Tuesday, July 1, 2014

SEALs Offer Lesson for Communicating Health Benefits Changes

Brent Gleeson, a Navy SEAL combat veteran and chief marketing officer at Internet Marketing Inc., recently wrote a blog post on LinkedIn under the headline, “These 7 Motivational navy SEAL Sayings Will Kick Your Butt Into Gear.”  I liked the piece so much, I re-sent it on my social media platforms, but there was one SEAL saying that stood out from the standpoint of internal communications and change management.  The saying was, “Have a shared sense of purpose.”

Perhaps the reason it stood out for me at that moment was that I had been working on something tied to the continued rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its impact on employers.  Any time you communicate change, and the ACA represents tremendous change, it’s important to remember some of the basic tenets of effective communication, and that SEAL saying came long at just the right moment.

For context, in the coming months, thousands of employers will be making some tough decisions on health benefits enrollment. Under the ACA the "employer mandate" will go into effect on January 1, 2015.  This means that organizations with 100 or more full-time equivalent employees, and which administer calendar-year health insurance plans, must offer health care coverage to full-time employees and their dependents or face tax penalties under the employer shared responsibility rules of the ACA.

Employers with 50 to 99 full-time equivalent employees will need to comply in 2016.

Keep in mind that while nothing in the ACA requires an employer to offer employees group health coverage, the tax penalty is one provision designed to incentivize employers to provide insurance.  It is anticipated that some employers will elect to provide that insurance, while others will decide that paying the penalty and directing employees to state and federal exchanges is more cost-effective.

There are many reasons employers would make such decisions.  Those who offer insurance may find that it is the most effective way to retain workers while factoring any cost impacts into their larger compensation models.  Other employers, however, might find that the notion of providing health insurance coverage to all eligible employees is so cost-prohibitive it could drive them out of business at worst, or seriously harm their competitive position at best.  Paying the penalty may not be the best way to go, but it could be the only way to go to remain in business.

Regardless, even among those employers offering health insurance, many will likely have to make changes to the plans they offer, asking employees to pay more in terms of a share of the monthly premiums, co-pays and deductibles.  And that’s just the financial side.

On the care side, some plans employers may introduce may not offer the same healthcare providers that employees have relied upon until now.



From both a management and a communications perspective, it’s never too early to begin to educate and communicate with employees on the kinds of issues the organization and its people will face in the coming months.  The worst thing you can do is surprise people, give them the bare minimum of information, not provide adequate support with access to information should they have questions, and then not give them enough time to absorb the impact of the change to make clear-headed decisions come enrollment time. 


It is with that in mind that the Navy SEAL mantra of having a shared sense of purpose is so important.


When you communicate change, one of the most important things you must do is remind everyone why we are here. Why we come to work, what we are out to achieve each day as an organization, as manager, as employees, as a team.  Too often left unsaid is that without this shared sense of purpose, the organization cannot function efficiently and can fail in its mission.  If it fails, the whole organization suffers and could eventually fail completely, causing everyone who depends on the organization to lose their jobs. 


As Gleeson describes it, “…it’s critical for the leadership to always be communicating the reality of the situation and what the “win” will look like when you get there. And, most important, what everyone’s role is in helping the team achieve that goal.” 


In a change-management setting then, the role of communications is to communicate the reality of the changes to benefits, why those changes may be necessary and what they mean, not only to the organization but to everyone who works there.  Equally important is the need to paint a picture of how this change can best be managed to ensure the viability and competitiveness of the organization, so that jobs and salaries can be preserved.  And no communication would be complete without making sure that each employee understands his or her role in helping the organization manage its way through this time of change.