Almost overnight, the nature of work in America has changed.
Some industries are suffering and implementing layoffs while others are scrambling to add employees in the face of new, unplanned-for demands. Remote work has become a reality for many. Guidelines, rules and restrictions are changing almost daily as organizations scramble to deal with the emerging challenges of trying to help stem the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to deliver on their business or service model.
In this environment, communication couldn’t be more important. Employees may be facing uncertainty about their jobs, their health, and their finances, regardless if they are continuing to work in a physical location or from their home. Even if their own job is secure, an employee’s spouse or partner may no longer have income or benefits, impacting family resources.
This situation is unprecedented, and it requires a level of communication that many employers haven’t had to manage before. In these times, employees need their employer to be a trusted source of information and support.
Many employers don’t communicate much about benefits outside of Annual Enrollment and, if even they do, employees might not always be paying attention. However, they are likely paying attention now because in this current crisis their benefits are a first-line defense to safeguard their health and financial well-being.
What do you need to focus on now in terms of communicating with employees about their benefits, and what is the best way to accomplish it? Here are some best-practice tips.
- You cannot over-communicate. Things are changing very quickly and it’s important to communicate regularly and accurately. This is the time to leverage the engagement and trust of your employees by being honest, empathetic and genuine. Share what you know when you know it. Don’t hold up communicating so you can share five things at once. A daily or every-other-day email or quick video from leadership can address evolving questions and concerns and help employees feel connected to the organization and enable them to continue to be productive.
- Trickle communication down. Messaging and content should be consistent, so ideally communication comes from the top, with organization-wide information delivered by leadership.
That doesn’t mean leadership needs to be the exclusive source. Details about different organizational responses can come from other leaders. For example, if you have employees who are in critical jobs that need to work onsite, information on measures you are taking to protect them should come from operations or health and safety leaders. It may make sense to lean on HR and benefits leaders to share details on any changes to programs or policies—such as paid sick leave enhancements.
- Prepare front-line managers. People leaders are the ones with the day-to-day relationships with employees, and they are going to get questions. Create a toolkit for managers that includes FAQs and talk tracks so they can provide consistent, high-quality answers to their teams. Town hall or live Q&A sessions for managers can help prepare them and keep them up to date as things evolve. Consider creating a special resource center for managers on your SharePoint or intranet so they have a place to get help and information themselves.
Also consider establishing a formal way for line managers to trickle up employee questions and concerns so you know what to address in ongoing messaging from leadership.
- Offer details in small chunks. Employees have real questions about their benefits now in terms of their cost-sharing and what’s covered. And, there might be some confusion around coverage for COVID-19 testing, especially if your medical plan is self-insured.
Although it can be tempting to create a comprehensive guide to benefits (and, likely, you already have one of those), benefits are complicated, and employees aren’t going to read a 20-page overview. Instead, provide messaging about specific topics like what’s a deductible, how to access mental health benefits, what’s covered under an FSA or HSA or how to get a refill of a maintenance medication.
And, be as personal as possible. Based on your enrollment data you know what plan an employee is in, so you can tailor communications based on the specifics of their chosen option in terms of deductible, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum.
- Use different avenues to communicate. Different messages require different delivery. (For example, you wouldn’t send a text about a headcount reduction.) At the same time, not everyone learns and absorbs information the same way. So, you’ll want to take advantage of a number of ways to deploy messaging, taking into account who the messaging is from and what you’re conveying.
Some options to communicate with employees include virtual town hall meetings, recorded video messaging, informational videos, print mail to home, fliers or posters for those at work sites, collaboration channels like Slack and Teams, and text messaging. These are all ways to “push” information to people. Also consider ways to “pull” people into information, like online resource centers and microsites. And, don’t forget your benefits administration platform, where employees regularly access their benefits. This may be the first place they look to better understand how their benefits work in these critical times.
Benefits have always been an important safety net for employees, and their importance in light of COVID-19 can’t be overstated. Helping your people understand their benefits safety net in these challenging times can help them keep focused on the task at hand—staying healthy and productive.
If you're looking for other COVID-19 resources, check out our blog series here.