Insights
Want to be sure your employees hear and take action on your messages? We can help.

Can You Pay Attention Longer Than A Goldfish?

Communication Tips to Get Your Employees to Take Action

By CB Morris, Senior Communication Consultant

The coronavirus pandemic continues to provide employees with countless distractions that tax their already brief attention spans. Research before the pandemic had human attention span at 8 seconds – which is less than the attention span of a goldfish (9 seconds)!

So, we shouldn’t be surprised it’s challenging to get employees to take action. Whether it’s to respond to a request, take a brief survey or fill out that performance review, there’s never been a better time to communicate with clarity to empower your employees to act.

Follow these simple tactics to help employees prioritize what needs to get done and the outcome you need.

The Messenger Matters
The subject and who the sender is are the first thing the reader sees in emails. Most employees are more responsive to messages from a leader or their manager. If you are not the manager, it could help to copy the manager.

Grab Them by the… Subject Line
Subject lines should be clear and also catch attention. Craft your subject line thoughtfully. Keep it brief and give the recipient a reason to open the email and act.

Make It Easy as 1-2-3
Sometimes vital information is buried in the second or third paragraph or even in the closing of an email. Remember the 8 second rule! Some employees may be reading from a mobile device or only scan the first couple of lines before moving on. So help them quickly understand what you need them to do right away:

  1. Summarize the request (brief is best)
  2. Highlight the action (what you need them to do) – including an estimated time requirement is a bonus!
  3. Set a clear deadline (this helps employees prioritize the action)

Hide Then Show the Details
Some employees need the details before they can take action. Others prefer to “cut to chase” and want to skip the fine points – so offer both options. But do it thoughtfully. If more information could help your employees to understand the request or importance to the business, summarize it next. You can include links to resources or a contact to answer questions.

Don’t Fail to Follow up
When a deadline is missed, be sure to have a plan to follow-up. It could be on a team call or more personal check-in. But failure to follow up on requests can set you up for more “non-responsiveness” in the future.


Need help crafting communication that gets heard above the noise?
We can help.

DE&I: The Power of Employees to Drive Change

By Cathleen Donnelly, Senior Communication Consultant

The global reckoning on race has generated soul-searching in boardrooms, in Human Resources and Corporate Communications, and among employees. According to recent research from The Conference Board, employees across all generations – Millennials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers – now rank racism and gender inequity as the top two social change issues.

In many organizations, the work to create real and lasting change has already begun – and it’s often employees who are driving it. Even as many are working remotely, employees serve as powerful, highly visible agents for change. Leaders and communicators can help boost these efforts with strategic communications to reinforce your company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I):

Start conversations – and keep them going.
Create forums where employees can openly and safely tell personal stories about how they’ve experienced or witnessed discrimination. These conversations are not easy, but we can and should encourage leaders not to avoid them.

Promote small group discussions (in-person or virtual) with a focus on the effects of discrimination. Honest and open dialogue helps change attitudes and behavior and builds trust and mutual respect.

Use collaboration tools like Yammer and Slack to highlight employee testimonials. These platforms for sharing employee stories often generate additional conversation and connections.

Enlist and support leaders at every level.
Executives and managers need to drive awareness and reinforce the company’s efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion. Make it easy by providing:

“Expertise on demand” with Leader & Manager Toolkits. A “one-stop-shop” playbook provides consistent messaging and easy-to-use tools such as talking points and PowerPoint decks.

Practical, nuts-and-bolts support. Training is essential but so are tools leaders can use every day – such as inclusive language guidelines, strategies for resolving gender- or race-based team conflicts, and checklists for assisting team members going through gender transition.

Promote corporate programs that enable employees to get involved.
Showcase your company’s commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion outside the workplace, along with initiatives that engage employees in the community, including:

Flexible schedules or paid time off programs for employees to volunteer.

Company-wide Days of Service that bring together employees, families, and community agencies. 

Matching contributions to organizations that promote education, social justice and racial equity.  

