A Publication of WTVP

Bad news is inevitable, but you can use either a good approach or a not-so-good one when it’s your turn to share it, explained Syndine Imholte, president of Capstone Communications, Inc., and the speaker at a recent teleweb seminar on how to communicate bad news, which was sponsored by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (FEBP). Imholte said a bad approach is like stepping on a rake-it will only hit you in the face-while a good approach is like opening a door to connection, acceptance, alignment, and support.

Plan participants are bound to hear bad news about their benefits at some point, Imholte explained, in light of skyrocketing health care costs, the squeamish stock market, managed care limitation, and 401(k) losses. Adding to the difficulty of communicating such bad news is the existence of "stubborn paradigms," she said. One of these is plan participants may have been told the benefits are part of their compensation, and, thus, they see it as a pay cut when their benefits change. In addition, there may be an entitlement attitude toward benefits. Finally, there may be an overall belief that change is something to be feared. To combat all of this, Imholte suggested a good approach includes the following:

The last step is to get the message out there before changes take place. Don’t let employees find out about the news from a competitor or by reading it in the newspaper. Imholdt suggested using focus groups to test reaction to the message. Also, have the information come from the top. Finally, give people time to think and adjust to the information.

A longer-term approach to benefit changes is to make sure they fit into your total compensation package and meet employee needs. It may keep you from having these kinds of problems in the future. IBI