When you think of business communications, what comes to mind? A series of webinars? A communications strategy? Several pieces of marketing collateral? That’s fair, but more often than not, it’s something we all do several times a day without even thinking much about it: Writing an email.
Does an effective business email need as much time and attention as these other, more comprehensive projects? Good question!
Recently, my best friend, who would be first to declare that she’s “not a communicator,” asked me if 20 minutes is too long to spend writing an email. I’ll tell you what I told her: It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
If your email confirms you’ve received somebody else’s message, yep, 20 minutes is too long. If you want to convey an important message that requires the recipient to open it from a full inbox, and give it the appropriate attention and action? Then, no way! Twenty minutes feels about the right time to write an effective business email.
Most people get about 122 emails a day. On average, we spend only 11.1 seconds reading each before we move on or hit delete. Your goal is to figure out how to compete in those crowded in-boxes. No easy feat, but these tips can help reduce the time you need to write effective business emails.
- Start with a meaningful subject line. Don’t call your email “Need by Thursday.” Instead, try something more descriptive like “Transition Project Timeline – Review by Thursday.” This highlights key content, the action the recipient needs to take, and the deadline. All this the recipient even opens your now, more effective business email.
- Strike the right balance in tone, content, and simplicity. Write simply (and politely, of course) and include just enough information so your recipient understands what’s needed. Otherwise, you may find yourself answering follow-up questions in subsequent emails. It’s tempting to wax poetic and/or include everything there is to know about a project or subject. But, remember this is an email, not the next great American novel. The purpose of an effective business email is to deliver a specific, action-oriented message. (Use the telephone if a subject requires a lengthy conversation.)
- Use paragraphs or lists There is nothing duller than opening up an email and seeing one big wall of text. Remember, we live in the digital age, where people scan information on line. 55 percent of emails are now read on mobile devices. Reading emails on those small screens can be tricky. So make it easy for folks: Break your text up into short paragraphs or lists. Use numbers instead of bullet points if you think there will be a need to refer to a specific item later.
- State a clear call to action. Does the recipient need to give feedback or just their approval to move forward? Be specific. Ambiguous requests may result in unnecessary work and/or delays.
- Skip the humor and be professional. Along those same lines, use proper punctuation and language. Save the emoticons, acronyms, and excessive punctuation for casual communications. The elements that make jokes work, such as good timing, delivery, and tone, do not carry through in an email. While you may be funny in person, your joke may be misconstrued in an email. Humor and effective business emails do not mix.
- Check before you send. Before you hit send, reread your email and check for any typos, grammar errors, and misspelling. You might even want to print it out as editing on paper can often reveal things missed on screen. Double check the names and dates. See if anything needs more clarity to make your business email more effective. Depending on the stakes involved (e.g., going to a senior leader, a sensitive message, etc.), consider having someone else take a look at it before you hit send. A fresh pair of eyes often catches mistakes that someone too close to the work may overlook.
Use these tips and you’ll reduce the time needed to write effective business emails.
We hear stories every day about the perils of identity theft. It can not only impact a person’s credit, but in some cases, their entire lives.
ID theft is not an isolated incident. In fact, identity theft was the number one complaint consumers made to the Federal Trade Commission for 15 consecutive years.
Do you offer your employees a robust identity theft protection plan as part of their benefits package? About 36% of companies offer some form of ID theft protection services as an employee benefit. This voluntary benefit is a great way to distinguish you as an employer who cares. Employees have a sense of security when they know they have a plan to protect their finances and future.
If enrollment in this benefit is not as robust as it could be, maybe it’s time to beef up your communications.
Promote the Need for Identity Theft Protection
Your employees may have questions about identity theft protection services. What exactly is ID theft? How is it different from credit card fraud? Why do I need ID theft protection? Communications should seek to solve these concerns.
Lay out the stakes. Credit card fraud is a quick and deliberate attack that’s solved with a phone call to the credit card company. Identify theft is more complicated since it’s designed to duplicate a person’s identity. The thief’s goal is to take as much as they can until they are caught. If employees are not protected by a solid ID theft plan, they could potentially lose everything
In today’s world, most hackers launch network attacks where they attempt to crack weak passwords. Add to the benefit and point employees in the direction of training to learn about safe data management practices. These include the use of strong passwords and the avoidance of suspicious email links and websites.
