Offering health-related programs that align with corporate strategies and employee goals is smart, but those programs should be considered the icing. The cake – the foundation for behavior change and real progress – is creative, persuasive communication that gets people to notice the programs in the first place.
But rather than receive spotlight treatment, communication is often an afterthought. A better strategy is to embrace a basic tenet of communication: No information can be absorbed, learned, used, or shared without a connection between two sides – a sender and a receiver. Organizations typically spend time thinking about the sender (their own wellness strategies) and about the receiver (what employees need to hear).
But they generally don’t consider ways to maximize links between the two – how, when, and where to deliver targeted messages that resonate with each employee.
After tapping into current research and recent discussions with clients and medical experts, we’ve identified eight “timeless truths” of communication that makes wellness programs much more engaging and valuable.
It’s important to rely on these building blocks – ageless communication concepts that are mistakenly ignored, but undeniably critical:
1. A flawed plan well communicated is better than a perfect plan poorly communicated.
Many organizations build wellness programs that include well-crafted options and best-practice strategies. The plans look excellent on paper. So why are engagement and enrollment top concerns of wellness program directors? Why are so many people sedentary? Why don’t we walk a little more? Why don’t we do the simple things – like eat smaller portions?
Why did Dr. Dana E. King, a professor in the department of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, recently analyze Americans’ overall health in the past two decades and issue a C-minus grade? (That’s an expensive C-minus.)
We won’t begin to improve until we start thinking about communication at the same time we devise program details and options.
Having a mighty, feature-rich, seemingly amazing wellness plan or benefits package is useless if employees aren’t aware of the value. A great plan poorly communicated is like a fantastic sound system that lacks an “on” button. What good is it, really?
Don’t let workplace messages about healthcare, wellness, and benefits fall on deaf ears. Communication shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should join the first thoughts.
2. If you think “plain language” is “dumbing down,” you flatter yourself.
Businesses that want to sound “official” usually end up sounding egotistical or confusing. Their messages are filled with corporate-speak, jargon, and gobbledygook. The intent of their messages is lost in the delivery.
Clarity is the main ingredient of effective communication. If your messages aren’t obvious, they can’t be understood. In fact, they might not even be read or heard. This is especially true when a topic is viewed by employees as important but intricate (choosing a healthcare plan, understanding a health savings account, improving overall wellness, etc.).
As a workplace communicator, you have the task of reaching a large variety of workers, including people who struggle to read, and those who can read but either don’t take the time or simply tune out health information. “We can’t keep focusing on our information instead of our readers,” says Audrey Riffenburgh, founder and president of consultancy Plain Language Works, LLC.
Clear communication is about focusing on what your readers need to know and then delivering that by making sure messages are relevant and understandable. Putting that communication in “plain language” doesn’t mean you’re “dumbing down” messages. It simply means you understand the importance of having employees receive them.
3. Creativity is a precursor to engagement.
People are motivated in different ways – some are won over with logic and reason, some are influenced by forces of emotion, and some need a healthy mix of both. One problem with conventional health communication is that it appeals to the head but not the heart. It targets the cranium when employees crave something else. It embodies science – statistics, studies, etc. – but lacks sentiment.
Plenty of organizations have stats on the benefits of breathing exercises. Few organizations try to take their employees’ breath away.
Yet somewhere in your community, local chefs would love the opportunity to discuss healthy cooking with your employees. Amateur musicians and artists would apply their creativity to your health promotion goals. Organic farmers, pet lovers, niche writers, home gardeners, and videographers would appreciate an invitation, and they’re right in your community. Invite these folks in, and they could inspire – not just inform – your audience.
4. Less is more. Think “telegraph message.”
The average attention span of Americans today is roughly the time it has taken you to read this sentence. “You only have a minute to gain their attention” is an incorrect maxim. You have about 2.7 seconds.
And then you have to keep their interest so they can act upon your communication? That’s not easy, to say the least. You’re trying to reach employees at the same time they’re updating some files while instant messaging with co-workers while straightening up their desks while listening to a conference call.
Do they have a minute? Actually, no.
So how can you get employees to view – let alone read – your workplace communication?
Many employees turn a deaf ear to anything involving topics they don’t understand fully. So when they see an email about important changes to the company’s healthcare plan, for example, their tendency is to delay reading it until they absolutely must. (Example of a teaser that would get attention: “Are your Rx prices changing next month?”)
More companies and communities are realizing the antidote is a one-two combination – brevity and clarity. Think teasers. Think billboard. Make your messages easy and scannable. Cut your articles to 100 words. Get your videos down to one minute, max. Stick to one concept.
5. People understand real risk, not relative risk.
Flip a coin. Call it. Heads or tails? You’ve got a 50% chance of being wrong (or right). And that’s about the extent of what most of us understand about risk (chance). People don’t understand risk factors. For more details, please visit these sites:- www.bunnydirectories.com
In fact, there are so many problems with “risk factors” as a basis for wellness programs, it’s hard to know where to begin. One of the biggest problems is that we communicate in terms of relative risk (% of what?) rather than real risk (4 out of 1,000 people).
A few years ago, a newspaper ran an advertisement that said, “reduces risk of heart attack by 36%.” In smaller print below, we learned that 3% of patients in a study taking a placebo (sugar pill) had a heart attack compared with 2% of patients taking.
A better way of saying this: Out of 100 people, 97 who do not take will not have a heart attack. And out of 100 people, 98 people who take will not have a heart attack.
Even many doctors don’t think past relative risks statements. If someone tells you that you have a 40% less (or more) risk of something, ask them, “Compared to what?” If they can’t answer, then there is no basis for a decision on a change in behavior or medication.
Although we’ve used an example of a prescription drug, any discussion of risk presents the same communication challenge. It’s best to avoid the subject unless it’s communicated in real terms.
We do believe real risk factors can play a meaningful role in the dialogue we have with people. But risk factors should not be the foundation of a wellness program. Instead, let’s focus on the things in people’s lives that create happiness, fulfillment, and connection to other people to create change – for example, family, renewal, personal growth and hope, instead of an abstract concept of relative risk factors. After all, we’re only allowed a short time to get our messages across. Do we really want to burn up that time on a highly complex and problematic health concept?
6. Headlines and other “scannable” elements are critical.
Employees are literally surrounded by communication. On their desks, memos and faxes await response. On their computers, unread email messages mount, and instant messages ding. Corkboards have sticky notes, cell phones have missed calls, and… what? You have an important health or benefits message to send?
Realistically, how can you get their eyes to see (and their neurons to fire) when their heads are spinning? It’s hard to get your communication strategy in line when your messages are in line – single file, waiting their turn, behind a bombardment of others.
A single-mode experience – listen to the radio, or watch TV, or bowl – has been replaced with diversions in the form of a deluge. We process information and experiences multi-modally. We can blog, text, chat, watch a video, and bowl all at the same time. So, in a world where attentions wander, many important workplace messages are “lost” on employees because they simply can’t be found. They’re missing in brick walls of text.