An acquisition is unsettling for employees, creating uncertainty about every aspect of their work from job security to culture. One issue that employees worry about is how their benefits will change. After all, benefits are important to employees; in fact, they’re one of the key factors in job satisfaction.
In most acquisitions, employees don’t experience changes immediately, so you can share the fact that benefits remain unchanged for now (if this is true). And then plan for how to communicate changes when the time comes.
How? First, develop a communication plan that takes into account various employee audiences, what they need to know, and when they need to know it.
1. Identify your audiences
List all the groups of stakeholders who are impacted. For example:
- Top level leaders (president, CEO, etc.)
Then, segment employees into groups based on how the acquisition will affect them.
2. Define objectives
Think about the desired outcome for each group. Ask yourself what you want each stakeholder segment to know, believe, and do as a result of your communication. These objectives will drive the rest of your benefits communication.
3. Develop key messages
Telling a consistent story is key for managing anxiety. An elevator pitch is a two-to three-sentence overview of what health benefits are changing and, therefore, how it directly affects employees. The idea is to quickly provide the essential information — as if you only had an elevator ride to explain the entire situation to another person. Make sure you:
- Share why the acquisition is happening
- Explain what is and what isn’t changing
- Tell employees if and how they’ll be impacted
- Communicate what employees need to do
- Advise where to find information and help
4. Decide on strategies
Now that you know what your plan needs to do, it’s time to decide how you’re going to communicate it. There are many approaches you can take, but make sure your strategies align with your objectives. For example, if one of your objectives is for employees to seek help when needed, a strategy would be to enable advocates, including HR, leaders and managers with tools to share information and address questions.
A key strategy for communicating benefits changes is to support managers. To be successful, managers need support. That means you need to invest your time to ensure that managers have the tools they need to help employees through the acquisition. Managers are important because they have the most interaction with employees—and employees rely on managers to answer their burning questions: “What does it mean to me?” and “What do I need to do?”
One way to get managers informed is to host manager briefings with a corresponding toolkit. The objectives of the briefings should be to inform, answer questions and prepare managers for their roles.
Here are specifics of what the briefing and toolkit should discuss:
Define managers’ roles. This will ensure they’re prepared for communicating and can take control of helping employees.
Let them know exactly what’s happening when, and be as transparent as possible. It’s important to show managers how valuable they are to the process as they’re among the first informed.
What managers need to do
Assign them tasks to accomplish during the process and provide timing. Here’s a sample:
- Become familiar with the information in this toolkit
- Review information after employee meetings
- Answer employees’ questions or direct them to “Ask HR” during month of November
Key communication resources
Provide managers with helpful resources, including:
- Tips for communicating change (such as stay positive, be informative)
- Main message
- Talking points
Even after you give managers the tools they need to succeed, any number of issues could come up. So, provide managers with contact information of an HR rep as a main point of contact when they have questions.
Remember that employees are always the most important group during any change, especially an acquisition. And while you may not need to communicate about benefits straightaway, it’s still important to take the time to plan ahead and help employees feel secure about changes to the benefits program.