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

The Caregiver Crisis: Prevent Burnout and Stay Productive

multigenerational asian familyBy Madeline Worshek, Marketing & Communications Intern

By 2025, it’s estimated that roughly half the American workforce will be caregivers for a parent or elderly loved one. And they’ll likely be doing so with little knowledge or support. Balancing the demands of work with the physical, mental, and financial demands of being a caregiver (perhaps to children as well as parents) can be overwhelming and drive people out of the workforce.

There isn’t a simple answer for these complex situations, but here’s what employers and communicators should know about the caregiver crisis and how to help employees succeed––at work and at home.

Who does this affect and why does this matter?

The caregiving crisis affects everyone, from entry-level employees to CEOs. More than 60% of caregivers are employed at some point while providing care, and the majority cut hours, turn down promotions, or even stop working to fulfill their family obligations. And despite recent trends toward more gender-balanced caregiving, it still predominantly falls to women. When companies provide and communicate support for caregivers in the workplace, it supports women in the workplace and ensures that their diverse perspectives and contributions aren’t lost.

How can employers help?

There are many ways employers can support the changing needs of their caregiving employees, especially when it comes to preventing burnout. Ensuring your workforce knows about the options available to them and that they are supported can help engage and retain employees.

  • Flexible scheduling: In-the-office face time every day, all day is so last century. The traditional, rigid 9-to-5 workday structure can create challenges for workers who need to drop off/pick up kids at daycare or school or drive a loved one to a doctor’s appointment. Allowing employees to adjust their “work windows” to compensate for unique needs decreases absenteeism, enabling increased productivity with decreased stress.
  • Remote work: While remote work became popular out of pandemic-induced necessity, the last few years have opened many people’s eyes to its array of benefits. Whether this means freeing up an extra hour for meetings or focused work during what would’ve been commuting time or the flexibility to step away to provide care to a loved one, remote work can help employees find the time to accomplish all their responsibilities.
  • Time off: Sometimes what caregivers need most is a few days away from the office. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers employees job-protected family leave for up to 12 weeks a year (with some limitations). FMLA leave is unpaid, however, and only a handful of states currently offer guaranteed paid family leave leaving many families in a tough spot. This is where companies can step in. As the number of caregivers at work grows, employees will increasingly seek out employers who offer them paid time off for taking care of their elderly loved ones (as for maternity, paternity, and adoption).
  • Resources for caregivers: One major risk of stepping into the caregiver role is burnout. Providing employees with access to knowledgeable elder-care professionals can help provide direction and support for employees making difficult choices for their loved ones. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offer counseling sessions and can provide referrals and other resources. Some companies even offer access to and discounts on services including legal counsel, assisted living, and daytime care for seniors. These companies also hold regular town hall meetings to ensure that caregivers know these resources are supported and how they can use them.

How to encourage employee participation

While most large companies already incorporate elder-care benefits into their offerings, many employees aren’t aware of them. Here are a few tools for communicating these options to employees and convincing them to use what you’re offering:

  • Testimonials: Show employees just how well the support works. This can be as simple as creating a short blog post from a two-minute interview with an employee about what benefit they use, why, and the impact that benefit has had. Peer support is key to getting the word out and helping employees feel comfortable doing what is needed to prevent burnout.
  • Prepare managers: Day-to-day leaders should be compassionate about employees’ concerns and be able to answer questions about elder-care benefits or point them to the right resources. It’s important to be sensitive to caregiving stigma, so it’s essential to train managers how to recognize signs of burnout and offer help. Invest in training managers and provide resources, such as informational toolkits, to help them communicate about the benefits available.
  • Lead by example: If leaders want employees to feel comfortable taking care of themselves, leaders should be the first to make some adjustments. Encouraging C-suite executives to share their own stories helps to destigmatize caregiving and signal to employees that it’s okay to talk about the challenges they’re facing. Whether this means leaders pushing back their own daily start times or taking some time off to care for a loved one, demonstrating that well-being comes first will alleviate employees’ anxieties.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for supporting caregiving employees––think of these solutions as ‘pinches’ of support that you can adjust until you get it just right. Combining these different strategies will help employees to feel empowered about their decisions about when, where, and how they can work best while also supporting their families.

