Quick Summary: Devising progressive, creative ways to deliver your health-related messages is admirable, but consider those methods your icing. You should start with the cake—mastering basic concepts that can serve as the foundation of your communication goals.
Although communication is one of the most basic human activities, its importance in the workplace is often underestimated. Effective health communication doesn’t begin and end with the ability to relay correct information. It also includes the ability to listen, ask questions, understand specific needs, and customize messages to different sectors of your audience.
“The act of communicating is so basic and so fundamental that most people don’t think much about the fundamentals,” says business-leadership trainer and communication expert Suzanne Updegraff. “But while communication mediums have become increasingly faster and more convenient, the fundamental goals of communication haven’t changed. This is particularly true in business.”
Effective Workplace Communication…
►Empowers employees to make more informed decisions.
►Increases clarity of health-related topics.
►Engages employees, making it more likely that they’ll participate.
Important workplace messages about health care, wellness, and benefits often fall on deaf ears because communicators neglect one or more of these essentials:
1. I promise to be more clear. Clarity is the essential component of effective communication. If your messages aren’t obvious and plain, they can’t be understood. In fact, they might not even be heard. This is especially true when a topic is critical but complex (examples of complex topics include choosing a health care plan or understanding a health savings account).
Chances are, you know more about the topic than your employees do. Putting your communication in “plain language” doesn’t mean you’re “dumbing down” messages. It means you understand the importance of having employees receive them.
In written communication, be direct and simple. Eschew professional-sounding words like eschew (which means “to avoid using”), as well as jargon and corporate-speak. Include charts and graphs, when appropriate, to help employees think visually.
2. I promise to encourage feedback. Communication is often unclear and ineffective because of a simple lack of information: HR leaders and benefits managers often neglect to ask employees what they want to know more about, and employees often neglect to share questions and ideas.
“For many people, asking questions is perceived to be a sign of ignorance or stupidity, so they hesitate to ask questions due to fear of embarrassment,” Updegraff points out. “Lack of questioning leaves some matters unclear, and assumptions are made to compensate for lack of knowledge.”
3. I promise to ask for involvement. Communication is a two-way street. Don’t just talk “at” employees; talk “with” them by encouraging their involvement in your company’s health promotion programs. (Find someone to add a personal anecdote to your next newsletter story. Tape a video testimonial about the impact of your last wellness event.) The unintentional problem of poor listening often undermines workplace communication, experts say.
4. I promise to add at least one new communication method. Employees have different ways of absorbing messages and retaining information, so effective employee communication involves a mix of media. Are you relying too heavily on one source? Incorporate a sense of newness into your messaging strategy. Possibilities include a lunch Q&A session, posters, an intranet, and a community event.
• Realize that employees respond best when communication is targeted to their needs, interests, and lifestyles. Analyze your audience: Is it diverse in age and experience? Then you’re more likely to need to use a variety of methods to get your message across. Is it technology savvy? Then read here about tools such as intranets, podcasts, social network sites, and wikis.
•Plan ahead to avoid last-minute communicating. Take your calendar to planning meetings and jot down a schedule for refreshing or distributing health, wellness, and benefits messages.
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