The recent health care reform law is all over the news and it impacts the lives of every employee in your organization. No doubt, employees and their families are eager to hear how you, as their employer, will respond to the changes and how any changes will impact their pocketbooks.
Chances are, you are still trying to understand the issues yourself, before you share your thoughts with your workforce. But, it is important to engage your employees in conversation about this issue early to demonstrate your sensitivity about their concerns.
Like any sweeping change communication, communicating to employees about health care reform requires discipline, organization and a communication strategy to help set the right expectations for employees in order to reduce workplace distractions.
Remember, very soon the reforms are going to make it easier for employees, especially high-performing employees, to move from job-to-job, or even start their own business, without worrying about losing access to health insurance. You don’t want them to feel like their concerns are not important to you or you could lose their loyalty.
Here are some ideas to help you develop a game plan for keeping your employees abreast of your thoughts and intentions for responding to these reforms.
Health care reform impacts different organizations in different ways, depending on the size and whether or not you currently offer health insurance benefits. However, regardless of your situation there is one message that is consistent for everyone: There are no immediate employee-facing issues taking place for at least six months or the beginning of the calendar year.
That said, it is important to consider your situation and speak to employees in that context. For example, if you are a small employer with less than 50 employees, you may not currently offer health insurance benefits but, under the reforms, you may be eager to know if you could receive help to make health insurance available.
Until you understand the complexity and timelines of the reforms, you may not be able to commit to a change in your benefits. This is the foundation of your communication with your staff.
Reinforce your current situation and the business reasons behind your inability to currently offer coverage. Explain that with the reforms you have an opportunity to reconsider your offerings, but be clear you cannot promise any changes until you complete your understanding of how the reforms work. Set a reasonable time frame for conducting your analysis, but be clear that if government regulations are delayed, it may also delay your ability to make a decision. Commit to keeping employees informed of the progress.
And, finally, acknowledge that this is an important issue to employees and their families, which is why you are evaluating it.
If you are a larger employer, you face different challenges. For example, within six months or by January 2011 if you are on a calendar plan year, your employees will be able to enroll their adult children up to the age of 26 on your health plans. Employees with adult children will be eager to know the process for enrollment – today – before you and your benefit team has had a chance to clearly understand the rules or work with your vendors to design an enrollment process.
Again, this is an opportunity to evaluate all of the different elements of reform that could impact your plan in the next six months, year and several years out. You can design communication that clearly explains the different aspects of reform that may impact your plans and make a commitment with a specific timeline for keeping employees informed.
You can also use this as an opportunity to reinforce your health plan goals, such as providing cost-effective benefits or the importance of wellness and prevention programs.
There are so many issues surrounding reform, your benefit team may be concerned about which issues to tackle first. Some will be regulatory, while some may have impacts to the company’s expenses and bottom line.
If your benefit team is uncertain about how to prioritize their approach – through plan design changes or other measures – this might be a good opportunity to engage in employee listening through surveys, focus groups or both.
If reforms may impact your total reward strategy, you may want to listen for not only what health insurance features your employees most value, but how they prioritize those features against other benefits and compensation. Engaging employees in sharing their thoughts about their benefits can add a lot of value to your decision-making processes and demonstrate your appreciation of your workforce and their concerns.
Responding to health care reform will not be easy for any employer. But understanding the importance of this issue to your employees – and using this as an opportunity to not only speak to them, but also listen to them – can build trust, credibility and loyalty to your organization.
Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at [email protected]