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Benefits Leaders on Employee Communication in the Time of COVID-19

COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we live and work. For business, HR and benefits leaders, the months to come are going to be a huge challenge. Figuring out how to support employees during COVID-19 is not something many companies had planned for.

In this post, we’ll summarize some highlights and tips on how to navigate COVID-19 from our recent Business Resilience webcasts that featured HR and benefit leaders, including Misty Guinn, director of benefits & wellness at Benefitfocus, and Benefitfocus customer Katie Gausepohl, benefits manager at NetJets. To watch any of our webcasts on demand, click here.

The Role of HR and Benefit Leaders During COVID-19

In the Top Considerations for HR & Benefit Leaders webcast, Misty outlined the four primary duties of HR and benefit leaders during COVID-19:

  1. Research. These are unprecedented times, and knowing how to act isn’t always obvious. Seek information from trusted sources like the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO) and benefits industry leaders.
  2. Communicate. Your employees need accurate, timely information on best practices for completing their normal duties, how to access benefits, and other COVID-19 related information. Make sure you’re updating employees on your relevant benefit offerings so they can take advantage of them. Other important topics to update your employees on include:
    1. Virtual screening availability
    2. ‘Drive-through’ testing centers
    3. Special offers from telehealth providers
    4. Pharmacy offers (there are plenty of these available right now)
  3. Educate. There’s a lot of new information available about how people can keep themselves and their families safe. One of the top responsibilities of HR and benefit leaders right now is to identify valuable resources and share them with employees. Providing regular communication to help employees identify the benefits and perks available to them can make a huge difference. At the same time, consider whether any of your services can be extended to cover parents, in-laws, or other family members. Many of your employees may be providing additional support beyond their immediate families at the moment, and will appreciate any help you can provide.
  4. Answer the call to action. The CDC has asked employers to do everything possible to slow the spread of COVID-19. Educate and communicate with your employees to help them protect themselves and their families, and also help to slow the spread.

Communication Best Practices

Both Misty and Katie shared some tips to keep in mind as you communicate with your workforce.

  1. Develop a regular cadence and format. Keep it current, and don’t be too repetitive or people will tune your message out. Weekly updates seem to be working well for many employers.
  2. Think holistically about the whole person. The pandemic is affecting all areas of your employees’ well-being, from financial to physical to mental. Your workforce will benefit from advice about a range of topics, including what financial support is available, how employees can access telehealth services, and any other employee assistance options you provide (e.g., mental health support). Also, try to consider your employees’ geographic locations, demographics, ages, and any occupational requirements, as the pandemic is affecting each person differently.
  3. Use a variety of channels. Ideally, you should use a combination of communication channels to ensure your entire workforce has easy access to the information needed to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Try to use communication channels you know your workforce will engage with, and be sensitive to any concerns your employees might have.
  4. Make communications digestible. Don’t send out too many communications because employees will stop paying attention. Ideally, save your communications for critical updates, and use an intranet (or similar) for routine information.

Support Resilience

Resilience — the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties — is what will get companies and their employees through COVID-19. As a benefits leader, it’s your job to support the resilience of the company in any way you can.

Katie provided a number of suggestions for how to do just that:

  • Be flexible. Your employees may have additional childcare and family/community support duties right now. Allowing them a degree of flexibility in their work will go a long way.
  • Team lunches can help to keep teams engaged. These will have to be virtual lunches, of course!
  • Fun activities. Katie suggested a ‘work from home BINGO’, but really any fun activities can help to release some of the tension people are feeling at the moment.
  • Support local businesses and essential workers. Not everybody can work from home, some people do have to show up at work every day. Could you arrange a deal with local businesses to provide lunches or treats for your essential workers? This has the added bonus of supporting local businesses, which may be suffering at the moment.

Finally, if your business has problems that need to be solved, Katie suggested involving your employees. Not only does this help to provide them with a sense of purpose, it can also provide your company with solutions that might otherwise never have been considered.

You can watch Katie's full presentation here

Business Resilience During COVID-19

The webcast summarized in this post is just one of 18+ webcasts available on demand via the Benefitfocus Community Resource Center.

About the Author

Catie Grigsby is a senior content marketing manager at Benefitfocus, where she develops resources to help employers, health plans and consumers better understand how health and benefit trends are impacting their world. From webinars and whitepapers to blog posts and case studies, Catie focuses on curating and creating insightful content for audiences to reference as they navigate the complex world of health care and benefits. Catie holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Clemson University, as well as a Group Benefits Associate (GBA) certification from the Wharton School of Business.

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