Need to know:
- Employees are struggling with communication overload; employers can reduce overwhelming them by breaking information down into bite-sized pieces.
- Employers have many options available to them for communicating benefits to a remote workforce, including newsletters, infographics and quizzes.
- Kindness, compassion and trust trump traditional formal benefits in these uncertain times.
Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire hit the headlines recently after it emerged that demand had soared for its virtual rent-a-goat cameo sessions.
The service, which allows people to book the animals onto their video call for five minutes, was developed as a light-hearted way to help combat ‘Zoom fatigue’ – the worry and burnout associated with the overuse of virtual meetings sparked by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
Sign up to our newsletters
Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox
More than a third (38%) of 1,000 office workers surveyed by global staffing firm Robert Half in November 2020 had experienced Zoom lethargy, while 26% said the practicality and novelty of videoconferencing had worn off over the previous eight months.
Almost a quarter (24%) confirmed they found virtual meetings inefficient and exhausting, preferring to communicate via other channels, like email or phone.
Arguably, the need for employers to communicate benefits efficiently has never been more pressing.
So, what’s the solution at a time when most conversations take place via video calls?
Nick McClelland, a partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits, admits the biggest challenge for employers currently is the sheer volume of communications employees are receiving in both their corporate and private lives. “Cutting through this noise is incredibly difficult and traditional techniques like email are no longer effective,” he explains.
McClelland points out that staff awareness of the ‘benefits of the benefits’ is often low, yet those such as the employee assistance programme (EAP) or a virtual GP service can be of significant help during this time.
“Some of the available options to employees can be buried down in the detail of an insurer’s pdf, or in a remote section of the intranet or benefits portal, and surfacing this information for employees is critical,” he adds.
Catrin Lewis, head of global engagement and internal communications at Reward Gateway agrees. “If an employer can explain why the benefit is in place, how it will support them during the current environment and then make it easier to find, enrol and use the benefit, usage will increase – a win-win for employer and employee.”
Teaser campaigns that provide unique information about a new benefit in bite-sized moments to prevent overwhelming employees, the use of central, multi-media platforms, and blogs written by senior leaders that “can be delivered at the right moment” are useful communication devices, says Lewis.
While there is clear value in fully informing employees in a climate of uncertainty, Lewis also recognises that employers should be mindful of overcommunication, which can hinder “the receptiveness of important messages”.
Candace Miller, managing director, SFJ Awards, and executive director at non-profit organisations, Skills for Health and Skills for Justice, believes it’s important for leaders to recognise that virtual meetings require more concentration than those held physically in a room because people have to focus on a screen with multiple, often different, distracting backgrounds, simultaneously reading the ‘chat’ and looking out for raised hand signals.
Additionally, body language can also be harder to gauge and sometimes there isn’t the opportunity to double-check misunderstandings.
“Recognise that a video call isn’t always the answer,” Miller advises. “Think, can you use email, chat, phone, newsletter, noticeboard methods, rather than automatically using video meetings. And use a variety of modalities to convey the information. A talking head isn’t always the best approach. Could [employers] make and share a video or infographic, and have different people talk about different benefits, and what they have used them to do? Or [they] could run a mini quiz on benefits?”
According to Nick de la Force, creative director at video production company Shootsta, 95% of a message is retained when presented in a video format compared to 10% for text.
He says pre-recorded webinars or videos are a good idea as they can be digested at the employees’ leisure. Some of the most effective productions he has seen are those featuring text on screen, music, stock or re-used footage from other videos with music behind them or animations. “The possibilities are endless and it can be a lot of fun finding ways to communicate routine things in different ways,” he says.
Moira Throp, co-founder of Like Minds, a creative agency specialising in financial wellbeing, benefits, reward and pension communication, believes the shift towards online communications as a result of the pandemic has democratised the workplace and the personal touch – where employers “show kindness, compassion and trust” and “demonstrate understanding of someone’s particular situation” are being favoured over traditional benefits.
“The CEO is in her kitchen or living room with the cat walking across the keyboard, or even children wandering in and out,” she says. “Suddenly everyone is a human being and the [employers] that have embraced this openly will be the ones that have a real connection with their people. What better way to be able to talk about giving furlough support for home schooling than when it’s clear you have your own seven-year-old who needs support with their lessons?”
Employee burnout risk
Worryingly, OC Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report, published in September 2020, which polled 40,000 employees, showed that Coronavirus has increased rates of burnout by 15% globally, a figure which rises by up to 81% in what it calls ‘non-thriving’ company cultures.
Additionally, research by Wade Macdonald, released in January 2021, revealed the mental health of around one-quarter (28%) of employees had declined as a result of the pandemic, while 44% of the 415 respondents said they were finding home working much harder – physically, mentally and emotionally – than being in the office.
For now, the future remains uncertain and the onus will be on HR departments and leaders to continue stepping up.
Therefore, while online communications has its advantages in communicating benefits, Lewis points out that replicating the energy that “human connection brings from being in the same room is impossible”.
“It is critical for employers and HR teams to remember one-to-one or one-to-few conversations are a must to fight isolation and bring a human touch to everything we do digitally.”