Do you need help communicating new, expanded, or underutilized employee benefits and resources? Contact us today.

Storytelling: Put all the pieces in place

Photograph of multicolored jigsaw puzzle piecesBy Madeline Worshek, Marketing & Communications Intern

If you’ve ever struggled to get your point across or worried that your presentations are utterly forgettable, you’re not alone. Trying to communicate effectively can sometimes feel like a jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces seem to fit quite right. Successful storytelling works like the puzzle’s border: It forms a framework that helps you put the pieces together to create a coherent, powerful narrative.

There are myriad benefits to using storytelling in the workplace, but there are two main advantages: creating connection and making a lasting impact. These make storytelling memorable and effective.

Create Connection

Storytelling can be an effective team-building technique. Everyone brings a unique perspective to working on a team, especially on interdisciplinary projects. With team members who have variety of backgrounds and goals, it’s easy focus on personal experiences and interests and miss the bigger picture. Telling a story with relatable characters, challenges, and reactions  can generate empathy and build trust among team members, encouraging conversation and exchange of ideas. It also helps to demystify jargon, another common team communication challenge. Describing what needs to be accomplished through storytelling can help clarify more complex aspects of work and help team members see how they add value and contribute to the team’s success.

Make a Lasting Impact

Storytelling can help make your messages memorable. Much of corporate communication is focused on facts and numbers, but storytelling uses characters and emotions to create a lasting impact. If you wrap your important numbers into the narrative of your story, the statistics can take on more meaning and real-world importance because the emotion and events of your story makes them memorable.

Build Storytelling Skills

While much of corporate communication is based on facts and figures, storytelling also has a role to play in professional communication. Both can be used effectively to get your message across, and the combination can be powerful. Here are some tips for helping teams improve their storytelling:

  • Workshop it: Workshops can be a great way to practice new skills in a low-stress environment. Sharing fun facts, engaging examples, and allowing for interactivity helps to build confidence so people feel comfortable using storytelling in their day-to-day duties.
  • Lead by example: As often happens when you introduce a new approach, employees may hesitate to use storytelling at first. One tip is to have a few of your own stories on hand to demonstrate good storytelling. t And, once they’re off to a good start, don’t let your team members revert to their old ways. To create real change in the way your employees communicate, continue modeling storytelling on a regular basis.
  • Offer feedback and reward excellence: Developing a new skill involves trial and error. Don’t discourage people when their storytelling falls flat; instead, recognize effort and offer constructive feedback. On the flip side, acknowledge and recognize great storytelling when it happens. Rewarding success shows what you value and will help build momentum for effective storytelling across your organization.

Make Sure Your Email Gets the Job Done

Hands typing on a laptop keyboardBy Madeline Worshek, Marketing & Communications Intern

According to a 2023 study from Microsoft, office workers can spend up to 8.8 hours a week on email. Nearly everyone has an overflowing inbox, so it’s no wonder emails get quickly skimmed and sometimes even missed. Here are a few tips to make sure your emails are effective and get read.

RE: Subject Lines

Make your subject line the headline: It should summarize the entire message and command attention. If action is required, say so here. Avoid “lazy” subject lines such as Compliance Training. A better option is: Action required: Compliance training must be completed by March 31. And avoid low-information subject lines such as Quick question or Need your assistance, which don’t demand to be read.

Easy as 1-2-3!

The average human attention span is only about eight seconds, so many of us just skim the first few sentences of an email before deciding whether a message is urgent. Don’t bury information in the second or third paragraph of your email, use the 1-2-3 method:

  1. Capture key information in the first paragraph and put the most important information up front.
  2. Highlight the action required. This is where you can get more specific with a timeline, the steps needed to accomplish a task, and any other relevant information.
  3. Establish a clear deadline if needed.

Keep It Simple and Easily Scannable

Remember that eight-second attention span – and don’t include too much in a single email. If you are looking for information, make sure you call attention to each item you need – something like: Can you answer these three questions? And then provide a numbered list. Or If you are imparting information, make sure to use headers and bullet points, which make your email easier to scan and digest.