Changes that last

While Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month rightfully celebrate the achievements and contributions of historically marginalized groups, demonstrating authentic commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion requires communication all year long.

Need help creating a communication plan that reinforces and amplifies your company’s commitment? We can help.

We Have Something to Celebrate!

We’re Officially a Certified Women Owned Business

Not much to celebrate these days? Yup, right there with you. But we are excited to share that The O’Keefe Group is now certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)!

This certification underscores The O’Keefe Group’s commitment to promoting diversity in the workplace. We also recognize our clients’ commitment to foster supplier diversity, and we’re so pleased we can add diversity to your supply chain.

We look forward to continuing to provide you with internal and change communication support – strategy, consulting, writing and creative services.


About WBENC Certification

WBENC’s national standard of certification is a meticulous process including an in-depth review of the business and site inspection. The certification process is designed to confirm the business is owned, operated and majority controlled by a woman or women.

More than 1,000 corporations representing America’s most prestigious brands as well as many states, cities, and other entities accept WBENC Certification. For more information, visit WBENC.

In This Moment: Looking Ahead to 2021 Benefits Annual Enrollment

By Oonagh Power
Head of Editorial Services & Senior Communication Consultant

Raise your hand if you’re done with 2020! Yep, thought so.

Although we’ve all been navigating these tumultuous times in different ways, we do have at least one shared experience: 2020 has forced everyone out of their comfort zone.

In many aspects of our professional and personal lives, “business as usual” no longer applies. We’ve had to rethink how to best reach our employees and where we spend our time and focus. Planning for annual benefits enrollment is no exception; it’s another communication campaign we need to reassess.

Even though 2021 plan design changes may not be finalized until later in the summer, we are encouraging our clients to start discussions now about what and how to communicate. Communication is critical; now is the time to:

Start planning. Fall benefits enrollment will likely look different, as some employees return to the office and others continue to work from home. Now is the time to think about how to:
•  Ensure your annual benefits enrollment guide is mobile-friendly and easily accessible to employees and their families
•  Incorporate video, infographics, graphs, and other visual elements to simplify complicated or technical concepts
•  Consider a postcard or news magazine mailing to homes, highlighting changes and how to enroll
•  Transform your annual health fair into a virtual event

Give a snapshot. Many companies have made changes to their benefits offerings in response to the COVID-19 health care crisis. Most changes have been communicated piecemeal, as they were rolled out quickly to employees. An infographic provides an at-a-glance reminder about these recent enhancements and changes to benefits plans, including medical, prescription drugs, mental health, spending accounts, life insurance, time off, and child care support, as well as changes to 401(k) loan provisions. Sending it out now provides an introduction to benefits enrollment season.

Make it easy. We’re all exhausted by the global pandemic. The endless communication coming at us about COVID-19 doesn’t leave much brain space for understanding the important benefit decisions that need to be made this fall. We have also seen cultural shifts in how we communicate – inside and outside the workplace. Consider simplifying your enrollment guide to focus on the essential. The details can be moved to an evergreen benefits guide or a series of easy-to-read fact sheets.

We’ve been making annual benefits enrollment season easier for employees in both good and bad times for more than 20 years. Contact us if you need a hand this enrollment season.

The Shocking Stats: Introducing The O’Keefe Group Benefits Bootcamp

Do your employees fully understand their benefits? Do they know which plans will work best for them each year? Do they appreciate your company’s investment in their benefits? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you’re not alone.

Check out this infographic for the shocking stats.

Introducing The O’Keefe Group Benefits Bootcamp

We can help your employees make sense of their benefits – with The O’Keefe Group Benefits Bootcamp.

Our Benefits Bootcamp program is a fun and engaging way to educate employees during:
•  Annual enrollment
•  New hire orientation
•  Ongoing benefits education campaigns

Employees will learn:
•  How can a high-deductible health plan actually save me money?
•  What’s the difference between coinsurance and copayments?
•  What does “meeting a deductible” mean?
•  What is a prescription “formulary list”?
•  What kind of care can I get through telehealth?
•  And much more

Want to know more? Contact us today.

