Six tips for communicating negative change to employees

Pensions and benefits is constantly evolving and we often see “negative change” being communicated to staff.  


This could be the removal of a benefit, the introduction of an excess charge for Private Medical Insurance (PMI), closing a final salary (DB) pension scheme… the list goes on.  You can probably remember a negative change which you have had to communicate to staff.

 

We have put together six tips on communicating negative change to employees:

 

PLAN 

When is the change coming in?  Work backwards and create a clear comms plan.  Think about how many touch-points you need to get your audience to fully understand your message.  We all like to think that staff will digest and fully understand our first email about a topic, but in reality they probably skim read and take little in.  We would suggest at least three touch-points (or more if this is a very significant change).

 

TARGET

Does the change affect everyone equally? Probably not, it may not even affect a certain population.  It is good practice to think about each population of your audience and tailor the messages to them.  Blanket comms are no good for negative change.  

 

ARM YOUR MANAGERS

Line managers will be one of the first places staff will go to ask questions.  Make sure they are well informed and understand the reason behind the change, so that they can be your “soldiers on the front line”.  If staff receive this news and become downhearted, then they will seek answers to “why have you done this thing that has a negative impact on me?”  If you don’t give your managers the tools to put out the fires, then this could cause tension within their teams. 

 

EMPATHISE

This is perhaps the most important stage, remember we are talking about negative change.  Don’t try to brush over the fact that this is negative, empathise with your staff, understand how this will affect them.  Try to paint a picture of the future.  There is a business decision behind the change, so show them how this will have a positive impact further down the line.  

 

KEY MESSAGES

Create your key messages at the start of the project and continue to reinforce them at every touchpoint.  As we said at the start of this blog, you have to repeat those messages to ensure your audience comes away from each comm with the key info in their head.  

 

FEEDBACK

“Our way or the highway” seldom works with negative change.  You need to let your audience have a voice, allow them to provide you with feedback and this can turn into a two-way conversation once again, giving you the opportunity to reinforce your key messages.  Often we predict that a change will impact someone in a certain way, but assumptions can usually be some way off the mark.  Through feedback you will know exactly what your audiences’ thoughts are and they will perhaps help you to plan the next stage of comms.