5 ways to improve your employee communications experience
In 2019, the War for Talent is likely to intensify.
With the unemployment rate at a fifty-year low, top job candidates can be extra picky about who they work for. Companies trying to woo these candidates (or convince their most valuable employees to stick around) are realizing that offering a highly competitive salary and great benefits package doesn’t cut it anymore. Even perks like flexible work schedules, a generous leave policy, and an Instagram-friendly office space aren’t the difference-makers they were five years ago. In fact, in a lot of industries, they’re the new normal.
With that in mind, what can a company looking for a leg up in recruiting and retention do? I think the answer is pretty simple: Instead of bulking up your total rewards and employee perks inventory, get better at explaining the value of all the great stuff you already do with unusually clear, helpful, and employee-friendly communications.
To borrow from B2C customer service and marketing: create a better communications “user experience”—one that delivers the info and guidance your employees need in the most stress-free, intuitive way possible. The better you get at delivering that, the more attractive your company will be to both the superstars you’re trying to hire and the ones you’re trying to hold onto.
You can do just that by tweaking what you say, how you say it, and who you’re saying it to. Here are some tips:
1. Stop being so dang formal
When it comes to your corporate communications—everything from website content, to your onboarding materials, to the emails you send employees—you have a simple choice to make:
Do you a) play it safe by defaulting to a “professional” tone, chock-full of impressive-seeming-but-actually-confusing jargon straight from your company lawyers? Or…
Do you b) make the extra effort to talk to your employees as clearly and succinctly as possible, the way you might if they stopped you in the hallway with a question?
If you answered “a,” you can probably tell that I don’t approve of that method. If it helps, you’re not alone: many companies—especially those in more conservative industries—take that route because it feels safest, and they think that if they don’t sound impressive, employees won’t respect or trust them. However, this logic is dead wrong.
In reality, unnecessarily formal language frustrates and confuses people, especially when they’re trying to understand important health care and retirement topics. And when people feel frustrated and confused, they either bail from whatever you’re asking of them, or make poor choices. That’s not good.
2. Give financial guidance that reflects how employees think about their finances, not how vendors sell financial products
When it comes to offering their employees financial guidance, many HR departments just pass along the materials their HSA, FSA, retirement and financial wellness vendors send them. They’re busy, the vendors are the supposed experts, so why not?
The problem with this hands-off approach is that it doesn’t give employees the guidance they really need. Individuals vendors aren’t likely to explain how their product relates to other benefits-related financial products out there, and they’re naturally biased towards encouraging employees to go big with their product. Also, their materials don’t typically explain how benefits-related financial decisions fit into employees’ bigger financial picture…the one where they’re trying to pay off college and credit card debt, save up for a down payment on a house, or sock away a rainy-day fund.
In short, employees need holistic and personalized financial guidance that helps them weigh all their concerns and burdens before making benefits-related decisions. It’s not about decisions for any one benefit, it’s about making decisions between benefits. Any company that can deliver that kind of understanding automatically has a competitive advantage over companies that don’t.
3. Remember: Style points matter
The look and feel of the information you deliver is just as important as the information itself. Skimp on presentation, and your important message may never get read. So as you’re creating your corporate communications, make sure to:
Personalize messaging whenever possible: address employees by name, if possible, or simply call out information by employee group. That way, employees can focus on what applies to them and ignore the rest.
Make beautiful, user-friendly design a top priority…the way branding juggernauts like Apple and Netflix do.
Anticipate topics that might spark the most employee questions, and present that information accordingly.
When you’re asking employees to do something (rather than just learning something), make it easy for them to do so by providing a clear call-to-action (e.g. “Call 555-1222 for more info.” or “Learn more at company.com/411.”)
4. Don’t just communicate to employees experiencing change
Most corporate communications are geared to help people manage change, from new-hire orientation packets to leave of absence materials.
All this is totally sensible and wonderful. However, when a select group of employees experiences change, those changes have easy-to-ignore ripple effects. Long-term employees might wonder how their roles will change once a big new hire arrives or want clarity on how their team is going to compensate for the absence of a team member on leave for a few months. Unfortunately, in these situations, most companies don’t communicate well—or at all—to that secondary audience. As a result, they miss out on an opportunity to reassure more of their workforce during a critical time (and win a few brownie points in the process.)
5. Enlist company leaders and other employees to spread the word
Yes, the “official” top-down, employer-to-employee communications I’ve discussed can have a significant effect on how valued, cared-for, and informed employees feel. But just as influential are the day-to-day interactions your employees have with their colleagues, managers and company leaders.
So, as you’re thinking about how to create a world-class communication “user experience,” don’t forget that building a company culture that fosters transparency, helpfulness, and thoughtfulness is hugely important, too.
When employees are weighing the pros and cons of their possible future employers, they’re not just comparing bullet points in an offer letter: they’re responding to how each company—and the people that work there—makes them feel. The better job you do of making these people feel engaged, informed, and valued, the better your chances of beating out the competition for top talent…and beating out the competition, period.