Experts cite this kind of transparency as an aspect of leadership communication important not only to corporations but to governance of any kind. As one writer summed up, “[Employees] just want transparency so they can plan and protect themselves.” While that is clear when it comes to the direction of a company, it’s essential when it comes to employee benefits. But transparency in benefits options can extend beyond seeking input from employees. It can also include transparency in the process of choosing them.
It’s not an epiphany[i] that employee benefits are a significant tool in recruiting and retaining employees. But only if you offer what employees want. How can you be sure you’ve got the right end game[ii] in sight? Before you go singing “it’s me, Hi, I’m the problem,”[iii] you may want to consider the basics of leadership communication. The goal for any corporate benefits plan is to get a reputation,[iv] well, at least a good one, for serving employees the benefits they want. In this article, we’ll discuss two critical aspects of leadership communication, listening and transparent deliberation, and how they can influence employees’ perception of benefits. To keep you from saying “stop, you’re losing me”[v] we added easter eggs from Taylor Swift, someone knows a thing or two about communication (and economics).
Employers may be feeling caught as the tide turns on ESG investments just as employers finally get some guidance from regulators on it. It’s hard to keep up with the changes in the rules concerning ESG at the Department of Labor and the SEC, though we try frequently. Employee attitudes towards benefits may make you feel like you live in a chess game with your employees, who change the rules every day. But your employees may feel differently. Perhaps they are the ones singing about how you keep the lines blurry.[vi] Whenever there’s a question on communication, it’s never a bad idea to review the fundamentals of leadership communication.
The best way to increase leadership communication skills is by talking less. According to experts, active listening enhances trust. In a one-on-one environment, through active listening can be easy to convey that you’ve made someone your world.[vii] But when it comes to corporate communication that may be more difficult. Some experts suggest looking to specifically avoid over-analyzing employee feedback as a major step in active listening. That might include taking steps such as creating multiple surveys for employees, beginning at a generic level of feedback about benefits, and moving on to specifics. This gives employees a feeling that the devil’s in the details, but they’ve got a friend in you.[viii]
This funnel approach to surveying requires creating appropriate feedback loops. It also includes responding to poorly delivered feedback in a constructive way. In a new article in the Harvard Business Review, communication experts provide guidance on how to respond to negative feedback. These tips may help benefits leaders take in negative feedback without creating bad blood.[ix] Their top tips include, inter alia, evaluating the feedback for helpful information despite the poor delivery, rewarding the candor of the feedback as useful to the relationship, and offering feedback on the feedback. They name common types of poorly delivered feedback including obnoxiously aggressive feedback, where a benefits leader may feel like the whipping post for issues with other management or the corporation as a whole. When the rest of the world is black and white, but they are screaming in color,[x] it’s tantamount to bullying and should be directed to the appropriate channels.
However, when benefits leadership asks for feedback from employees about benefits they desire, leadership needs be clear about potential options – don’t ask employees to swing for the fences, instead sit in the trenches with them.[xi]Experts cite this kind of transparency as an aspect of leadership communication important not only to corporations but to governance of any kind. As one writer summed up, “[Employees] just want transparency so they can plan and protect themselves.” While that is clear when it comes to the direction of a company, it’s essential when it comes to employee benefits. But transparency in benefits options can extend beyond seeking input from employees. It can also include transparency in the process of choosing them.
Deliberative transparency is a newer approach to how leaders can involve those they organize or make rules for in the decision-making process. Deliberative transparency ensures everyone is stepping together, instead of one step forward three steps back.[xii] For example, the Department of Labor and other administrative agencies have open rule making procedures, they literally make sure everyone has the chance to end up in the same room at the same time.[xiii]Companies can use same approach, announcing a potential change to rules (or benefits), soliciting comments solely on the new rule, communicating about the comments and the factors being used to weigh the potential changes and publishing the method of the decision are all part of deliberative transparency. As the world bank summed up this process, deliberative transparency includes the “proactive disclosure of relevant, accessible, timely, and accurate information….” They lauded the expansion of deliberative transparency to other aspects of government. “This trend to disclose more information is a positive one. For instance, while the United States Federal Reserve Board meetings may not be riveting in the conventional sense, they allow market players and citizens to have an idea of what is likely to happen to monetary policy in general and to interest rates specifically.” But here’s the kicker: deliberative transparency doesn’t place duties on the rule makers alone. Instead, it places duties on those participating. By linking criticism or participation to the deliberation, those potentially impacted by the decision have a duty to challenge their own understandings and not say “darling let’s run from it all.”[xiv]
In other words, deliberative transparency in the employee benefits arena means that once a change to benefits has been made employees will be ready for it.
 https://www.foxbusiness.com/entertainment/federal-reserve-says-taylor-swifts-eras-tour-responsible-rise-hotel-revenue (easter egg credits can be found in the end notes to this article).
[i] Swift, Dessner Epiphany,
[ii] Sheeran, Schuster, Sandberg, Wilburn, Swift, End Game
[iii] Antonoff, Swift, Anti-Hero
[iv] Taylor Swift, Reputation
[v]Antonoff, Swift, You’re Losing Me,
[vi] Swift, Rowe, Dear John
[vii] Swift, Antonoff, Bejeweled,
[viii] Swift, Dessner, peace
[ix] Martin, Shellback, Swift, Bad Blood
[x] Antonoff, Swift, Out of the Woods
[xi] Swift, Dessner, peace
[xii] Rodrigo, Swift, Antonoff, One Step Forward, Three Steps Back
[xiii]Antonoff, Swift, Mastermind
[xiv] Sheeran, Swift, Run (Taylor’s Version)
These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.
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