Communicating with members, especially when it comes to health insurance benefits, is critical both for ensuring that they understand what's available to them and for gaining insight into their needs.
But it can be difficult for the board to facilitate two-way communication in health care matters for a variety of reasons, from the board's remoteness from the worksite to a potential more general disconnect between leadership and workers. That's where union representatives come in: In your stewards you have a key asset to address this problem.
Why Do Communication Gaps Arise?
The absence of a thoughtful communication strategy can allow information gaps to breed. These gaps may both contribute to and result from feelings of disconnection from the board in an unfortunate cycle.
If this happens, members may place less value in the information they receive directly from the board, especially if it's infrequent, unclear or arrives without a direct method for obtaining clarification. Likewise, when the board requests input on benefits plans, members may doubt that their feedback is being taken seriously by people who perhaps don't understand their day-to-day reality. In turn, boards are left to guess what members need — and missteps here may only worsen things.
How Can You Leverage Stewards?
To gain a better understanding of what members want, boards should leverage their "boots on the ground." Not only are union stewards members themselves, but they're also constantly interacting with their peers and building levels of trust and rapport the board can't naturally cultivate.
Before embarking on any communication in health care engagement project, meet with your stewards to discuss the purpose of your project and what you're trying to learn. Encourage stewards to share their experiences with the union's health benefits and express their wants and needs during the course of conversation. As you prepare stewards to act on your behalf, provide specific questions you'd like to have answered, but empower them to be creative in their outreach. Your union stewards know your members best and will have a sense of whether they'll gain the right information through one-on-one interactions, group forums or email surveys.
What Considerations Come With Relying on a Liaison?
When leading a project as important as deciding on members' benefits, it can be difficult to delegate and relinquish a portion of your authority. But remember that there's much to be gained by leveraging designated representatives to act on the board's behalf.
To help mitigate any concerns, explain to your union stewards the integral role they're playing in keeping their fellow members satisfied and healthy. This will motivate them to invest themselves in your project and boost their own feelings of engagement with the union.
Finally, when your stewards have helped you make positive changes to your benefits plan, don't forget to close the circle of trust by thanking them for a job well done.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.