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how to help your employees understand health care reform

December 16, 2010

in health communication

there’s a load of difference between informing and communicating. informing—i’m sure you know what i mean by that. by communicating, i mean changing what people think, how they feel and what they do, and this is where the majority of communication professionals like to spend their time. the reason we play in this sandbox is because it’s where business happens. it’s where employees think about how what they do makes the customer happy and the business money—and themselves, too. it’s where employees feel valued and recognized. it’s where employees swap out lunch at the desk for a walk around the ´hood.

even though influencing behavior is the gold standard of great communication, there are times when informing employees is equally important. that’s certainly true when it comes to health care reform. since the majority of the law’s not implemented or even deciphered, at this point a company’s communication job is to inform.

the need for clear, understandable information became apparent after four email exchanges between me and a member of a client’s benefits newsletter review team. we had what can only be described as a circular exchange about changes to the flexible savings account (FSA) rules for over-the-counter drug purchases. the member of our review team questioned why my suggested copy directed employees to have a prescription for over-the-counter drugs. fair question. normally people wouldn’t need one. that’s the beauty of over-the-counter drugs. but beginning january 1, 2011, people who want to file for FSA reimbursement for over-the-counter drug purchases will need to buy these drugs with a prescription from their health care provider. that concept takes some getting used to as it challenges our definition of over-the-counter. hence, our circular exchange.

this is just one instance where employees need information about changes that affect them. the change to dependent care coverage is another. and as the new law is dissected and rolled out, there are bound to be many more. here are some ways you can keep your employees informed:

  • dedicate a specific channel for health care reform communications. you don’t need to create a new channel. you can use existing ones, like a benefits newsletter or blog. the trick is to consistently use it to deliver updates and information, and to direct employees to it.
  • get out in front. as with any other major organizational change, some things are known now and some things are only known over time. you can address both in your communications. you can also add your two cents about how changes, the timeline for implementation, the contesting of the law’s legality and such relate to your employees’ situation and to your strategy.
  • create a real or virtual mailbox. give employees a way to ask questions and voice their concerns. an email address works. so does an online forum. if you have a benefits or wellness blog, it could be as simple as adding an “ask” question box to your functionality. then reprint or repost answers to employees’ frequently asked questions. chances are if a few ask, they’re all asking.
  • dissect breaking news. rather than leave your employees to wonder, share breaking news on your dedicated channel and let your benefits experts or consultants break things down in plain english.
  • empower your employees. point your employees to excellent, trusted sources of information so they can do their own homework. here are some i’d recommend (not all are front-facing; they can be great resources for you, too):

what ideas resonate? how are you keeping your employees informed about health care reform?

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