Category Archives: Employee Communication

So, What's Work Like Now?

Impactful communication hinges on knowing what your employees really need.

I once asked a graphic designer how to draw people. 

She suggested I work on my personality.

This little joke highlights the false beliefs of two characters. What I wanted help with was quite different than what the designer thought I needed help with. 

This same kind of disconnect can happen when you’re writing content and communications for your employees. You make assumptions about what you think the audience needs, and you create the content based on those assumptions. But, if your organization had to shift suddenly this year in response to the pandemic and lockdowns, your previous assumptions about your employees might need a reboot.

To create good content and communications, you should try to see the world as the audience sees it. It can help to know their goals, their feelings and what they’re experiencing at that moment. Psychologists refer to this as having a theory of mind.

To create good content and communications, you should try to see the world as the audience sees it. It can help to know their goals, their feelings and what they’re experiencing at that moment.

Journey mapping is one technique for getting inside your audience’s head and understanding their needs based on what work is like for them now.

Understand Your Audience’s Journey

We aren’t born knowing others have desires, beliefs and knowledge different from our own. We learn this as children and it deteriorates with age. When it comes to writing content and communications, we have the additional challenge of forming a theory of mind for many different people who might be arriving at a similar point in a journey from different paths and with different objectives.

A journey map is a visualization of the process that an employee goes through to accomplish a goal. It’s used for understanding and addressing the employee’s needs and pain points.

A journey map might start as a simple checklist. But, depending on the process, a list might not be enough. You might need to augment your list with additional detail, including any people, tools or other information the employee might need or come in contact with along their way to achieving their goal.  

The resulting map should be thought of as a living document, a snapshot you review occasionally to hunt down pain points and make improvements. Having a journey mapped can also help you assess the impact of proposed process changes. 

Here’s a journey map we created at Smith to help us manage one of our larger partnerships. (We can’t share the name of this client on our website, so we’ve scrubbed out some of the detail.) This map started out as a simple to-do list 10 years ago. But, as the number of projects, processes and people involved grew, we needed a 30,000-foot view so we could delegate tasks, develop training and find efficiencies. A map like this might help you improve a variety of processes, such as performance management, annual enrollment, onboarding and more.

Let’s Connect

Do you use journey maps? Share your story with us. If you’d like some help creating employee content and communications, we’d love to hear from you.

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When the Tide Recedes

COVID-19 exposes employees’ finances

Caught swimming naked

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the vast majority of Americans are feeling intense financial strain. According to a new survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education, 88% of Americans say the COVID-19 crisis is causing stress on their personal finances. Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found 38% of employees live paycheck to paycheck. Assuming this unfortunate reality is limited to low-income households would be wrong. While those families are certainly acutely struggling with food, housing and unemployment, the strain is felt across all income brackets. Of those making more than $100,000 annually, nearly 1 in 5 are living paycheck to paycheck. 

Banks are receiving mortgage relief requests from those with monthly payments of $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and upwards. The CARES Act allows individuals to take early withdrawals of up to $100,000 from retirement plans without paying the 10% penalty. Clearly, a wide swath of us are urgently looking for ways to make ends meet. We’re reinforcing Warren Buffett’s sage observation: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” It turns out, a lot of us are swimming naked.

At some point, we’re going to be able to go back to work, to school and to some semblance of our old lives. The economy will come back and record high unemployment will recede. However, some things should not return to normal. Let’s seize on this moment to have a collective financial wake-up call and fundamental conversation about the state of our finances. Because let’s face it — another coronavirus, financial crisis or natural disaster will come. 

How can employers help?

Start thinking about how your organization can embrace and promote financial literacy. What have you done so far and what’s on your calendar for the rest of the year? Clearly your messaging may need to be adjusted to reflect the new COVID-19 reality. Does your workforce have any particular pain points? College debt, credit card debt, emergency savings? Did your organization furlough employees or take other measures that caused additional financial strain?

Next, get your arms around the information that’s available:

Then, curate the content for your employees in a way that makes the most sense for your organization. Emails and print pieces can be great for spreading the word and building momentum, but you’ll want to house your information online for easy access. Consider either a place on your intranet, or an easy-to-implement, dedicated microsite.

Meet your employees where they are and keep your categories focused and simple:

  1. Live on a budget
  2. Pay off debt
  3. Have an emergency fund
  4. Save for retirement

It doesn’t need to be complicated, but make sure it’s not preachy. It needs to be real and relevant. Your employees will thank you for providing common sense information and resources to help them take their next— best—financial step. And, hopefully, we’ll all have our swimsuits firmly in place for the next time the tide rushes in.  

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Are your employees ready for the new normal at work?

A survey of employees’ covid-19 concerns could help you plan a smoother transition.

Political and business leaders are starting to talk about reopening the country for business. But, after months of being told to stay home and keep our distance from each other, how comfortable will we be re-entering the workplace? Will resuming more normal business operations be as simple as unlocking the doors and flipping a switch?

