Six tips for communicating negative change to employees

Pensions and benefits is constantly evolving and we often see “negative change” being communicated to staff.  

This could be the removal of a benefit, the introduction of an excess charge for Private Medical Insurance (PMI), closing a final salary (DB) pension scheme… the list goes on.  You can probably remember a negative change which you have had to communicate to staff.


We have put together six tips on communicating negative change to employees:



When is the change coming in?  Work backwards and create a clear comms plan.  Think about how many touch-points you need to get your audience to fully understand your message.  We all like to think that staff will digest and fully understand our first email about a topic, but in reality they probably skim read and take little in.  We would suggest at least three touch-points (or more if this is a very significant change).



Does the change affect everyone equally? Probably not, it may not even affect a certain population.  It is good practice to think about each population of your audience and tailor the messages to them.  Blanket comms are no good for negative change.  



Line managers will be one of the first places staff will go to ask questions.  Make sure they are well informed and understand the reason behind the change, so that they can be your “soldiers on the front line”.  If staff receive this news and become downhearted, then they will seek answers to “why have you done this thing that has a negative impact on me?”  If you don’t give your managers the tools to put out the fires, then this could cause tension within their teams. 



This is perhaps the most important stage, remember we are talking about negative change.  Don’t try to brush over the fact that this is negative, empathise with your staff, understand how this will affect them.  Try to paint a picture of the future.  There is a business decision behind the change, so show them how this will have a positive impact further down the line.  



Create your key messages at the start of the project and continue to reinforce them at every touchpoint.  As we said at the start of this blog, you have to repeat those messages to ensure your audience comes away from each comm with the key info in their head.  



“Our way or the highway” seldom works with negative change.  You need to let your audience have a voice, allow them to provide you with feedback and this can turn into a two-way conversation once again, giving you the opportunity to reinforce your key messages.  Often we predict that a change will impact someone in a certain way, but assumptions can usually be some way off the mark.  Through feedback you will know exactly what your audiences’ thoughts are and they will perhaps help you to plan the next stage of comms.  

Does retirement really mean no more work?

Does retirement really mean no more work? 

The most common question we come across from employees when it comes to their pension is, what age will I be able to retire? Which makes sense, it’s the whole reason we put money away each month!

Well, according to research completed by the Post Office, 1 in 5 people are forced back into work following their retirement! This is a scenario, I’m sure, that most of us would ideally like to avoid.

This is most likely down to a lack of sufficient planning. For retiring members, it can be complicated trying to figure out not only a life without work but exactly how much they are going to need to get by!

We found from our research that 83% of members are in the dark when it comes to when they will be able to afford to retire, which would go some way in explaining why 1 in 5 are having to return to work after retirement, because of poor planning and uninformed members!

A few things put in place will go a long way ensuring your members are fully informed and aren’t left in a situation where they are forced back into work.

Access to a portal and tools - Providing employees with 24/7 access to an online retirement income modeller is a game changer when it comes to retirement planning and financial education!

Access to advisers - Having a chat with an adviser will go a long way in clearing points up and discussing the numbers further!

Early communication - Communication 5 or more years before retirement means members are 2.5 times more likely to understand when they can afford to retire!

Everyone's circumstances are different, and retirement can throw up some costs that were never expected, but early planning and the correct support can ensure employees are as prepared as possible for a happy retirement!

By David Pugh - Managing Partner

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How to reduce your benefits postage costs

How to reduce your benefits postage costs

Some of the UK's largest pension schemes still have a large percentage of their members receiving their pension information via a physical copy in the post, often resulting in some pretty hefty postage fees!

So, how do you reduce those costs? Well, there's an obvious tactic and that is - move them to digital!

I know, I know, some of your audience won't have email's or they rarely access them, some of them will still want a physical copy, but we are reducing, not removing.  Just think, how would your quarterly benefits statement postage costs look if a 10% reduction could be achieved?

Well, the first port of call is to get a "portal" where you can send your comms out from, which is a big job in itself but that is a topic for another conversation.  But those of you who have an already established portal/website/intranet, then there are some steps you can take to reduce your costs - 

1. SET GOALS - before undertaking any project, set goals of what your ideal scenario would look like i.e. 70% of the audience signed up for paperless statements.

2. SPLIT GOALS - you're not going to get everyone signing up in one big bunch (unless you offer them Krispy Kreme doughnuts as an incentive - who can turn those down?) so split those goals into campaigns i.e. Campaign 1 - 10% sign up for paperless statements

3. CALLS TO ACTION - have clear CTA's on your website so that users can register to go paperless (see our other blog post on Calls To Action HERE)

4. REPORT & LEARN - the final step is probably the most crucial because like we say, you aren't going to hit the nail on the head first time and get an overhaul of people wanting paperless.  This can be down to many things, style/tone of comms, engaging imagery etc... So you need to pay attention to each bit of communication that goes out, learn from it and adapt where necessary.  