Consider Other Channels

Email is not going away any time soon – and that’s OK. But consider if this is the right channel for your message. If it’s an audience of one and you want to have a discussion, try Teams chat or a phone call. This eliminates the need for a lot of back and forth, which creates email overload. If you need input from a group, a Zoom or Teams meeting might be more efficient.

Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

While your hot topic or burning question may be highly important to you, it’s not necessarily a priority for your audience. So apply the Golden Rule of Email: Don’t send to others what you wouldn’t want them to send to you. Respect the recipient’s busy schedule by keeping it short, to the point, and easy to understand.

What does Gen Z want? Communicating with the newest generation in the workforce

By Cathy Donnelly and Danielle Foley, Senior Communications Consultants

Members of Five smiling GenZers, seated.“Gen Z” (those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s) are fully wired digital natives who expect communication in their personal lives to be concise, visually appealing, and mobile-friendly. But what about workplace communication? Do those same preferences hold true, and how do members of Gen Z feel about the communications they receive from managers and leaders in their organizations?

To find out, we spoke with two members of Gen Z who recently entered the workforce. Kelly O. is a 25-year-old creative marketing specialist at a corporate wellness provider. Mike D., also 25, is an executive assistant for an association that provides leadership development and educational program support to colleges and universities.

How do you prefer to receive job-related information (company policies, pay, performance, benefits, company direction)? Does it depend on the topic?

Both Kelly and Mike agree that while digital communication is convenient for most workplace topics, they appreciate face-to-face or Zoom calls to introduce new and important information. Mike prefers to learn about something new face-to-face or via Zoom first, then receive a written follow-up that he can reference at any time.

When it comes to benefits, Kelly says hearing information from HR experts in meetings versus just reading about them helps her better understand complex topics like health care coverage and 401(k) plans.

Mike says with all the changes in the workplace since COVID-19, it’s vital to have an updated employee handbook. He feels policies like remote work, vacation, sick leave, and benefits need to have a “single source of truth,” so everyone is on the same page, including leadership.

What workplace communication tools have proven most effective for you? And, given new instant messaging tools, how do you set boundaries so you’re not always responding to messages?

Both Kelly and Mike’s organizations use instant messaging tools (e.g., Slack; Microsoft Teams) for light conversation, quick questions, and non-urgent updates. They appreciate the casual nature of conversation on this platform, which is similar to texting. It also enables them to stay connected no matter where they’re working—remotely, in the office, or while traveling. For important updates and to share documents, they still prefer email.

Mike is careful to mute Slack notifications on the weekend or after hours and keeps his “Outlook app safely un-integrated” from his personal email. Kelly set boundaries with clients and coworkers early on, noting a 24-hour response time.

In the beginning of the pandemic Kelly found it hard to juggle all the many ways of communicating—her phone, Microsoft Teams, Outlook—so she started to close email for a few hours and set her status to “do not disturb” on Teams. As a remote worker, she notes that she also needed to set boundaries with friends and family. “Just because I was home didn’t mean I was available!”

What do you think the older generations (Boomers, Gen-Xers) you communicate with at work could do better/differently?

Mike would love it if Boomers and Gen-Xers could cut down on the number of meetings they organize. According to Mike, these meetings “interrupt focused work time and usually accomplish very little. Most of the time the information could have easily been sent in an email. And meetings are usually followed by email summaries to all who participated, so why not just have the whole interaction over e-mail?”

Kelly feels that members of these two generations have a harder time maintaining work-life boundaries than younger generations. She says she’s never had a younger co-worker reach out on weekends or holidays, but she has received after-hours, weekend, and holiday communications from older co-workers.

Is video an effective way for executives to communicate? Why or why not?

Mike draws a distinction between how executives communicate via Zoom to share information in lieu of a face-to-face meeting.  He appreciates the convenience of live Zoom meetings, and notes that they still feel personal. However, he feels that pre-recorded executive videos can be impersonal and contrived. He would much rather read about new company policies or direction versus listening to a pre-recorded executive video.

Kelly echoes a similar sentiment. For her, important company decisions are best communicated directly by her supervisor so that if she has questions, she can ask them right away. She doesn’t necessarily listen to a whole video to find out something important; she typically skips the intro and ending to cut to the chase. She also cautions that anything longer than three minutes is simply too long if you want to connect with a Gen Z audience.