What concerns will your workforce have? Will they be eager to come back to work or reluctant? Should temporary changes to your work-from-home policies be made permanent? What previously overlooked benefits helped employees cope? 

A survey of your workforce could give you actual data to use in your decision making, leading to more effective outcomes and greater performance. 

“Surveys really have a dual benefit for organizations,” said Aaron Van Groningen, senior organizational development and training consultant at Hicks-Carter-Hicks, LLC, a boutique firm that specializes in using surveys and assessments to help organizations enhance performance. “First, direct feedback from employees allows decisions to be made using data rather than guesses and hunches. Second, surveys communicate to employees that their opinions are valuable and important to the organization, which is positively associated with organizational commitment.”

Should You Conduct a Survey?

By replacing guesswork with data, surveys can help organizations use their time, energy and money more efficiently. And who doesn’t want that right now? 

However, if your organization is not likely to heed the results of a survey, don’t do it. Asking your employees for their input and then appearing to ignore or disregard it could have a serious impact on their trust in the organization and their engagement.

What Should You Ask?

When crafting questions, consider how your organization responded to the pandemic and how your workers and workplaces were affected. Avoid infringing on employees’ privacy; steer clear of specific questions regarding personal health or circumstances. Also avoid asking employees to make comments they think will jeopardize their jobs, careers or income.

For some ideas, check out our brief “Return to Work” survey sample. Feel free to complete the survey or just peruse the questions.

If an employee survey is already part of your post-covid-19 return-to-work strategy, or if you’re looking for help designing and/or administering a survey, we’d love to hear from you.

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Beyond Banana Bread

Bundling useful Covid-19 information for your organization

The pandemic has turned almost everyone into a “how to cope” content expert. Twitter vacillates between “learn all the things” and “watch all the Netflix.” But the approach that’s right for your audiences is something your organization knows best. 

While HR and benefits teams are naturally focused on employee audiences, one of our clients has prioritized making sure its retiree group isn’t forgotten. The COVID-19 microsite Smith has created for them could serve as a model for reaching your most vital audiences. 

The advantage of the microsite approach is three-fold:

  1. It’s both content-rich and very focused.
  2. Microsites are quick to implement.
  3. They can change and grow as needed.

Microsites: Focused and Content-rich

A microsite is a small website functioning within an existing website, or as an complementary auxiliary of a website. Microsites usually have their own domain name, or a domain sub-name. 

Microsites should, by definition, be compact. Limiting layers of architecture more readily delivers focused information, messages and links to users. When a microsite contains a lot of information, it’s especially important that it be well-organized and use smart graphics that help users interact with the dense content structure. 

Because our client’s Covid-19 microsite functions as a portal, consolidating the best content and linking out to it, we decided to organize that content into four discrete pages. Similar sites might include sections like COVID-19, Healthy at Home, Mind Your Money, and Complete a Challenge. We also added a contacts page and will bring an FAQ online when more user data is available. 

We used a flat website hierarchy, with no sub-pages. Limiting the microsite to four pages keeps all of the site’s organization in front of users at all times. No need for them to go searching for a topic, or following breadcrumbs back to the home page. A simple navigation menu across the top of each page is the only map needed. 

Following are examples of the type of information you might provide on a similar microsite. 


Information about the Covid-19 pandemic at both official and personal levels, including: 

  • Links to official sites like CDC, WHO and state health departments 
  • Prevention tips and videos on best health practices 
  • What to do if you feel sick 
  • Preparing for isolation of a sick person in your home
  • Grocery, delivery service, and meal kit recommendations

Healthy at Home

Stay-at-home restrictions have reordered normal lifestyles and routines. This section offers advice and resources for staying physically, mentally and emotionally healthy for the duration of these restrictions.

  • Safely connecting with neighbors
  • Maintaining personal connections via social media
  • Keeping your brain active
  • Decluttering and organizing your home
  • Online learning opportunities
  • Podcasts, Broadway shows and other free entertainment
  • Workout apps and other fitness media
  • Gardening 
  • Cooking and baking from your pantry

Mind Your Money

The Covid-19 crisis is really two crises; the first is health-related and the second is a financial crisis. Consider including tips on:

  • Navigating market volatility 
  • Budgeting and paying down debt
  • Borrowing smart
  • Estate planning and sharing information with adult children
  • Managing beneficiaries within retirement accounts
  • Using automated banking tools
  • Being wary of scammers

Complete a Challenge

This page reinforces the site’s content by reframing information as discrete challenges. This way, instead of simply reading a recommendation, users are given an easy way to take action on the recommendations. 

For instance, the section on “using automated banking tools” becomes the simple challenge “watch this video on how to deposit a paper check electronically.”

P.S. If you want a good banana bread recipe, try this one from Kitchn. We recommend adding both mini chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. 

P.P.S. If Smith can help with communicating your COVID-19 response, please reach out to me, using the link below.

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