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Category: Internal Communications

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. 

Honoring Military Veterans at Work

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 with hiring 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. 

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.

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.

The Power of Gratitude is a Multiplier

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.

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.

Back to the Office or WFH? Employee Preferences Vary

At the start of the pandemic, businesses without flex work arrangements were pushed into the deep end.  Those companies that already leveraged online collaboration tools were better prepared.  Now, as we close in on one-quarter of the adult population vaccinated, businesses are preparing for the new normal.  For many of us that means returning to an office environment for the first time in many months.

WFH isn’t for everyone

A new Fortune/SurveyMonkey study of office workers shows that remote work will no longer be viewed as perk. But not everyone wants to work from home. Among the findings is that twice as many respondents prefer to be in the office than to work from home once the pandemic is over.

  • 36% of respondents say they prefer to be always in the office
  • 18% of respondents prefer to always work remotely
  • 42% of respondents prefer a hybrid model with some in office/some remote work

These findings suggest that the future of flexible work arrangements will be a priority communication. Employees need to feel safe and appreciated. Leaders will need to make the case that culture and connection is continually evolving.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s well worth the time to examine and update corporate policies and the employee handbook now.

Involve employees and communicate

As you push reset on flexible work arrangements, be sure to involve employees. Surveys and online focus groups are effective tools to gather input as you finalize the business strategy.

And remember—if you ask for feedback from employees you must always thank them for the feedback and let them how their input helped to shape decisions.

Celebrating Black History Month at Work

February is Black History Month, a time to reflect, celebrate and learn about the heritage and significant contributions of Black Americans. Although many businesses are operating in work from home settings, there are many ways to engage employees in programming and spark meaningful conversations about racial justice that extend well past February.

Educate and spark dialog. Host a conversation series with guest speakers on topics such as Black culture, trailblazers and social justice. Encourage all employees to live your corporate values by educating themselves on racial injustice. Invite Black leaders within your company to share their career stories and talk about leadership development.

Connect and engage. Establish Employee Resource Groups, employee-led organizations focused on fostering an inclusive workplace and aligning with business objectives. ERGs are a powerful tool in employee retention, engagement, and development of future leaders.

Involve employees in brand and internal storytelling.  Do your communication channels, recruiting and marketing materials look as diverse as your employee population?  Employees are the most credible brand ambassadors, both internally and externally.  Create new ways to showcase your employees and their stories.

Start a Leadership Book Club. Use the Lean In model as a template for a Company Book Club. Select at book, and create a company-wide reading event culminating with a moderated discussion with a company leader. Looking for inspiration?  Here are some amazing books:

  • How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
  • “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
  • “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso

The NAACP offers guidelines on what brands can do for Black History Month .  This includes focused recruiting efforts of diverse leaders, supporting diversity and inclusion programs within your business and engaging with local social justice organizations.