When it comes to communication about benefits, what do you want/need to know?

Fortunately for both Kelly and Mike, they are still covered by their parents’ health insurance plans. But, as their time on those policies winds down, they are concerned about understanding what benefits are available to them and how they will enroll.

Mike wants to know: “What does it cost? What does it cover? What does it not cover? And are there options?” Kelly wants communication that is simple and free of jargon. Her HR department holds targeted information sessions for employees who are transitioning off their parents’ benefits, which she finds extremely helpful. During those calls, which are similar to professors’ office hours, she can ask all her questions and hear the HR representative explain unfamiliar terms like coinsurance and deductibles to the group.

What are your thoughts on how younger generations feel about well-being benefits?

Kelly, who works for a well-being company, says her peers are most definitely looking to work for organizations that provide mental health benefits, support for work-life balance, and tools to prevent burnout. She notes that her generation is not afraid to “job hop” to find the work culture and benefits that are important to them. She appreciates the tone set by her manager’s mantra, “We work to live, we don’t live to work,” which makes it easy to take full advantage of PTO and benefits without feeling guilty.

While not directly related to communication, we’re curious about your impression of and experiences with company culture thus far.

Both Mike and Kelly have strong opinions about company culture and what it means to them.

Kelly, who joined the workforce in 2020, says she doesn’t have a real sense of what office culture was like prior to the pandemic. She often hears about a workplace being “like a family,” but has not experienced that firsthand since her company is mostly remote.

Mike believes that company culture needs to be driven by clear, firm policies that are modeled by senior management. For example, his previous workplace offered unlimited paid time off, but no one ever felt comfortable taking it due to the “unrelenting workload” and “ire we would draw from our bosses if were absent for long.” He also notes that while his current company has a hybrid work schedule requiring staff to be in the office three days a week, senior management works remotely most of the time. This leads many employees to follow suit and rarely come into the office.

Kelly feels lucky that her company culture recognizes the need for flexibility in employees’ lives. That flexibility extends not only to where employees work—they can be remote or in-office—but also to the hours they keep. Company policy states that they can take up to four hours off without tapping into PTO, provided their work is getting done. They also have designated random “WOOHOO” days where they “work only on hours of obligation.” On these days, while staff must take client calls/meetings and adhere to project deadlines, they are otherwise free to take time for themselves. “It’s policies like these that help people have a life outside of work,” she notes.

[Note: For more on Gen Z’s desire for flexibility and individuality, read this article.]

What advice would you give to someone coming out of college into their first “real job” about how to navigate this new world of work?

Mike notes it’s important to find a mentor at your company. “Having a ’safe’ ally, someone senior to you who has been around for a while and can tell you about the nuances of company culture, history, and politics is immensely beneficial,” he says. “They can help you integrate into the company and carve a niche for yourself.” He feels there is tremendous value in having someone who will steer you in the right direction, go to bat for you, and help you in any way they can.

Kelly noted that it takes a while to learn the jargon and find a balance between being overly casual and too stiff. She recalled a time when a kind boss told her to read through her emails before sending and delete at least a couple of exclamation points.

Kelly also advises new employees to keep work-life balance front and center and clearly communicate boundaries (for example, when they will respond to emails, texts, etc.). She also cautions new hires not to put too much pressure on themselves to know what they don’t know. “A good company will train you and provide you with the guidance and support to help you grow,” she explains.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Well, there you have it—insight from two Gen Z employees about how they like to receive communication and their candid thoughts on organizational culture and work-life balance.

We were surprised to learn that some “old-school” communication methods—like print, email, and staff handbooks—are still important components of employee communication. We were also struck, but not surprised, by the extent to which maintaining boundaries around work and personal lives was a priority for both of our interviewees. This generation may finally nudge workplaces in the direction of better work and life integration for all, and for that we can be thankful!

If you’d like help communicating to the newest generation in the workforce, contact us today.

Do your employee benefits align with your company’s values?

By Kellie O’Keefe, Freelance Health & Wellness Writer

Employee benefits can be seen as a window into an organization’s values. As workers continue to reckon with what’s important to them in life and in a job, offering benefits that are in tune with their needs is crucial for retaining current employees and attracting new ones.