3 Reasons Why Storytelling Is So Right, Right Now (part 1)

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant 

A few of us at The O’Keefe Group were talking about the ongoing challenges of managing work with kids at home, and one colleague shared that she had been struggling to get her 9-year-old daughter Sofie to do her reading assignments each day.

She was also worried about her Aunt Margaret, a former teacher who is elderly, living alone and isolated. After a frustrating day of juggling the battle to read with client work, a light bulb went off – why not put the two together?

Now, every morning, an eager third-grader reads to her Aunt over FaceTime. Sofie is happily fulfilling her daily reading requirement, Aunt Margaret thoroughly enjoys this highlight of her day, and my colleague is able to focus on work!

Not only did this put a smile on all of our faces, it reminded us how powerful storytelling can be—perhaps even more so during this time when we are all in need of connection and inspiration.

Organizations that effectively use storytelling during this tumultuous time in our history are going to come out ahead. Why? Because employees are more distracted than ever. Stories “cut through the noise” – giving employees the information you need them to know, in a way that inspires action.

Why storytelling works…

•  Messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone.

•  Science tells us why. When we hear a story, chemicals like cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in the brain:
– Cortisol helps us remember things.
– Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged.
– Oxytocin, associated with empathy, is an important element in building, deepening, or maintaining good relationships.

Storytelling can help leaders build trust.
Right now, employees are receiving an enormous amount of communication. And yet, in these uncertain times, there is so much information your employees need and, in fact, want to hear from you!

A recent Edelman survey found that 63% of employees trust their employer more than they trust government or news sources for information about COVID-19. Plus employees often rely on their immediate supervisor when it comes to understanding change and how it affects them. This is especially true as organizations prepare to bring workers back into the office.

If you haven’t already, ask your leaders to send out regular updates, sharing stories of how the organization is responding to the COVID-19 challenge. This is a great way for leaders to show empathy, compassion, and their human side (including when pets or kids interrupt a video!).

Francis McLoughlin, Senior Communications Partner, CVS Health, captures this sentiment well: “Leaders are becoming more human, engaging with the rank and file more often and in a more honest way. Employees appreciate transparency, even if the message is difficult, and they will be more willing to help with the best solution.”

Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Human Resource Officer gets this right with his salute to “onsite superheroes” who are working daily to manufacture critical health care products and advance a COVID-19 vaccine. A senior executive at another Fortune 500 company takes a different approach, creating weekly videos from his home office, dressed in casual clothes. In the 2-minute videos, he thanks all employees for their hard work in the face of uncertainty by sharing specific stories of teams and individuals who have gone above and beyond.

This recognition through storytelling is key because, as a recent International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) article reinforces, “Recognition does more than raise spirits; it demonstrates generosity, which builds trust.”


Don’t miss our 2nd installment: how storytelling can create organizational goodwill at a time when we all need a little extra inspiration.

Clear and open communication with employees is always critical. We’ve been helping clients communicate with their employees in both good and bad times for over two decades. If you need an extra set of hands to keep employees informed, let us know. We’re here to help.

3 Reasons Why Storytelling Is So Right, Right Now (part 2)

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant

In part 1 of this blog series, we explained how leaders can use storytelling to help build trust during an uncertain time. In this installment, we discuss how storytelling—in particular stories about the organization’s purpose, mission, and good deeds—can create organizational goodwill that will pay off well into the future.

Google searches for “good news” are at an all-time high. It’s not surprising that we are all in need of a feel-good moment. Many companies have done amazing things to respond to these tumultuous times, so if your company is one of them, it’s time to start sharing these stories with employees.

Storytelling can create organizational goodwill now and for the future.
Organizational pride can help keep people motivated. And it could even be good for their mental health. A recent International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) article maintains, “Keeping employees connected with the purpose and meaning of their work is essential for emotional resilience and mental wellness.”

