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!
In my non-work life, I volunteer at my local community hospital. Every Thursday evening you’ll find me behind the emergency room information desk, giving directions, showing visitors to their loved one’s room, helping patients into wheelchairs, even fetching the occasional vomit bag (not my favorite task by a long shot).
I love being a volunteer! There’s no performance evaluation, people say “please” and “thank you”, and I get to eat in the hospital cafeteria for free. Plus I’ve always had an interest in medicine so I find the setting fascinating. Blood, foreign bodies, broken bones! Nothing that awesome ever happens in the office. After all, as I’m fond of saying as a way to relieve stress at work, “it’s only benefits; we’re not saving lives here.”
But while it’s true that the actual benefits themselves may not be a matter of life and death, volunteering at the hospital has taught me an important lesson: Real life and death situations are when people count on their benefits most. That’s why it’s so important that we give them clear, concise, easy-to-access information about their benefits, so they can make informed decisions when those situations arise.
The first-time mom in premature labor, the young family whose two-year old is having unexplained seizures, and the retired teacher struggling with substance abuse are all my audience, and having met them has changed the way I think about my role as a benefits communicator.
So as this year’s busy annual enrollment season approaches, I’m keeping those people in mind. Doing so will inspire me to draft benefits communications that are more understandable, more relatable, more personal. And while I may not be saving lives, if I can help make someone’s life a little easier when they need it most, I’d say that’s pretty awesome.