7 ways to better communicate HR programs

Hold a contest to gather employee stories. Make videos featuring successes. Invite a Joan Rivers lookalike to a party. Engage your staff and help them absorb your messages.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal, Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. Click here for more on this session.

Scripps Health in San Diego wanted employees to find inspiration in each other’s successes.

Turns out all it took was a contest and a few movie tickets. Well, that and an overarching strategy for communicating effectively in a health care company with more than 13,000 employees and an annual revenue of $2.5 billion.

If you’ve ever felt frustrated trying to explain the complexities of your benefits or wellness program to a busy internal audience, listen up to Denise Tanguay, director of workforce communications for Scripps Health in San Diego.

In a Ragan Training video, “Launch and communicate new HR programs better: How to get manager buy-in and employee engagement,” Tanguay offers tips to create an organization that inspires employees and retains top talent.

Here are some pointers:

1. Hold a contest to gather success stories

Scripps held a contest asking employees to share what made the company a great place to work—along with their success stories. Anyone who shared a story got movie tickets, and the winning story was turned into a video.

Eighty people stepped up to share stories, among them a staffer in the brain injury treatment day center at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, says Tanguay. The video was such a success, the head of the center now plays it when he speaks publicly, and the company shared it on YouTube.

“What I’ve found is that employees are sharing their key messages better than you are,” Tanguay says. “And it’s a lot more credible to their co-workers and the organization.”

Bonus: The 80 stories shared provided a wealth of content for future communications.

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “Launch and communicate new HR programs better: How to get manager buy-in and employee engagement.”

2. Prioritize HR communications

HR programs are numerous and complicated, and employees want clarity, says Tanguay. Employees appreciate benefits more if they know more about them HR programs are drivers of employee satisfaction.

Don’t just give things like benefits and pay programs short shrift. “These are the things that keep them there,” she says, and turnover is expensive for an organization.

3. Celebrate your stalwarts

If turnover is expensive, how about throwing a bash for your long-termers? In 2009, Scripps celebrated the first group of people who’d worked there for 45 years, Tanguay says. The event was held at a fancy hotel, and was complete with a Joan Rivers lookalike.

The honorees arrived by limo, and executives showed up to applaud for them. The long-toiling workers got to spend the night in a hotel after the party.

4. Communicate your wellness incentives

Here’s a good one: If Scripps employees participate in the wellness program and get enough points, they get free health insurance.

To win over employees, Scripps featured a middle-aged nurse who had mended her ways. After a screening revealed that she had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, she started exercising participating in the wellness program. The message was a success because Scripps communicated it through someone the other employees could identify with.

5. Create a hot seat

The vice president of HR hosts an annual “Hot Seat”—an event in which he invites and answers tough questions.

Tanguay says HR fires off an email that reads: “Send your burning questions to Vic. He’ll answer your questions, and then we’ll publish the results.”

The questions come flooding in, and sometimes they’re blunt: Why is my pay going down? Where is the organization going? They ask questions beyond HR because they know they’ll get answers, Tanguay says.

6. Build support with fun events in the good times

Scripps holds movie nights that 20,000 employees and family members attended. And 12,000 showed up for a Scripps Night at the Ballpark to watch the San Diego Padres. The company hosted a huge tailgate party, and execs put on aprons and served their employees.

“They’re out there handing out the hot dogs, taking tickets, saying ‘hi,’ sitting with them in the seats,” Tanguay says.

The company also offers employee assistance programs, and free parenting and family conferences. Through the company, staffers can donate paid time off or cash to employees in crisis.

7. Prepare managers to communicate the tough news

As economic volatility and health care reform require staff to work harder, it’s important to keep the channels open, Tanguay says. This is especially true when employees are paying more for health care benefits.

Scripps doesn’t follow the newfangled theory of getting rid of the information cascade and providing all announcements simultaneously. Employees prefer to get information face to face from their supervisors, Tanguay says. That means managers have to get the news in advance so they aren’t blindsided by questions.

“We really give them the background of the ‘why’—why things are changing,” Tanguay says.



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