Healthcare benefits can be confusing territory—even for employees in the healthcare industry. The rapid changes in healthcare and healthcare coverage, confusing terminology and endless list of acronyms could easily leave even seasoned employees frustrated come open enrollment time. Add to that a change in the benefits employees have come to expect—especially an unwelcome one—and you've got a major communications challenge on your hands.
The way you communicate benefits messages can either save or cost the company—not just in hard dollars, but also in employee engagement and loyalty, with a longer-term impact on your ability to attract and retain talent. In the healthcare industry, where attracting and retaining the right talent is already a challenging (and expensive) proposition, communicating healthcare benefits information and changes is especially critical.
Rest assured, it is possible to provide clarity, stability and certainty for your healthcare employees through your benefits communications. Managing expectations is key, especially when you're preparing to communicate a benefits change. Laying the groundwork early, understanding employees' perspective and keeping the conversation positive and focused on value are all part of that process. To get you started down the right path, here are three questions healthcare organizations should ask when preparing to communicate about benefits to their employees, particularly when there are changes involved
1. How will employees perceive the change?
Before you can manage employee expectations around benefits, you need to have a firm grasp on what those expectations are to begin with. Have they come to expect that their premiums will remain at a certain level? That their time away from work will be categorized in a certain way? First, seek to understand, whether that means informally chatting with employees or more formally polling managers to understand what employees' mindset and concerns are when it comes to benefits.
2. What is the value to the employee?
Cost containment measures or changes in healthcare legislation might be driving changes in your benefits, and that's reality. Citing those factors as part of the rationale when you communicate the changes is fine, but it won't get employee on board. Instead, being honest about the change while focusing on the WIIFM (what's in it for me) for employees will get you closer to minimizing resistance and engendering support—or at least acceptance—of the change. For example, if the employee contribution rate is rising, are there healthcare product discounts or other perks that might help offset the increase? Acknowledging that the change differs from existing employee expectations and keeping the conversation focused on value could help ease the pain of the change.
3. How can employees expect to be supported through the change?
Employees will need both the information to understand the change and the tools to understand how the change impacts them individually. When it comes to fostering understanding of the change, an e-mail blast alone will not do. Think about all of the channels you could use to not only deliver the benefits message to employees, but also to allow the conversation to be two-way. Especially when there are changes, your benefits communications approach should include some face-to-face elements as well as follow-up details in writing that can serve as a reference later. How would employees want to hear about a certain change? From their manager? From HR? Directly from the CEO? Your chosen channels will depend in part on how dramatically the change clashes with employee expectations. Carefully consider the message that your choice of communications channel and source sends to employees about how invested you are in their wellbeing and success.
Once they understand the change, employees will need support to adjust their expectations and to make benefits decisions that work best for them and their families. Hotlines, benefits web sites and calculators can all help with this process. Could a high deductible plan cost employees in certain situations less than their old plan? Is it possible for an employee to continue seeing his out-of-network specialist at a higher co-pay by paying with pre-tax dollars from a flexible spending account? When you communicate the change, make sure employees clearly understand the resources at their disposal to find answers to questions like these, and the support they can expect from the organization throughout this process.
Carefully considering these three questions will put your healthcare organization on the path to successfully managing employee benefits expectations.
Tipton has demonstrated excellence in developing a wide range of innovative and effective human resources and benefits communication solutions. If your organization needs assistance with benefits or other HR communications, call 302.454.7901, or visit our website at www.TiptonCommunications.com.