Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid discovers the dark art of comms

Confessions

As I’m getting ready to send reminders out on our voluntary benefits platform, Big Bad Boss insists that I get the new vice president of communications involved. This seems a bit overkill, I mean it’s not even a new programme. Still, I’m not going to turn my nose up at assistance when it is offered; it is a rare thing around here.

I have to say Connie Comms is as sharp as a pin. She quickly grasps the detail of the programme and what we are trying to get across. She makes some good suggestions on content and helps me put together a communications plan. She suggests I get Big Bad Boss to do a video post and proposes that I work with one of her team to develop some nice graphics in the presentation. I’ve never known one of our Higher Beings on the top floor be so helpful, but she’s new, she’ll blend in with the vulture culture soon enough.

Big Bad Boss is not exactly delighted about the video idea. For an awful moment, I think he might make me do it, but when I tell him that his voice will lend an extra gravitas, he says he’ll do a voiceover if I do the slides and a script. It is a deal. Still, all this is turning out to be a bigger task than I had signed up to.

Irritating and weird

While Connie was a mine of useful information, Karen, her communications specialist is not. She takes my carefully worded presentation complete with Connie’s eloquent edits and rewrites it completely. Employees, she tells me patronisingly, have an average reading age of about 10 years old, so we have to make it really simple. No kidding, I’d say the reading age was lower still if you include the Higher Beings. She also puts every other sentence in bold to make the key points stand out. As they are not the key points at all, this is just irritating and weird. I test Karen’s version for readability on my colleague Lazy Susan. Susan says she doesn’t really know anything about voluntary benefits so she doesn’t understand it. Well, she should know about voluntary benefits because she works in the benefits department, but either way, she ought to be able to understand a notice rewritten by a communication specialist. Sigh.

Once we’ve argued (considerably) over the words in the presentation, I leave Karen to go away and create additional graphics. Connie told me that Karen could do magic with a presentation and make it really fizz. I have to chase Karen three times because she is totally ‘wrapped up’ with the CEO on his quarterly update. Well, get you for being so important.

Load of hot air

Karen’s presentation finally arrives and well, it is a piece of shoddiness. Slide one has a picture of hot-air balloons. Yes, hot-air balloons. What have balloons got to do with voluntary benefits, I ask you? If anything, it only underlines the fact that our voluntary benefits, not being subsidised in any way, are hardly benefits at all, simply the opportunity to spend money with our carefully selected suppliers. What a load of hot air! The slide about dental benefits does have someone smiling, but it is one of those cheesy corporate photographs of an unnaturally attractive actor in a suit who is pretending to be very happy at work.

The key thing we’ve added to our voluntary benefits offering is access, self-funded naturally, to financial counselling. The Higher Beings thought that would be a good idea to offer as everyone had to take a pay cut last year and staff are fed up about it. Thing is: if someone is having financial difficulties they are hardly in a position to pay for help, certainly not at the rates our provider is offering.

Karen’s fizzing graphics use a stock photograph of an actor in a headset smiling. I’m not sure any of this is going to improve the take-up, nor it going to fool our employees, even those with a mental age of 10, into thinking that the company cares about them.

The next step on the comms plan is the video. Karen tells me we use some autocue software, and there is another app for recording the script along with the presentation. She sends me links and instructions and says I’ll want to familiarise myself with it, in case Big Bad Boss needs support. So, isn’t she going to help with this? Oh no, she is booked back-to-back now supporting the head of marketing with a new campaign. Thanks.

Long and boring

Luckily, Big Bad Boss reads the instructions himself and gets on with it without bothering me, but then he sends it back to me to post on our internal messaging workplace. I ping it straight over to Karen who sends it back with instructions on how to use the messaging platform. As it happens, I know how to use the messaging platform, but I don’t like doing it, especially to all employees, as it is a grand opportunity to look like a complete idiot if I get anything wrong. Besides, I’ve not embedded a video before and I want it to look nice.

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The communications team post to all staff every day, so I don’t see why our stuff is any different. After many exchanges, I convince Karen to do it. Friday afternoon and the post finally goes out. Wrong. The introduction is too long and boring and the link to the video is lost in the blurb. No one will look at it. Friday afternoon has to be the worst time to post anything to get any visits even if it was a decent post, which it is not. I think I’m going to be my own communications specialist from now on.

Next time… Candid responds to the employee engagement survey.