Managing the message: Communication in the time of COVID

COVID-19 has brought far-reaching change to every aspect of our lives – personal, financial and professional. Canadian employers responded with unprecedented speed, agility and innovation to protect their employees and their families while continuing to look for new ways to serve their clients.

Ready or not, the pandemic has accelerated the use of technology and exposed gaps in the ways in which we communicate with our employees, colleagues, family and friends. As we continue to adjust to work and life in our collective “new normal”, supporting plan members through these difficult times should receive the same care and attention plan sponsors devote to reassuring shareholders and clients.

Many plan members continue to feel concerned and uneasy about their employment security, financial wellbeing, physical and mental health.  Any one of these concerns has the potential to impact work performance but the combination has created a “perfect storm” of stressors that can have a significant impact on the workplace.

The good news is, there are a number of things plan sponsors can do through effective and supportive communication to help mitigate the stress.

Remind plan members about their benefits

Employee benefits are fundamental to supporting physical, psychological and financial wellbeing. While routine visits to the doctor, dentist or optometrist were restricted during the early stages of the pandemic, medical professionals in most parts of Canada are now open for routine tests and screenings. For plan members who live in those parts of the country that have moved to another period of restrictions, many dentists and optometrists continue to remain open for both emergency and some routine services. Now is a good time to remind your plan members about the benefits you offer and how they support good health.

While defined contribution plans and other savings vehicles have been impacted by the market downturn, defined benefit plans have not. If you have a defined benefit plan, remind your plan members that their retirement benefit has not been adversely impacted.  If you offer matching contributions to a defined contribution plan, promote it!  Members could likely benefit from a reminder that your plan contributions can go a long way to shoring up potentially lagging personal retirement savings.

Be an advocate for mental health

For many, the challenges of physical distancing, increased child and elder care responsibilities have led to greater anxiety, loneliness, and stress. In fact, a recent Statistics Canada survey noted that fewer Canadians reported excellent or very good mental health during COVID-19 compared to data from last year.

Reach out to your members about these concerns and share information about your Employee Assistance Program. There are also a number of publicly available resources.  Refer your employees to sources like the Government of Canada for a host of available information.

Support employee financial wellbeing

While the restrictions on travel and access to consumer goods have contributed to significant increases in savings for some Canadians, others continue to struggle with record levels of debt. Research shows that plan members suffering from financial stress are twice as likely to report poor health, and almost half of working Canadians admit that stress related to personal finances has had an impact on their performance at work. With investment losses impacting defined contribution pension plans and other savings vehicles or possible reduced household income from the loss of employment, many plan members may also now be reconsidering their pre-pandemic retirement plans.

Research also shows that plan members want, and value, financial support programs and education at work. Consider (or reconsider) the value of offering a financial wellness program in your workplace. In the short term, there are a number of publicly available resources for plan sponsors and members alike.

In March of this year, Eckler provided a free webinar designed to provide some peace of mind to members that included an overview of the information needed to create a personal financial plan. You can view the webinar and access information on additional resources here.

Communicate concisely, clearly, and honestly

The old axiom that managing the message is as important as the message itself, has never been more true.  Communicate concisely, clearly, and honestly. Your employees don’t want jargon, mixed messages or vague promises. If members can’t understand what you’re communicating or, even worse, don’t believe it, you are not communicating effectively.

Communication should be in plain language and presented across multiple platforms to reach as many people as possible and reiterate your key messages at every opportunity. Leadership emails, videos, all-member virtual meetings, and member testimonials are powerful and effective tools for communicating important information, demonstrating concern and empathy, as well as fostering a sense of community.

Your communication represents your brand – your leadership, your values, your vision. At all times, but especially during these times, considering what, and how, you communicate with your members is critical to engaging and sustaining a heathy and productive workforce.