Getting on the Path to Better Employee Communications

Getting on the Path to Better Employee Communications

By Mary Frank, RHU, GBA

Manager, Health Benefits, Stryker

How many times have you immediately deleted an email you thought was spam or perused a poster and then immediately forgot what you read? Communicating effectively with employees may sound easy, but inspiring them to actually read and retain the information in your wellness program newsletters and email campaigns can be challenging.

A few years after implementing a wellness program at Stryker ─ a FORTUNE 500 company in the medical device industry with 10,000 domestic employees ─ we realized the need to create an effective communication strategy. Our objectives were to inform employees about the wellness program and help employees not only understand the value of their benefits, but also how to use them.

First Steps

We first needed to develop an overall strategic positioning statement for the program, followed by three core messaging platforms, each supported by support points. The positioning statement conveyed that participating in the program would provide financial benefits as well as better health for individuals, their families and Stryker. The three core platforms took that a step further by outlining three key benefits to participation:

  • Income protection (premium discounts, incentives)
  • Better healthcare decisions
  • Higher productivity

The Stryker population is an incredibly driven group of people, and we wanted to make sure that the content we were creating spoke to them personally. Our methods included:

  • Working with the Communication department, consultants and HR professionals across the organization
  • Conducting employee focus groups to learn the most effective ways to get the right message to the right people
  • Asking “employee ambassadors” selected from focus groups to review communications and provide feedback

Employee Feedback

What we learned from this effort was invaluable in helping us decide what we needed to do. We were advised to:

  • Simplify the language with action-oriented statements
  • Eliminate “fluff” in the language and get to the point quickly
  • Be direct regarding the action we are requesting
  • Use icons, graphics and pictures to illustrate and simplify the message
  • Communicate often

Communications Plan

As a result of our findings, the team learned that we had to get creative in our communications by combining striking visuals with content made to stick. We came up with the idea of “Get on the Path” as our message and created a five-step map with a path outlining the steps employees needed to take to get on the path to Annual Enrollment, good health care plan decisions and wellness.

In addition, the team developed a package of messages that showed employees that we were trying to take care of them in many ways. At the same time, we did not want to try to mask that we were doing this for Stryker as well. We wanted to get across that a gain for Stryker is a gain for the employee.

Our efforts paid off. Last year, we passed on a 0% increase in health plan contributions, and we were able to sustain the cost because employees responded to the communications by doing what we asked them to do: use in-network providers, decreased use of Emergency Rooms for minor illness, chose lower cost medications, etc. As a result we were able to reward them by not increasing the amount deducted from their paychecks.

Ongoing Communications

One of the biggest lessons we learned is that the marketing campaign for wellness has to keep going. As a result, it cannot remain static; it has to be dynamic. If you want to engage and keep the attention of your employees, you can’t keep going out with the same messages. You have to constantly develop new creative strategies for getting the word out about whatever features and benefits you want to advertise. Since starting the campaign, our messaging focus has evolved to managing costs. A phrase we use now is “Get active to manage costs.”

If you take the time to understand your population, communication preferences and what language would grab their attention, you will build a firm foundation from which to build future communications strategies. We do not have all the answers, and we are continuing to work hard to learn and improve our process.

Benefits of Enhancing Employee Communications:

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