Driving the traffic to the website is the easy part, converting them is the challenge, so you need your analytics in place to assess the effectiveness of the campaigns.  

We are the Pension Communication Partner for a FTSE 100 client with around 30,000 active members. In 2016 19,663 were not using the online portal, leaving the client with no choice but send printed copies of all communications to the members not online. A typical print example of sending a small booklet/leaflet including postage to around 10,000 members, can cost anywhere between £8,000-£15,000.

Through targeted and engaging communications, we increased the number of members online to 29,408 in 2017. With up to six communications being sent to members every year, there is a potential saving of up to £90,000 per annum.

View our communication page HERE

By Dan Mills - Creative Director

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Focus groups are a great way to gain insights from your audience, they can serve as the first step to developing business cases, gaining results at the end of campaigns or just checking in on your audience.

In a benefits capacity, they can be used to -

  • Get feedback for introducing new services such as websites or new benefits
  • Understanding where education needs to take place for instance with pension freedom options
  • Managing change such as provider switching

Whatever your motivation, following these steps will ensure you're well on your way to a successful focus group.


Work out your goals

Before anything, you need to work out what you want from the Focus Group. Are you ratifying new website designs? Working out how best to communicate to a group? Understanding your target audience better? 

It’s really important to be clear and set your goals as this will guide you on the right track from the off!


Define your target audience

Now that you’ve set your goals, you should have a clear idea of the audience you want to target. Demographics to consider are:

Gender / Age / Job role / Relationship status / Income range / Interests / Location

You can be as broad or as targeted as you like, it’s really all down to what you want to achieve. Adding detailed criteria will give you richer data but will make recruiting participants more difficult, but not impossible!


Reaching out to your participants

This can be the most difficult part. Unless you’ve hit the jackpot and your prospective participants all sign up within 10 minutes of communicating (dream on!), you may have to incentivise the process. A voucher, free trial of the product or FOOD can be great ways of getting people to sign up. 

Make sure your communication is targeted, clear, simple and engaging. A few small details like date, time and location will suffice. It’s all about getting their attention. 

The ideal size for a focus group is around 10-15 people. This will give you a good spread of people and give all participants a chance to speak their mind.


Designing the questions

One of the main aims should be to stimulate rich conversations, so steer clear of closed questions and keep them open. Ratings can be good to get simple and powerful statistics on how people feel about something, but make sure you follow that up with a question that probes further into why they gave that answer.  These also provide greats stats that you can report back on and hopefully see a % increase in vital areas. 

The amount of questions does all depend on your the subject matter and the time you have allocated for the session, but keep them simple and to the point. If you go off track, people will lose interest. 


Running the session

Whatever the subject matter, you can always make it fun for the participants! Make sure the session is interactive and fast paced, this will keep people engaged, which will give you the best results. 

You ideally want a moderator and an assistant. The moderator will facilitate the discussion which leaves the assistant with the important job of recording the session, taking notes and making sure things are running to time. 

One of my pet peeves, are unoriginal icebreakers. Be a bit different! They can be as obscure as you like, or you can use this to get to know your audience even better. 

At the end of the session make sure the participants know how valuable their answers have been, and how the results will eventually benefit them. Thank them individually and send them away with the leftover biscuits. 



This is the exciting part - seeing the hard work come to life in raw data. Open up Excel, input all the answers including transcription of any recordings. Make sure you’ve captured all answers however positive or negative, it will all help shape how you move forward with the project. 

Make sure you’ve got clear categories and you can filter the demographics you set out, pull out key insights and devise a report outlining the major findings. 



Running focus groups will give you invaluable audience intelligence. So many projects fail due to a lack of understanding of the audience and blindspots that go unnoticed when you and your colleagues have been immersed in the subject matter.

Over the last year we used Focus Groups to help build our Retirement Options Planner. Designed to be an easy to use tool to show where an employee is currently at with their retirement plans. Listening to the viewpoints of a wide range of different people who are approaching retirement has enabled us to build a solution that is truly fit for purpose. 


We have also used Focus Groups with an existing FTSE 100 client. As the pensions communication partner, it’s imperative we understand their employees and the communication techniques  that work for them - as every workforce is different. It helps us with ‘the now’ and throws out interesting trends for the future to keep us one step ahead. 

So be clear on your goals, target your market, design an engaging and concise session, analyse the data fully and produce a report to take forward.

By David Pugh - Managing Partner

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