Category Archives: Employee Communication

Why do I work here?

Employees need help answering this important question.

“Why am I here?” might be a bit existential for our Ideas page. However, “Why do I work here?” is a critical question for everyone engaged in employee communication.

It’s also a question a lot of employees are asking these days:

  • Employee turnover is at an all-time high.
  • Millions of Baby Boomers have left the workforce.
  • The job market remains extremely tight.
  • Media are reporting resistance to back-to-office initiatives. 
  • Social media highlight and distort employee dissatisfaction. 

In tumultuous times like these, questioning one’s job/career choices makes sense. Even in the best of times, it’s healthy for employees to periodically review their career track and job satisfaction. 

“Why do I work here?” is a question that can lead to an employee’s sense of purpose, commitment and growth. Research has shown that a sense of purpose can be linked to traits found in the best employees—resilience, initiative and engagement. It’s also a question employees often can’t answer without input from their leaders.  

Note: Higher rates of engagement and purpose are usually found in upper-level executives, who have a bird’s eye view into the organization’s purpose and progress. Sharing that view and connecting the employee’s role to it on an ongoing basis is critical. 

Without understanding this connection between their role and the organization’s purpose and progress, it’s nearly impossible for an employee to answer the question “Why do I work here?” satisfactorily.    

That’s why every employee needs to hear clearly and frequently about:

  •  The organization’s defined and declared purpose.
  • What progress is being made toward the organization’s purpose.
  • How their role helps achieve the organization’s purpose.

Without good, ongoing information tying the first two bullets to the third, the employee is left to surmise the value of their role based on various implications and speculations. 

With such under-informed calculations, it’s often too easy for the employee to view a job change as greener pastures. An employee who understands their role within the organization’s purpose, and the organization’s purpose within the world, is better equipped to realistically evaluate alternative situations, such as a job change or even retirement.

They’re also better equipped to create their own unique and personal sense of purpose and happiness within their current organization.  

Smith is here to help with your employee communications. It’s what we do.  

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Feelings

Hold on, I’m going to get all emotional on you …

A few years ago, a client asked me to help them promote workplace safety to employees. During site visits to two of their production facilities, I quickly realized that they were already doing plenty of communication about safety. Upon driving up to one of the facilities, I was greeted by a 20-ft billboard bearing a brief, charmingly scripted safety message. 

Safety messages were everywhere. One facility even conducted daily safety briefings. What in the world could possibly be left to say? 

Face-to-Face Discovery Matters

After speaking with managers, supervisors and employees, I realized that these people cared very deeply about safety and about keeping others safe. One manager even choked up while relaying to me a story from earlier in his career about a co-worker who was badly injured on the job. I think I saw his eyes tear up. 

On the plane ride home, while I pored over my notes, that story kept popping up in my mind along with the image of this otherwise burly man getting weepy on me. That’s when I realized what was missing from this company’s communication about safety: emotion.

We’re People, Not Computers

The workplace is the domain of logic and data. You have to back up what you say with proof and facts. You have to be in control of yourself. You have to be poised. You can’t let your true feelings poke through. But we are human; humans have feelings, and feelings are a way we communicate with each other. They are a cunning way our inner selves let the truth slip through our well-crafted facades. 

The reason the manager’s story was so memorable was not because it was a particularly unique story, but because of the way it made him feel. I could see he was passionate about safety, and I needed to let employees see that passion.

During that trip, I just so happened to pick up a book called Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in the Brain. Chapter 17 was “Impact Booster #4: Emotion.” 

Back in my office, I flipped through another of my other favorite tomes: Made to Stick. Chapter 5: “Emotional.” 

Then, I watched a brief video clip of a speech delivered by another client’s new president and CEO. He stood before his company’s sales force and, while extolling the company’s competitive advantages, he paused. He seemed to get choked up. Then he said, “I am proud of you.” If it weren’t so sincerely stated, it could have been an eye-rolling moment. I’m not a salesman, but his passion made me want to jump up and sell something!

Emotion Is Part of the Message

Emotions help us form memories. They are like a bookmark in the mind for a passage of time that has particular meaning for us. The authors of Neuromarketing say that emotions communicate directly to the decision-making center of the brain. 

An emotion drives you to act, and you can’t argue or debate with emotion. It’s immediate and real. Just think of our reliance on emoticons in text messages. We already know that our audience needs the additional context of our emotions to really understand what we’re saying. 

Communication in the workplace is no different. Employees are like any other audience; an emotional appeal will help get their attention. It also will help your message squeeze through their cynicism and doubt. And later, when they’re driving home or having lunch, they’ll remember the passion and the sincerity (sincerity being key). It will stir their own feelings, and their feelings will influence their behaviors.

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Summary Plan Descriptions

Why I Love SPDs.

