“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain
Good communications aren’t long; they’re clear. To communicate clearly, though, is difficult, especially when you’re talking about complex topics, such as health insurance or a benefits plan. Informing your employees about changes or updates to your company’s benefits package may seem like a daunting task, but by taking the time to vet your communication for clarity, you can make the process easier on everyone (including yourself). Here are a few tips:
- Be open and honest. More than ever, employees want transparency from their managers. A recent PDP Solutions poll cited by Forbes showed that 71 percent of employees complain that management does not spend sufficient time clarifying goals. If you’ve made the decision to go with narrower benefits, for instance, explain the financial reasons behind that decision. When your employees understand more, they can better empathize with the situation. Don’t be afraid of honesty; honesty is part of authenticity, and that goes a long way toward keeping employees motivated.
- Use clear and concise language. Just like Mark Twain’s letter, it’s actually much easier to write a long-winded, train-of-thought-driven explanation than to make something brief and understandable. Whether you’re writing an email, a memo or a presentation, start with a goal in mind: What do you want your employees to take away from this communication? Condense that goal into a single sentence, and build your communication around that. Use a tried-and-true writing format: Tell your audience what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. Take the time to proofread, and get peers to review the document, ensuring that you’re using the clearest possible language.
- Ditch the lingo. Don’t use stale corporate words that have little meaning to your employees (e.g., synergy, paradigm, leveraging, dynamic), and take the guesswork out of industry terminology. When explaining health insurance, borrow definitions from reputable sources such as the glossary of terms at the federal health care reform site. Here’s a good litmus test to see if a term is too esoteric: If you can’t define what something is, then your employees won’t know either.
- Communicate visually wherever possible. In a world where we spend 13 hours a week just reading and prioritizing emails (as shown by a McKinsey report featured in The Huffington Post), people are on information overload. When we simplify the communication, we not only give time back to our audience but also stand a better chance at getting the information in front of them. Using videos is a great way to change up the usual communication mix. In fact, a recent study done by Ragan Communications and Ignite Technologies showed that 72 percent of professionals who communicate to employees plan to increase the use of video, as shown by Flimp Media. If video is out of your price range, consider infographics with charts, graphs and visual cues to get your message across. There are several free infographic tools available online, as HubSpot notes, that are compatible with presentation software.
- Use a broad communication mix. Not everyone processes information the same way or even uses the same communication tools. Sending an email about news concerning your benefits plan may not be sufficient. You should be sensitive to how your employees want to receive information; consider creating a quick survey to see what methods they deem most convenient. If you have clear, concise communication in one medium, it should be easy to amplify across others. A well-written email can become a nice presentation, a poster in the break room, an infographic or a letter mailed home.
Don’t forget to reach out for help when you need it. Health benefits are complex, and you can ask your broker or the contacts at your health insurance provider to see if they have additional tools or templates. Whether it’s open enrollment, an update to your plan or information about flu shots, learn from Mark Twain and take the time to write that short letter — because your employees won’t read a long one.
Andrew Reinbold has been focused on the health care marketing and communication space for over five years. He currently focuses on business to business content for WellPoint, Inc. that is relevant to employers and brokers as they navigate the changing healthcare environment.