Quick Summary: When a new HR/wellness program is slow to take hold, it’s tempting to fault program design. But the true fault often may not lie in how the program is designed, but in how it’s marketed to employees and implemented. A strong communication program should be the foundation of any new initiative.
“How many programs have failed to meet expectations because messages around the program were incomplete, conflicting or poorly delivered?” asks Beverly Behan of Philadelphia-based consulting firm Hay Group. “Messages must be concise, consistent and ubiquitous—present in almost every communication a company delivers.”
“If few employees read the company newsletter or visit your intranet, then these are not the right vehicles—or at least not the right primary vehicles—to carry important information,” Behan says. “Reach employees at strategic times and through methods they will notice.”
Which Common Mistakes Are You Making?
New HR/wellness programs may falter for a number of reasons. Let’s examine some of them and look at ways to approach communication more effectively:
#1. Messages are sugarcoated, failing to address the practical reasons for a program addition or change. Let’s say your company has to raise the premiums on your health plan. Tell employees exactly why premiums went up: You had several high-cost claims in your group last year. You want to continue to offer health coverage, and this is the best option available.
This may be the kind of information best delivered first by letter to employees at home and then in group meetings where employees can ask questions.
#2. Focus is narrow, mainly keying on program design and mechanics instead of opportunities or advantages for employees. You might find yourself getting caught up in how the new lifestyle-change program will work. Stand back from the details of the concept and view the program broadly. Your goal is to promote healthy behavior no matter where or when. Make it easy for employees to take part and cut them some slack on the reporting. Reward everything!
#3. Messages are complex, riddled with corporate-speak and jargon instead of clear, concise language aimed at a busy, short-attention-span workforce. You sent out a packet to each employee at home outlining the new health plan offering a high-deductible option. A disappointingly small number of employees took that option.
Instead, try this: Use an employee example in that material (and make the story into a poster) or in an article in your newsletter to show how Fred in the warehouse operations department saved a bundle in his health savings account and used it for his deductible when his wife needed knee replacement surgery. Sometimes it takes a real person story to explain a difficult concept.
#4. Rollouts are followed by weak follow-up, as frequent communication (sent by various methods) is ignored after a grandiose announcement. Here’s an example: The employee walking program kicked off with great fanfare: a group walk was led by the CEO. Prizes were given for anyone who even showed up. But that was the last anybody heard about the program, despite the fact that 15% of the workforce formed teams and logged miles throughout the summer.
Feature success stories on your intranet. Create a bulletin board with walk photos. Keep the mileage total updated on a banner at the employee entrance. And make it easy for employees to join anytime during the campaign.
#5. Resources are depleted, as workplace communicators simply can’t devote necessary time to see the new concept through. You didn’t mean to, but you spent the entire budget for the health fair on door prizes and giveaways. That left no funds for ongoing follow-up with employees at high risk.
Next time, think about ways to approach local businesses and vendors and ask for free door prizes and giveaways, coupons and dollar-off deals. Rotate your wellness committee members so they don’t burnout on one event.
The good news? If you correct any of these mistakes, your communication will be better executed, and your new plan will have an increased chance for success.
Develop one or two key messages about the new program that will resonate within the organization, instead of trying to say too much.
Use your wellness committee for feedback, planning, manpower at events, and open communication. Try your ideas out on them first. If your committee is representative of your workforce, you’ll know what works before you roll out a program.
Understand all your communication avenues. Know which ones work best (from past experience and learn from your mistakes).
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