For employers, demonstrating support for employees is now more critical than ever. Many industries are continuing to grapple with the effects of “The Great Resignation” of 2022, during which more than 47 million workers, or 2.6% of the U.S. working population, quit their jobs. In fact, a recent World Economic Forum analysis suggests that limited workplace flexibility and a lack of support for health and well-being are among the top reasons employees leave their jobs.

Do your benefits line up with your company values – and what your employees need? Here are a few things to consider.

Value: Employee health and well-being.
A health benefits package that includes just the basics – medical, dental, vision – may not address the full range of issues facing today’s workers. At a time when one in four U.S. adults struggles with mental illness and depression among young people is on the rise, support for mental health is crucial. And a holistic approach to healthcare that promotes nutrition, preventive care, and fitness can demonstrate your commitment to comprehensive physical and mental well-being.

On the financial side, while a competitive 401(k) plan can provide the foundation for employees’ long-term retirement planning, organizations truly committed to employees’ financial well-being might consider the full employee life cycle – for example, offering help with student loan debt and saving for major purchases, along with financial literacy, investment, and retirement planning seminars.

Value: Work-life balance and flexibility.
All too often, a company’s stated position doesn’t match employees’ on-the-job experience. An organization that provides substantial financial bonuses for hitting sales targets but limits paid time off, expects employees to respond to work demands 24/7, and offers minimal support for professional development sends the message, “We value what you can do for us, not what you need to perform effectively.”

Can your business give employees the flexibility to create a work schedule that allows them to integrate personal and work demands? For example, allowing employees to modify their work hours to pursue continuing education or to accommodate elder care needs, personal appointments, day care drop off/pick up times, and school events recognizes and respects the importance of employees’ responsibilities outside of work.

Value: Support for families.
Most organizations recognize that supporting workers’ families fosters a more productive and sustainable work environment. And meaningful support may mean different things to different employees, reaching beyond workplace flexibility policies to include paid parental leave (for both parents); family-building benefits like fertility, surrogacy, and adoption assistance; and emergency back-up childcare and elder care.

The bottom line: Taking a hard look at your company’s priorities, what you say you value – and how your benefits programs line up against those priorities and values – can make an important difference in how your employees feel about your company and how they perform their jobs.

And once you’ve aligned your priorities and your programs, communication – clear, direct, and frequent – is critical to ensuring employee understanding and support.

Do you need help communicating new, expanded, or underutilized benefits and resources that address a range of employee needs? Contact us today.

New Ways of Working: Observations from a Post-Pandemic World

A Conversation with Heather Maris, Senior Vice President,
Human Resources, Swiss Re

Heather Maris, Sr. VP, Human Resources, Swiss Re

With the COVID-19 pandemic came a fundamental shift in how and where people do their jobs. And, while there is some debate about the benefits and drawbacks of remote work, many of the changes are here to stay:

• A 2022 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that 83% of executives believe remote work has been successful at their companies; 72% plan to continue offering a hybrid work option.

• According to an International Workplace Group (IWG) survey of more than 15,000 business people across 80 countries, 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, and 53% work remotely for at least half of the week.

• McKinsey & Company’s 2022 American Opportunity Survey reports that 58% of U.S. job holders – 92 million people – say they can work remotely at least part of the time.

We talked with Heather Maris, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at reinsurance leader Swiss Re, about what the shift to a hybrid work environment has meant for HR communications – and HR programs themselves – at her company.

What are some of the challenges in engaging Swiss Re’s virtual workforce?
We like to think of Swiss Re as a big employer that feels small. We have 15,000 employees globally – 2,500 in the U.S., spread across 10 to 15 major locations, and about 500 teleworkers. And we are in the same boat as almost every other employer – we’re facing the challenge of being a hybrid work force while maintaining and moving our culture to the next level. We’re working through similar questions: How do we engage employees to invest in and maintain the Swiss Re culture? To promote our employee value proposition? What about being a Swiss Re employee will “stick” with people?