Starbucks, for example, is doing a particularly good job of telling great stories. Even more inspirational? Employees can also contribute to the storytelling—whether it’s about masks they are making for health care workers or how they were able to help out a neighbor in need.

It’s also a good time to share stories of your organization’s founding and remind employees why and how it came to be. As Paul Zak, Founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies Professor of Economics and author of “Trust Factor” states, “What passion led the founder(s) to risk health and wealth to start the enterprise? Why was it so important, and what barriers had to be overcome?”

Sharing the history of your organization’s founding and larger purpose against the backdrop of our current crisis can be both grounding and unifying. Referencing your founding principles can be appropriate even when sharing difficult news – as Airbnb Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky did when discussing workforce reduction.

The hope is that when we are on the other side of this pandemic, and employees once again have choices about the kind of organization they want to work for, they will remember how their employer responded and communicated in this moment.

As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Don’t miss our 3rd installment: how storytelling can help employees learn about and feel comfortable with new ways of working and living.

Clear and open communication with employees is always critical. We’ve been helping clients communicate with their employees in both good and bad times for over two decades. If you need an extra set of hands to keep employees informed, let us know. We’re here to help.

3 Reasons Why Storytelling Is So Right, Right Now (part 3)

By Danielle Foley
Senior Communication Consultant

In the first two parts of this blog series, we shared how storytelling can help leaders create trust and inspire organizational goodwill. In this final installment, we share how storytelling can get us through a difficult time when we need to adapt quickly to rapidly changing norms.

For many of us, work routines we took for granted vanished overnight—and suddenly we’ve all been asked to do things that are new and unfamiliar. An effective way to support your employees is by sharing personal stories of how we’re all challenged as we adapt to our new world.

Storytelling can help employees feel connected while adjusting to new ways of working (and living).

Stories make us feel better because they are relatable. They make us feel less alone. And whether it’s a touching story about an elderly Aunt or funny snippets about how pets are coping, stories can give us a silver lining. And right now, we all need a silver lining.

Many of your employees are happy to share their stories – you just need to ask. Get them talking about:

Working from home with kids. What works, what doesn’t. Amidst the frustrations there’s some fun that can be shared here.

Working remotely. How to improve your “makeshift” office; how to avoid working around the clock; or how pets are handling their new “coworkers” – everyone has something to share.

Managing stress and anxiety. Whether it’s meditation, cooking, or a walk around the block, a video compilation of these ideas can give us all inspiration.

Highlight the heroes. Your employees are doing amazing things for health care workers, their mail carrier, or their community. Sharing these kind gestures builds company pride.

Managing a remote team. Leading through a pandemic is new for everyone. Talking about the successes – and the failures – can help as managers lead teams in “business as unusual.”


We’ll wrap up our storytelling series with these key takeaways:

•  Stories make us human, and can inspire and motivate.

•  Remember, the goal is to make people feel something: an emotion like sad, stressed, happy, angry – not informed or educated.

•  Don’t craft the story around what you want to say; craft it around what will inspire your employees.

•  Think about creating a storytelling campaign and breaking up content into chunks, episodes, snackable content.

We do this all the time, so contact us if you need an extra set of hands communicating in good times or in bad times. We can help.

Manager Communications in This Moment

COVID-19 Communications Insight: Go Back to Basics

By Oonagh Power
Head of Editorial Services & Senior Communication Consultant

Learning how to communicate with a remote team on the fly? You’re not alone. For many managers, leading a work-from-home team was an unexpected and sudden change.

But there’s good news: While much about the ways we’re all working seems to have changed overnight, communication basics remain the same. Sticking to these tried-and-true principles can help you and your team adjust.

Be consistent.
Creating moments of certainty in this extraordinarily uncertain time will set you up for success. If you have not established regular touchpoints with the team, plan them now. Choose the channels that work best for your team right now: conference or video calls, email blasts, Yammer discussions, 1:1 check-ins. (Even better, use a mix-and-match approach.) Then establish a cadence, so the team knows when and how they will hear from you next.

