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10 Dos and Donts For Communicating Benefit Changes

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DO: Release information to all employees simultaneously. This will help to prevent the circulation of incorrect information or misperceptions among staff.

DONT: Release the changes externally before notifying employees, even if the news is positive. Companies are sometimes so focused on external perceptions of their businesses that they neglect to consider how the news will affect their primary stakeholders: internal audiences. Sharing information with employees first will create an environment of trust and ownership and will allow the appropriate time to mitigate fear associated with negative change.

DO: Communicate with employee spouses and families. This audience is powerful when it comes to garnering approval for the new program. Create a road map of next steps to follow so employees and their families can make educated choices and feel they are making the most of the benefit changes.

DONT: Minimize the severity of a negative situation. This is a very common mistake when communicating negative benefit changes. Companies try to gloss over the news in hopes of minimizing ill feelings or circumventing difficult questions, which ultimately leads to widespread confusion and mistrust.

DO: Develop a follow-up Q&A document with answers from questions employees raised in meetings and one-on-one discussions that management did not anticipate prior to the announcement. A concern of one employee is typically a concern of many.

DONT: Let employees vent incessantly. Employees could be confused and possibly upset when learning of benefit changes, particularly if the change is negative. Listen attentively to each person, but dont let a public discussion drag on interminably.

DO: Choose a spokesperson with credibility and respect among employees. Whoever communicates good news should also communicate bad news. The worse the information, the more effort should go into communicating it effectively, with the goal of consistency and accuracy. If this means getting the CEO involved, then do it. Proceed with caution, though. If senior management credibility is low, consider using direct supervisors.

DONT: Complicate the issue. Avoid jargon and keep the explanation simple, but tell the whole story. If the information is complex and takes more than an hour to explain, continue direct contact with employees through personal meetings, small group meetings or even video presentations to ensure employees understand necessary elements of the situation.

DO: Follow up with a survey to test employee knowledge of changes. Based on the results, take necessary actions to ensure changes are understood.

DONT: Withhold information, if possible. Tell people what they need to know and follow-up with additional information when appropriate and necessary.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 8, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.

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