieve the second one.
It takes conscious effort to build a culture where every employee feels appreciated. We all like to be noticed for the good things we do. People who feel appreciated believe their work makes a difference. They are more willing to go the extra mile because they know someone notices.
Making gratitude visible is a step you can build into your internal communications. Here are three ways to build appreciation into your workplace culture:
Involve senior leadership– Create a year-end video of the senior management team thanking team members during this extraordinary year.
Be specific– Don’t underestimate the power of a thank you note. It’s low tech, but more effective than a gift card. Be specific about how the individual contributes to the team. Your employees will know that you are paying attention.
Introduce a peer-to-peer recognition program– It feels great to say thank you. That’s why peer-to-peer recognition programs are motivating to employees. They strengthen a culture of collaboration. Tailor the program to your business, align with your company values, and make the recognition defined, public, and fun.
When you recognize people for their contributions, they perform better, trust grows and so does your workplace culture.
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:
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 specificallyhow 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As businesses across the country begin to reopen following Covid-19, employees will need to feel safe and understand what to expect in new ways of working. While some businesses have extended telecommuting through the summer, that’s not an option for everyone. If you decide to reopen your business, here are some strategies to keep in mind.
Make Safety Visible
For employees to focus on their jobs, they must feel safe. Federal and state agencies have issued guidance on safe practices, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and sanitizing of workspaces. But these are mostly voluntary. Show employees that you care by communicating safety procedures at your business. Make it inescapable: posters, signage, emails, intranet pop-ups. Provide personal protective equipment at no cost to employees. Review and update your telecommuting policies. Ensure your managers practice and encourage uptake of new well-being processes.
The new normal is going to be confusing for a while. That’s why it’s so important that the business leadership is aligned, communicates proactively, and walks the talk. Train front-line managers on new working practices and talk about what you expect from them. The manager who doesn’t comply will be very easy to identify. Ensure there are two-way communication channels so that employees can surface issues and obtain rapid responses. Use pulse surveys to identify issues that are creating concerns. Now is the time to be visible, encouraging, and also transparent about the business challenges and what how employees can help.
Support Mental Health
Six months ago most people could not imagine daily life during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, now we all can. Your employees may have experienced the virus themselves, lost a loved one, know a friend or family member who is unemployed, or struggled with isolation or family issues. Now is the time for empathy. Show it in your leadership communications and encourage managers and supervisors to do the same. Emphasize the availability of counseling benefits or Employee Assistance Programs. Make it easy to ask for help.
There is not one prevailing roadmap through these challenging times, but employees want to hear from you. Communicate and manage sensitively. Be human.
As a communicator there are several key dates each year that
you must be prepared for. One of the most important is Open Enrollment.
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:
Know your audience
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
Get a head start
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.
Clarity is key
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.
Give them the cold hard facts
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
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.