Remember that communication is always more effective when it’s two-way, so if your team is not meeting on a regular basis, establish an easy way for employees to give feedback or make suggestions. What’s the best way to keep those lines of communication open? Ask your team for feedback.

Be clear.
Many company priorities and processes have dramatically shifted over the past few weeks. What does that mean for your team’s goals and objectives? Clarify roles and responsibilities, and create a forum for the team to raise concerns. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t have an answer, but be sure to both acknowledge their concerns and commit to a timeline to follow up.

Be clear and brief in emails and meeting invites. Use the subject line to help your team manage their overflowing inboxes, categorizing each message with an all caps label (eg, FYI, ACTION REQUIRED, FOR FUN). Encourage the team to use the same set of labels so everyone knows at a glance which emails should take priority.

Be considerate.
You and your team are dealing with added pressures, which might include family or financial concerns, loneliness, depression, or anxiety. How can you adjust your communication to make life a bit easier? Small changes can make a big difference.

•  Schedule meetings for more convenient times. We recommend avoiding Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. Ask your team for what works for them, and try varying the times to accommodate a variety of schedules.

•  Keep meetings as short as possible – eg, 30 – 45 minutes instead of an hour. Then start and end on time. An agenda helps keep everyone on track.

•  Understand and accept that folks might be unintentionally distracted during a meeting or even pulled away completely. Follow up with a quick list of key takeaways and action items.

•  Concentrate on communicating deliverables and owners, then leave it up to the team to get it done on their own schedule. Be open to rearranging responsibilities as needed.

Communication Insight

We’re all learning the do’s and don’ts of communicating during a pandemic. Returning to communication basics can help your team adjust to new ways of working. Need help crafting a strategy for communicating with your employees? Contact us.

COVID-19 Communication Insight: When 401(k) Plans Become an Emergency Safety Net

By Thomas Taglieri 
Business Strategist & Senior Communication Consultant

April 2020

In response to the extreme financial burden many Americans are experiencing during the current pandemic crisis, the US Congress recently passed the CARES Act – with a goal of stimulating the economy and providing an emergency safety net.

One provision eases restrictions on access to money set aside in tax-deferred 401(k) accounts.

What does this mean for employees?
Financial professionals generally advise against early withdrawals from retirement plans to ensure maximized earnings and avoid the 10% penalty prior to age 59½. However, provisions in the CARES Act waive the 10% penalty for early withdrawal of up to $100,000 (with proof of a COVID-19–related hardship).

The withdrawal is taxed over a three-year period instead of one calendar year, decreasing the immediate tax burden. And, if the participant repays the entire distribution back into their retirement plan within three years, they avoid all income taxes, according to the act.

While an early distribution may mean missing out on investment earnings, this safety net may help bridge financial responsibilities for furloughed employees or those working reduced hours.

What does this mean for employers?
Employers need to be prepared with easy-to-understand communications to answer questions about:
•  How the CARES Act changed loan and withdrawal options in your company 401(k)
•  What specifically qualifies as a hardship withdrawal for COVID-19
•  The potential long-term impact of a hardship withdrawal on retirement savings
•  The IRS deadline for taking a penalty-free withdrawal
•  How much money can be withdrawn from the 401(k) during this crisis
•  How to access the funds available for hardship withdrawal
•  How to pay back a COVID-19–related hardship withdrawal and avoid income taxes

Communication is critical.
Employees are looking to their employers for guidance during these uncertain economic times. They want to understand their options and know how to easily find information. At the same time, we are all being bombarded with a tremendous amount of information. So before you hit send on that long email, take a few minutes to consider how you’re presenting the content. Complex information, in particular, can often be better communicated visually (e.g., icons, infographic, or video).

Communication Insight

Communicating during a pandemic is new for all of us, but tried-and-true communication principles give a solid foundation for communicating in this moment. If you need support with COVID-19 communications, The O’Keefe Group can help with strategy, messaging and creative services.  Contact us.