Regular engagement with employees will reduce fear and confusion during times of change.

The uncertainty about the future of healthcare in our country is creating challenges for employers of all kinds. Small-to-medium size businesses, large corporations, healthcare and insurance providers are all waiting to see what will happen with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and what will stick from the recently introduced Republican plan. The information seems to change day by day, with new analysis about the impact on both the businesses and the patients.

As the majority of us get our health insurance through an employer-provided program (that is coordinated largely through the human resources department), it is typically the job of the HR department and/or internal communications team to communicate healthcare plan changes to employees. Usually, most of the communications about health plans happens during the open enrollment period.

But the uncertainty in the healthcare system today is causing employees to ask questions and talk about their health insurance plans now, meaning HR departments can’t wait until the open enrollment period to begin communicating about what the changes may or may not mean for health coverage and costs. 

With any sweeping changes or looming uncertainty, continuous, deliberate and ongoing employee engagement is critical. 

According to Gallup, "Effective change management can enhance employee engagement, even during times of uncertainty. Nearly eight in 10 employees (7 77 percent) are engaged when workers strongly agree there is open communication, opportunities to provide input, a clear connection between current changes and the company's future, and management support for changes that affect their work group. When employees strongly disagree, a mere 1 percent are engaged." 

So how can companies make sure employees are engaged about the changes in the healthcare system, especially when there are so many questions and unknowns?

Be open and honest. With rapid change and no real end in sight for having final answers, it may seem easier to wait to communicate until all the information is buttoned up. However, a lack of communication about wide sweeping change creates an information vacuum, and can lead to rumors, misinformation, heightened anxiety and disengagement. Ongoing clear and honest communication—even if just to say nothing new is known at this time—can help alleviate fears and show employees that management is making communications about the issue a priority. Answer the questions that matter. The number one question employees have with any change, including changes impacting healthcare, is how it will impact them. And this can vary. Some employees may be most concerned about increases in price, while others may have the most questions about what kind of coverage they will be able to access. It is important that the engagement and communications strategy be designed to address and answer the most pressing questions and concerns. Think like a marketer. So often HR communications stick to the tried and true. The company email, newsletters or staff meetings. But to really make sure employees are not only informed but engaged, HR and internal communications teams need to treat employees like customers and design internal campaigns to look and feel like external marketing campaigns. Using multiple strategies and channels to communicate the message will help unite employees, even with workforces who may be in multiple locations working different shifts. 

With any big change, it is critical for organizations to keep their overall mission in focus. When employees are united by a common mission and vision, feel confident in their employer communicating about the impact and are engaged in the process, it is much easier for companies to weather changes and uncertainty. 

Lisa Laine Miller and James Gabriel Brown are the principals and co-founders of Powell-based advertising agency LaineGabriel, an agency specializing in healthcare marketing and internal marketing campaigns. They can be reached at 614-441-4226, lisa@lainegabriel.com or james@lainegabriel.com.