Many companies now have a mix of baby boomers, Generation X and millennials working next to each other every day. Some even hire young iGens as summer interns or part-time employees. If you think about the total number of years that this group spans, and the different viewpoints of those generations, it can be daunting as a communicator to figure out how to reach all of those groups effectively. You may start to feel like Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – do you dare accept the mission? (Don’t worry, this message won’t self-destruct.)

As a benefits communicator, you know that step one is to understand your audience. So, the big question is, how can you use what you know about your workforce to develop a communication strategy that encompasses the needs of each generation? It’s critical to be open to mixing up your normal tactics to reach those audiences. That also means that it’s important to look at new ways of communication. What worked five years ago might not get the job done today.

Going multi-channel

Unfortunately, after pouring our hearts into a communication campaign, many of us have heard that “employees aren’t going to read it anyway.” Ouch. That hurts the ego. But, it also suggests that we may need to rethink the one-size-fits all approach to communications.

[Emily Dobbins]
[Emily Dobbins]

Let’s take a step back and look at the reasons why employees aren’t reading your company’s communications. Are they flat and lifeless with no design? Are they written too formally? Are you using the right method of communication? Ding, ding, ding! We might be on to something here. Design and tone are important, but it’s equally important to consider how, when, and where your messages are getting to employees.

Your baby boomers probably love getting their hands on a very detailed eight-page newsletter, but your millennials want smaller chunks of information that they can scan quickly – and preferably electronically. The Gen Xers are somewhere in the middle, and the iGens are looking for something to view on their phones or tablets. It’s time to go multi-channel. You spend a lot of time pulling employee communications together, so why not take your communications all the way by using many different channels? This approach ensures that everyone gets the message, and more importantly, that they will be more inclined to read it (or watch it, as we’ll discuss later).

For example, let’s say you are rolling out a fitness challenge to your organization. A huge initiative, right? A stand-alone printed newsletter isn’t going to be enough to get employees excited about participating. Rather than focusing on one “big” piece, think about adding depth to your communications with other layers. Desk drops, Intranet articles, plasma screen graphics, giveaways, banners in high traffic areas, newsletter to homes, social media campaign with a creative hashtag … all good examples of going multi-channel.

What about video?

Videos are constantly evolving. Long gone are the days of putting your CEO on screen and expecting everyone to watch. Do I dare throw out the word “engaged?” Yep. I’ve got to. Employees need to be engaged, and watching a talking head for three minutes won’t do the trick. Dynamic content like b-roll footage with actual employees, animation, movement, and humor are all things that you need to think about when putting together a video. Make it fun to watch. Opt for short and sweet, not long and drawn out. Once your video is ready for its debut, don’t just put it on one channel like we already discussed. Embed it in an email blast, put teaser snippets on social media to build excitement, introduce it at a town hall – the possibilities are endless. Providing various ways to view the video will help you reach your different generations in their preferred venue.

There’s an app for that

“If you think you know your population, consider a survey to find out if you are right.”

Even though smartphone apps are all the rage right now, you have to step back and ask if it makes sense for your population. Investing in developing an app and keeping it up-to-date with fresh content is time consuming, so you want to make sure you have enough resources to keep it going. Even with a large millennial population, if your app isn’t pushing new content, no one is going to use it. If this is an initiative your company wants explore, call in the creative professionals to help and develop a content calendar to make sure your app will continue to be the go-to place for company information.

Communicating to the generations doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s all about having a plan. If you think you know your population, consider a survey to find out if you are right. You can also host focus groups to get valuable open-ended feedback in real time. It may seem like an extra step, but asking your employees how they want to receive communications can actually help make your job easier, and your employees happier.

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