Communicate About ID Theft Protection During Open Enrollment
During open enrollment, your employees feel overwhelmed as they try to navigate through all the options. After learning about their other benefits, they might not have the bandwidth to process more information. Identity theft protection is usually an employee-paid benefit. So, use your communications to emphasize its worth.
Make it easy with targeted pieces of information about ID theft protection services. Lay out what the benefit entails and why it makes sense. Recovering from identity theft is a stressful process that takes time and money. A protection plan assists with some of the associated costs. These can include phone bills and postage, notary fees, costs of obtaining credit reports, and maybe legal fees. Of course, each carrier’s benefits will differ.
Carriers will have resources you can mine for data, so why make more work for yourself? Use those materials for source information and to answer common questions. Attach downloadable fact sheets to videos, place flyers in gathering spaces like lunchrooms and copy rooms and ask managers to distribute materials in meetings.
Engage with Real-Life Stories About the Value of ID Theft Protection
Engage employees with real-life scenarios that show the benefit in action. Stories add credibility behind the value of the ID theft protection benefit and create connections. Employees love to read about their co-workers and how the company’s benefits make a difference in their lives. Use stories throughout your various communications— newsletters, videos, even posters with pictures.
Helping employees stay safe and secure and protect their personal information is a great service. Thorough communications help employees appreciate the value of this benefit.
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!
Happy New Year! As my colleagues and I return back to work after the holidays, getting back into the swing of things can be quite challenging. To help ease the transition and set the stage for a successful year, we take these first couple of weeks to reflect on 2016, and plan for the year ahead.
Communication and collaboration is an essential part of this process. We think about what our goals are collectively for the business as a whole, for our team, and for our own individual personal and professional development.
In the spirit of setting us all up for success in the new year, I’d like to share some tips that I feel have contributed to the success of our team here at Trion.
I have never worked in an environment where colleagues hold so many meetings. At first, this was overwhelming – meeting constantly and discussing many topics which I did not fully understand.
But now I realize the significance of gathering in a conference room for an hour or two to discuss the week ahead. We can openly discuss upcoming projects or assignments, our progress and feedback, and suggest ways to be more efficient. It is extremely important that everyone is on the same page. This way everyone has a full understanding of what the team is working on.
There are a variety of projects we work on daily. Some may take anywhere from a day to a month, even a whole year, to complete. There are also ongoing assignments — those that are built into our routine and our marketing plans.
Additionally, we frequently receive requests that are outside of our plan of action. When they come in, we draw up a plan as to what is being requested, how it can be achieved and who will work on the project. This way, the work can be distributed evenly amongst the team. We can also take the initiative to own certain projects if we realize our team members are busy with other assignments.
Put it on the Calendar:
Our team is great about communication! We have a shared calendar, which every team member has access to, where we house all of our projects. These can be anything from email blasts to trade shows to meetings.
We place anything with a deadline in our calendar ‒ this way the entire team can see what we have coming up in the weeks/months ahead and who the project owner is. This is tremendously helpful to have on hand should any questions arise or someone needs assistance with a project.
Keep a Log:
This may be more of a personal task and coincides with our project plans and team calendar. Keeping track of all the assignments and projects I work on throughout the year is valuable. I create a spreadsheet with the name of the project, a brief description, the date I started and completed it, and what worked best or needs improvement.
This gives me a physical document to show to my boss and/or colleagues if needed, and comes in very handy during the annual performance review process. I can also use it as a tool to reflect upon everything I completed and achieved during the year, and look for ways to become more effective for the following year.
Best wishes for success in 2017!
In the blink of an eye, we find ourselves gearing up for another holiday season, welcoming a fresh start and a new year. Where does the time go? As 2016 comes to a close, we begin to think ahead to 2017 and what the new year may hold: career goals, travel adventures, home and family changes…
It’s difficult to ignore this season’s abundance of ad campaigns and news headlines centered around the topic of new year’s resolutions, which consequently leaves you feeling pressured to create that master list of ways you are going to better yourself (and your family, and your friends….and the whole world for that matter!) Assessing how you will actually check these things off your list is enough to make your head spin.