I love SPDs. This is a feeling not universally shared by those clients and colleagues who are tasked with developing and maintaining them (or even most of us who receive them).

When I first began working on SPDs, I didn’t fully appreciate them. I often described them in terms that weren’t always (let’s just say) the most flattering. However, more exposure to these documents has helped me value their finer points.

Benefits make a difference. Benefits are a critical part of employees’ total rewards from their employer. A thoughtfully developed benefits program provides a safety net for employees and their families. How employees participate in these programs can affect their overall financial picture, now and far into the future.

I create multiple communication/education programs associated with employee benefits, ranging from recruiting to new hire to annual enrollment materials and beyond. SPDs assume a unique position in this communication universe. In many ways, they are the backbone of any benefits program.

SPDs are legally mandated under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA specifies information, timing and distribution requirements to make sure participants are informed about how their benefits work and legal protections provided to them. [ERISA background]

SPDs provide employees important legal and regulatory details, such as rights and protections provided under ERISA. These include where to go for help; who is responsible for running the plan and what their duties entail; what benefits are insured, e.g., defined benefit plans under the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; what rights are in place if a claim is denied; and required notices, such as the Women’s Cancer Rights Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

SPDs are a comprehensive user’s manual and reliable reference tool. The SPD provides information about eligibility, enrollment, timing requirements, benefits provided, where to go for more information and much more. Rules can be complicated and have big financial implications.  [Requirements for a 401k SPD]

Participants are encouraged to read the documents carefully and keep them in a convenient place for future reference. Now SPDs are commonly posted electronically for easy access at any time.

Keeping an SPD up-to-date is the realm of a team of benefit professionals—HR staff, technical benefit consultants, specialized attorneys, and communicators. Legal contracts, insurance policies and documents that spell out how a benefit plan works must be translated into understandable language for the average person. [SPD Development Strategy]

Such an important document deserves our respect. We should all view the SPD as a valuable resource that helps employees find information, use their benefits effectively and appreciate their employer’s investment in their well-being.

For those  reasons, I love SPDs!

Pat Dodd is a senior consultant  at Smith Communication Partners. 

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Why You Should Audit Your Communication (And How To Do It)

When clients ask us to design a communication strategy, we often start with an audit of their current materials. Why? Because as Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” A communication audit is simply an objective analysis of your current state that can point you toward an improved future state.

A communication audit starts with an inventory and then a big sort. This is like Marie Kondo pulling all your clothes out of your closet and drawers and dumping them on the guest room bed.

  1.  Ask your team and vendors to send you electronic copies of all your HR and benefits communications. This should include emails, web pages, PDFs, videos, etc.
  2. Now, sort the communication samples in a way that makes sense for you. For instance, if you have a Total Rewards philosophy with five categories, you might sort the samples into Benefits, Community, Career, Wellbeing and Compensation.
  3. Sort those categories into campaigns. These might be Annual Enrollment, Incentive Statements, New Hire Orientation, etc.

There will be differences in how your team refers to documents, which can create confusion. For that reason, you’ll want to export an image of each document. It’s easier to know that “postcard #1” is the same item as “AE announcement postcard” when you have a picture of it in your audit report. At this point, you should know each communication element of each campaign. Piece by piece, you’ll run through an objective scoring system that rates:

  1. Accessibility / Delivery
  2. Visual Appeal
  3. Readability
  4. Clarity
  5. Completeness

Here is a sample of our scoring system, using a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating. You should rate the communications against industry best practices, and – if you have it – your internal brand guidelines. If you don’t feel informed enough to make these judgements, it may be useful to call in professional help at this point.

You can measure readability using these formulas. Just insert a sample of text, and the tool will give you a grade level report. Generally, 7th or 8th grade is a target reading level that works for lower-level readers as well as for higher-level readers who may just skim content.

Now, you’ll complete a more subjective analysis of each document. There is no reason to make this overly complicated: a simple pros/cons list will do the trick, along with your recommendations for improvement.

For instance, a “pro” might be “The sick leave policy is written and is up-to-date.” A con might be “Reading level is grade 14.” The pros/cons list allows you to flesh out the rating system with the observations that drove the ratings.

Once your ratings are complete, open up Excel. For each of the five categories, determine your average rating. If visual appeal averages out to 1.96, you know you have work to do in this area. We like to provide a summation for each category that speaks to “where you are,” “where you want to be,” and “actionable steps to get you there.”

At the end of your audit process, you should have a comprehensive inventory of your communications. You should also know:

  1. If each communication element is useful and continues to be required.
  2. How effectively each deliverable presented its key messages and your overall messaging.
  3. Specifically, how each deliverable might be improved.

Our clients will generally proceed to the next steps of incorporating the audit results into a total communication strategy. That strategy will move from the deliverable level to a bigger picture view, considering what communication channels may best serve the client’s audiences, and how individual campaigns should be improved as a whole.

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