It’s not fun having to break bad news to someone. Whether it’s a loved one, neighbor or someone we barely know, it’s never easy. As plan sponsors and employers, it’s especially hard to tell participants and employees that their benefits are changing or their plan is facing challenges. What is the best way to break bad news to cause the least amount of angst?
At the International Foundations 62nd Annual Employee Benefits Conference, held last November in Orlando, I attended a session on this very topic, presented by Ellen T. Anreder of Bleiweiss Communications Inc. Ms. Anreder shared tips on how best to handle this challenge.
- Prepare Your Audience (Participants and Staff) — Set the stage BEFORE you need to communicate bad news.
- Communicate benefits regularly (not just at open enrollment).
- Help your audience understand challenges facing benefit plans, whether they be economic volatility, rising costs or new compliance requirements.
- Help them understand the value of the benefits they receive.
- When it’s time to communicate plan changes, participants will start with a grounding that may help them better accept what’s happening and be more apt to cooperate. According to Ms. Anreder, unfortunate situations are worsened when participants are uninformed, uneducated and unprepared.
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- Time the Communication of Bad News
- Have a comprehensive internal and external plan as to what is to be said, how and when.
- When choosing the “how,” use all communication channels at your disposal—if they make sense. Each channel (meetings, newsletters, websites, apps, e-mail, phone or text messages or social media) has its own pros and cons.
- Some channels are more immediate but, by necessity, the message needs to be short (e-mail, phone, text, social media).
- Other channels allow for the delivery of longer, more complex messages, but using them may be costly or less timely (newsletters or meetings).
- Meetings allow for the immediate answering of questions; other channels could lead to worry, confusion or rumor.
- Make sure to choose the channels that make sense for your audience.
- No matter the channel, timing is critical.
- When delivering the message, make sure staff is available to field participants’ questions.
- Give participants enough time to plan and/or respond.
- And remember, be concise, honest and quick. Tell the news straight, without drawing it out.
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- Guide Your Participants
- Tell participants why changes need to be made or the plan is facing challenges. Bring in service providers if necessary.
- Give them enough information to help them understand and guide their actions.
- Make sure the information is clear.
While communicating bad benefit news is never easy, over time it is inevitable. Being honest and transparent will give your organization credibility and make the news easier to accept.
Julie Stich, CEBS
Associate Vice President, Content at the International Foundation