So, here’s a resolution to solve your conflict with resolutions (see what I did there?): be realistic. There are many benefits associated with the process of self-assessment and establishing goals to better one’s self, but do yourself a favor and be realistic. Use your new year’s resolutions as motivators – don’t let them become discouragers by asking yourself to tackle the issue of global warming in one weekend.
Here are a couple tips to help you generate a (realistic) resolution list for 2017.
Start small: Quality, not quantity. You don’t need a five-page list of goals and resolutions to set yourself up for a productive year. Keep it simple and begin by identifying a small task you’d like to complete that may contribute to a larger goal. You can piggyback off the first step throughout the year and before you know it, you’ll be on to bigger and better!
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but it’s worth saying again here. It’s a risk to invest all of your time, money or emotions into one thing, and while this can sometimes be rewarding, it also creates potential for a big letdown. As you consider your goals and resolutions for 2017, try to spread the wealth by focusing a bit of attention on your personal life, another bit on your professional goals, and some on your health, environment and/or family life. And, of course, if you’re looking toward strengthening your communication strategy or improving your employees’ knowledge of benefits, check out the many ways our team at Trion can help!
Acknowledge your successes: Finally, as you’re gearing up for another year of health, happiness and productivity, be sure to take some time to reward yourself for all you’ve done this year. ‘Tis the season for holiday treats, so indulge in that cookie platter and carve out a little time for some well deserved R&R!
It’s finally over! I’m not talking about the presidential election, although I’m sure most of us are glad that’s over, too. No, I’m talking about Open Enrollment. My final client’s enrollment window opened this morning, which means all of the dozens of enrollment communications I’ve helped create for my clients are done.
That doesn’t mean, however, that my to-do list is blank. Far from it. My work now focuses on the “after” – that is, post-enrollment communications.
What does that look like? For some clients, it’s a video campaign slated for early January designed to help employees know what to do and expect when the new plan year begins. For others, it’s a wallet card listing vendor contact information so that employees can easily reach out to the right resource for help. We shape each client’s post-enrollment communications around who they are, what they offer, and what kind of support we believe their employees need most.
Whether you engage a vendor like the Trion Communications team, or you handle communications yourself, it’s a growing imperative in the benefits world to do something after enrollment season ends. Going silent the rest of the year is no longer the status quo. As I’ve said in a previous post, if you aren’t regularly supporting your employees in getting the most out of their benefits, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
So what should your post-enrollment communications focus on? These questions can help you get started:
Have you introduced a consumer-driven health plan or moved to total replacement CDHPs? CDHPs require knowledge and buy-in from employees. If you don’t tell employees what they need to know and support them in using the plan effectively, you risk setting them up for dissatisfaction, both with the plan and with you.
Have you changed, added or dropped any other plans or vendors? Have you added voluntary benefits like accident and critical illness insurance? Gotten rid of a popular PPO plan and pushed enrollment into a different type of plan? Changed vendors for dental or vision so that employees may need to find new in-network providers? Tell them what they need to know and do to use the new benefits successfully, and offer a place (intranet, benefits portal, enrollment site, etc.) where they can easily access information anytime they need it.
What were the most common questions you fielded from employees during Open Enrollment? If you got 20 inquiries from different employees about how much they can contribute to an HSA or how often they’re eligible for new glasses under the vision plan, you should take that as a sign. Your communications can be as simple as a list of FAQs that you post to the intranet, or you could turn it into a regular series of brief emails from HR, with each email providing the answer to one common question.
Do you offer benefits or programs that historically have low utilization/participation? Is engagement with your wellness program low? Does no one call the EAP? Do most employees not contribute up to your 401(k) match limit? Actively promoting what you offer year-round is a win-win for you and for your employees.
Need more help crafting a post-enrollment communication plan? Check out the client samples in our portfolio to give you some ideas, or feel free to give us a call to see how we can help!