January might seem far away, but if you're planning to change your union membership's current health care plan, establishing a benefits communication strategy now is key.
It's crucial to open up lines of communication early and often. Why? Change and uncertainty are stressful. One study found that uncertainty is even more stressful than knowing something bad will happen.
Keep your members' benefits stress-free with these strategies for addressing benefits changes to your membership.
As soon as you know you'll be making a change — and exactly what it's going to look like — you should begin planning how to communicate it to your members. Resist the temptation to limit benefits communication to a few times a year, such as during open enrollment and the beginning of the year.
Regular benefits communication will help members fully understand their benefits and know how to properly use them. Union members might also be considering major planning decisions, such as when to schedule a costly dental procedure or book a vacation abroad. If members know they're going to face increased health care costs in the near future, they may plan differently or adjust their financial decisions. Consider starting to spread the word a few months before the change will take effect. Communicating with members as much as once a week leading up to the change will help prepare them.
Inevitably, members will have questions and possibly some concerns. As a union leader, you're well-positioned to alleviate these concerns and present members with factual, digestible information. Get ahead of potential questions as much as possible, but make sure members know you're a resource they can come to at any time.
Prepare for Common Questions
It's a good idea to prepare benefits communications materials ahead of any employee questions. Some union leaders prefer to prepare these themselves, while others may decide to partner with a broker. Either way, use a mix of methods and media in your communications to engage the highest number of people.
Various members will have different learning styles, and they likely represent a variety of generations. While a brochure might appeal to one member, an informational video might be better for another. Other ways to communicate include an email campaign, texts, posters or presentations delivered during face-to-face meetings.
All communications should be detailed — but still concise and clear. Use real-life examples, bullet points and visuals to make the information digestible. You should try to appeal to spouses and family members, who may also be using the benefits.
Of course, there even more creative options. After one director of human resources found that few employees were opening emails, he designed online quizzes about benefits and included them in his emails to employees. He offered $25 or $50 meal vouchers for anyone who achieved a good score. The email open rate jumped to roughly 90%. Another company used a scavenger hunt and ice cream to entice employees to test out its new mobile HR app. However, you don't have to go high-cost or high-tech to create something engaging and interactive: Consider hosting a wellness week and invite representatives from your health plan to answer member questions in person.
Clearly Explain the Change
To communicate benefits changes effectively, it's essential to explain the reasons for change. Be transparent about what will be different, bearing in mind how changes might affect your members.
Start with the facts. Make it clear that you're not taking benefits away, and that any changes are meant to help the union and its members. Explain the exact change in simple language, how the decision was reached and how it will benefit members. That context will help members better understand how the change will affect them and the union as a whole.
At the same time, however, it's important to emphasize what will stay the same. A recent study found that leadership was more successful in building support for change when they also communicated a vision of continuity.
Throughout the entire process — from planning to communicating to addressing member concerns — it's important to stay positive. People respond to positivity; it's contagious. If you're excited about the changes, they will be too. Position the change as a boon for the union, and members will embrace it more quickly.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.