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8 ways to communicate change to employees

If there’s one thing we all know for sure, it’s that change is constant. And the rate of change is only going to increase – particularly as technology evolves and pervades so many aspects of our lives.

Over the last decade, the business world witnessed a ton of HR-related change – namely around benefits, health & wellness and staffing. The constant shifts leave employees both wary AND weary, making effective communication paramount. In fact, according to Towers Watson’s 2013 – 2014 Change and Communication ROI Study, companies effective in change management and communication are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers that are not as effective in these areas.

Need help crafting communications that soothe jagged employee nerves during times of change? These best practices will set you on the path to seamless transitions.

8 ways to communicate change to employees

1. Be clear and honest about what’s changing and why.

Any sort of spin, sugarcoating or jargon is going to look like you’re trying to hide something. You’ll gain employees’ trust if you use simple, straightforward language, and are completely upfront about what’s changing and why. Don’t talk down to employees – this only makes them feel resentful and unvalued. Some companies make the mistake of believing their employees “can’t handle the truth,” but people respond well to respectful and honestly communication.

2. Consider the emotional impact of the change.

HR changes often strike a personal chord with employees. Suddenly the company is monkeying with their health care, and maybe that affects their sick kid. Or a company might be implementing an outcomes-based wellness program, which means they have to make lifestyle changes they don’t want to make. Take these concerns into consideration when crafting your message – and outright acknowledge them too. Sometimes people just need to feel heard.

3. Tell employees what’s in it for them.

It’s the age-old marketing credo: What’s In It For Me? You can’t deny we’re all looking out for #1, so hyping “good corporate citizenship” as a reason for change is a waste of time. Explain the benefits of the change and what employees will get from it. Yes, things will be different – acknowledge that. Yes, everyone may not like what’s changing – acknowledge that too. But there’s generally an upside, so outline that as well.

If there’s no upside, then say so. Admit that what’s happening kinda sucks and talk about what you’ll do to make the change as smooth as possible. Then thank employees for their patience, cooperation, ongoing contributions to the company and for sticking with you through the shift.

4. Explain how the change will happen.

Employees feel reassured and are more easily able to get on board when you paint a clear picture of what’s going to happen and when. If you have to use a numbered step-by-step list, do it. If your employees respond well to graphics, use them. Just make sure to set expectations by explaining the process so people can clearly see the road ahead.

5. Tell employees what they need to do.

The infamous call to action. It’s critical to outline what needs to be done – and when. This is what people are looking for at the end of a communication, so use bulleted lists, bold font, links to websites, etc. to highlight the necessary action.

6. Consider the source – and the channels.

Change communications are generally best delivered from the top. Develop a cascading messaging strategy that starts with your CEO or a senior VP, and then encourage directors and managers to discuss the change in more detail with their teams. Make sure to use a variety of media: email, all-hands meetings, company intranet, home mailings (especially if family members are affected) and an FAQ for nitty-gritty details.

7. Target whenever you can.

Give careful thought to whether specific audiences are more affected by the change. For example, with healthcare changes, you may want to develop communications specific to families or those with chronic conditions. With a wellness program, consider how it will affect people who might have difficulty achieving the desired outcomes (like quitting smoking, losing weight or lowering blood sugar levels). Of course, be mindful of HIPAA and other privacy regulations when developing your targeted messaging strategy.

8. Open two-way communication channels.

Remember what we said above – about employees needing to feel heard? Create two-way communication channels where they can ask questions, express their concerns and get answers. A dedicated email alias is a great start, but a town hall (or series of them) goes one step further. It’s more personal and – if it you execute it right – feels like “we’re all in this together.” Allow employees to ask questions and address all of them – clearly and honestly. If you take away nothing else from this post, it’s those two words.

Speaking clearly and honestly is key to communicating with employees at any time, but especially during uncertain – and sometimes unsettling – times of change.