Comms preparedness will maneuver employees through healthcare reform

Despite uncertainty about the fate of affordable care, the time is now for companies to prepare for health reform.

Despite uncertainty about the fate of affordable care, the time is now for companies to prepare for health reform. Decisions made regarding health insurance, and how they are communicated, can have a significant impact on current and future employees.

Communications can be key in helping senior management weigh the implications of decisions on internal audiences and broader corporate reputation.

The first step is to fully understand your culture - why employees are attracted to your company and why they stay. If health insurance is a major factor for your recruitment and retention, drilling down to understand the nuances can also provide insight.

For example, an assessment of the benefits most often used by employees, as well as those offered by competitors, can help inform additional incentives worth considering for the future. You could learn that quality-of-life benefits, such as child-care services, are equally or more important than how staffers receive insurance.

When developing a plan, there are many factors to consider:

Give it time. If major changes are planned, prepare to pulse out information over time. Start by explaining health reform to staff and what it means for them. This allows employees to absorb the information and ask questions.

Cast a wide net. Messaging from the top is important, but the middle manager is often the one employees look to for answers. Understand who your local influencers are and recruit them to be part of the rollout team.

Talk to them, not at them. While providing practical information is important, also seek high-touch opportunities for dialogue. Leverage existing social media platforms and create moments for personal interaction. This will ensure that the message and the sentiment behind it are equally conveyed.

Remain flexible. In today's world, employees are part of a wider-connected public. What is communicated internally will become public quickly. Have traditional and social media monitoring protocols in place and be prepared to respond across platforms. Monitor how similar companies are addressing reform provisions and be prepared to consider changes in employee offerings and strategic approach.

Taking the time now to understand the implications of health reform on your company and culture will ensure that when the time comes, the message conveyed is clear and compelling. 

Susan Thiele is an SVP and director of the New York health practice at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

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