One of my clients recently asked me to make sure that all of her written communications used either “email” or “e-mail.” All consistency of style had been lost in a flurry of internal stakeholders reviewing and editing multiple drafts, leaving a mishmash of “emails” and “e-mails” in their wake. My client really didn’t care if the hyphen was used or not; “…just pick one,” was her only direction. Easy enough, but now the challenge becomes to hyphenate or not to hyphenate.
My own preference, and I could argue it’s the correct one, is for the less conservative “email.” After all, the Associated Press Stylebook, the de facto style and usage guide for much of the news media, dropped the hyphen way back in 2011. Even the staid New York Times finally succumbed. Unlike my client though, I’ve found that many people stubbornly cling to those hyphens, as evidenced by the continued use of the archaic “co-pay” and “co-insurance”.
But why does it matter? After all, it’s not really wrong to use “e-mail”, or for that matter “co-pay”, it’s just out dated, right? True enough, but the thing is, somewhere, someone reading your communications will know the difference and to that person, you’ve lost some credibility. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the details when it comes to punctuation and style.
Language, like the benefits marketplace, is constantly evolving. With that said, consistently following current writing style guidelines is a hallmark of well-executed, professional communications that are sure to make the impression you want.
Of course, if you’re a busy HR manager like my client, you probably can’t spare the time to worry about hyphens and the like. Luckily, there are communicators like me for that!
Way back, when I was new to benefits communication, I hardly had any idea what I was getting involved with. Old timers tried to warn me that this niche tested the ability, skills and will of the best in the communications field. Properly communicating to employees the differences between an HSA and an FSA is an art, and not every consultant has the chops to make it.
“Poppycock.” That was my response. I had been in the publishing field for years. How much worse can this be?
Having had enough of my flip attitude, one wizened, battle-scarred consultant pointed a crooked finger in my direction. “You laugh now, you mock our experience and the wars we fought,” the consultant growled.
“But you, YOU,” shaking her finger directly at me for added emphasis, “have never seen how poorly executed benefits communications can devour an employee population from the inside. The CHAOS from carpet bombing employee populations with unintelligible letters and memos. ENTIRE employee populations zombified and beating down the doors of human resource managers. Managers with their own questions and few answers…”
“Whoa,” I rolled my eyes. “Kill the theatrics.”
The consultant pointed to the log in her cubicle, beckoning me to sit.
“Listen to my tale of woe before you dismiss me,” the veteran said as she began to build a fire.
“A campfire… in the office?” I thought to myself. But, sit down I did. What else would you do when someone is about to be escorted out by security for trying to burn down the building? Something had pushed her too far. I needed to hear her story.
“I was there the day the communications died. When it all went wrong. When a thousand benefit plans were ripped asunder and shattered the hopes and dreams of many.”
As the consultant spun her tale, more co-workers gathered by the campfire and took a seat on the log. All of them, might I add, a bit in shock by the scene they were witnessing. The veteran paced back and forth with a wicked grin on her face.
“Come on, you must be exaggerating. No one has ever died because they did not receive their benefit communications!” one of the gathered team members asserted.
“Don’t be so smug,” the veteran answered with a snarl. “Without the necessary communications, anything can happen.
“Why, if they aren’t properly informed on where to go for care, employees may flounder on whether to go to the urgent care or the emergency room,” the veteran continued. “A severe infection may not get treated in a timely matter. A small splinter could cause a serious infection, gangrene could set in…”Tthe veteran paused. “Then… AMPUTATION!” the veteran bellowed.
The assembled audience, their tension relieved, burst out in laughter and eye rolls. They assumed this had all been the gag of a stressed out co-worker.
With a loud “Boom!” the veteran’s fist slammed down on her desk.
“You think this is all a joke!?!?” The veteran screamed in a creepy, high-pitched voice. With malice, the consultant hoisted her hand in the air above the gathering.
Where there had once been a hand, there was now the glistening steel of a sharp, hooked claw at the end of the veterans forearm. Since this was a detail no one had ever noticed before, there was much confusion amongst the team.
Finally, I asked, “Wait… are you able to use FSA or HSA funds for your prosthetic appliance?”
“Good question!” the veteran answered. “Now, THIS is why employee benefit communications are so important.”