The benefits communications lessons from fake news

As social media feeds flood with click bait and half-baked stories and reporting from respected American media institutions comes under fire as fake news by anyone who disagrees with it, there’s an important lesson for plan sponsors. People want the truth. They crave trustworthy content and want information but they often struggle with how difficult it can be to find quality materials.

What does that have to do with pension and benefits communications? Plan sponsors are no stranger to the impact a message can have on their workforce. They’ve all felt the responsibility of relaying both good and bad news or simply helping their employees understand how their plan works.

Read: Rogers wins benefits communication award by practising what it preaches

Just as so-called fake news can mislead and frustrate, well-constructed, thoughtful communications have the opposite effect. When plan sponsors deliver well-crafted, honest and accurate information using employees’ preferred communication channels, workers feel respected and empowered. Over time, the approach builds a relationship of trust that promotes a positive work environment and helps to create acceptance of management decisions.

Even bad news can have a positive outcome

What plan sponsor today doesn’t worry about the rising costs of health-care benefits? Many employers have managed to get out in front of the problem. That means they’ve invested in an education program to help their employees understand the cost of benefits today, the key drivers of spending on them and the steps they can take to help rein in costs to keep the plan more sustainable over time.

But if, despite best efforts, plan sponsors have reached the point where they need to reduce benefits, here are a few tactics that will steer clear of accusations of fake news:

  • First, make sure the leadership is fully aware of health-care costs and secure acceptance for the next steps.
  • Treat plan members like responsible adults and begin by explaining the problem in terms they understand, including the potential impact of not making any changes. Acknowledge their feelings, convey an understanding of how important their benefits are to them and show them that any changes are part of efforts to preserve the components they value the most.

Read: Why you need a benefits communication policy

  • Use a survey or focus groups (or both) to create formal feedback channels and give employees a chance to participate in the decision-making process. Active involvement helps to bolster acceptance.
  • Report back to employees with the feedback they’ve provided and explain how it helped to shape the changes.
  • Craft a message that explains why the changes are necessary and appropriate, as well as how they’ll affect members in the short and long term.
  • Deliver the message using employees’ preferred communication channels.

Read: 65% of employers see benefits communications as a high priority

While employees may not be happy about the changes, they’ll at least feel heard and may even accept that they’re happening. They’ll come out on the other side better informed about their health benefits and with a stronger appreciation for their value. And they’ll respond to getting the news straight — without a lot of jargon or fluff — by trusting that they’ll receive future communications in the same way.