Do people want to come back to the office?
Yes, we have seen that sentiment in every constituency at Swiss Re, across the spectrum of job roles, age groups, and locations – even early on in 2021 and 2022 when we first started reopening offices. Now, all our offices are fully open, and we’re encouraging people to come in two or three days a week. We’re sponsoring many of the same activities as other employers – mixers and so forth – to bring people in. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’re seeing more people and activity in our bigger offices. Some groups are more engaged and want to be plugged into office activities; others aren’t ready.

Are there generational differences in how people view working remotely – or at Swiss Re generally?
Yes and no. Reinsurance is a conventional, long-established business, and for us it’s not just about working from home or the office. We’re finding that we can engage our teams by focusing on Swiss Re’s goals, purpose, mission, and vision, and the role we play in society. At its core, reinsurance is about building global resilience – preparing for and protecting against the world’s biggest risks, which is a mission that motivates people.

How does mentoring fit into the Swiss Re culture? Has anything changed with the shift to remote/hybrid?
We know that mentoring is super important to our younger workforce. We’re a global organization in a specialized business, and we’ve always placed a high value on information-sharing and collaboration. Mentoring is a natural outgrowth of that, and it comes in all shapes and sizes at Swiss Re – the shift to hybrid hasn’t changed that.

There are informal relationships happening organically on the ground, along with transition situations – for example, someone who is planning to retire in six to nine months will connect with a younger colleague to start transferring their portfolio and institutional knowledge. And several of our business units and leadership teams have launched specific, formal mentorship programs that have been very successful. Those take place face-to-face, virtually, in group settings. You name it, it’s happening.

Since the pandemic, have you seen an uptick in usage of certain benefits? Have you introduced or eliminated programs?
We did see an increase in the use of certain benefits – particularly emergency back-up childcare and elder care planning, although the interest in eldercare planning may be related as much to our employee demographics as to the pandemic. And as we promote these programs more heavily, people are using them more.

We haven’t eliminated any programs, but we have evaluated them in light of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion objectives to make sure our offerings are equitable and responsive to the populations that we serve.

In the U.S. specifically, one thing that surprised us is what’s happening in the virtual medicine arena. As you’d expect, use of services like Teladoc, which we offer, increased during the pandemic when many medical offices were closed. What we’re seeing now is an increasing trend for primary care doctors and other providers to offer care online – which means they’re suddenly competing with existing virtual providers. And that’s creating tension in the system that the industry – and well as plan sponsors – will need to address over the next couple of years.

Since the shift to remote/hybrid work, what methods of communication and interaction have been most successful at Swiss Re?
Prior to 2020, Swiss Re was something of a trailblazer – 10 to 15 percent of our people were teleworking. So, when we flipped the switch to remote working it was a bit easier for us than for many organizations because much of the technology was already in place.

What we quickly realized is that, like many companies, we had become overly reliant on pushing out HR material via email and expecting people to read it. But the pandemic put a new spotlight on HR. We became an important source of information – about the pandemic itself, work protocols, benefits – and we had to look at different ways of reaching people. So, our communications took on a new look and feel.

We created a series of web pages for our enterprise portal, so people had real-time information at their fingertips. This was our biggest push – creating a single source of truth and giving people access to that platform via smart phones, through computers and laptops, and from Teams meetings – using multiple communication channels to keep information and people up to date.

How has your communications approach evolved as we’ve moved from the early phase of the pandemic?
As CDC/government guidance changes and new data emerges, people still need access to current information, so we are keeping our pandemic resources in place. And we’re maintaining that “single source of truth” approach, using the enterprise portal to encourage employee self-service. We continue to leverage our Yammer network to help people make connections, start conversations, and get answers to questions.

With benefits, we’ll always have people who need “just in time” service – they won’t necessarily look for information until they need it. We also know that reading HR information, especially benefits information, is like watching paint dry for many employees. Everyone now communicates digitally, and we’re competing for their attention against other sources of news and information that are more exciting. So, with that in mind, we’re starting to refresh our benefits guides and other program materials to make sure they stand up visually and deliver messages to highlight the value of what Swiss Re offers to employees.

The pandemic made us realize that we need to put more resources into communication. We don’t want our people to be facing a crisis to understand what’s available. Swiss Re spends a significant amount of money on services and resources to make employees’ lives better, and they’re available 24/7. We need to be sure people know about them and take advantage of them.

Mental health and employee well-being have come into sharper focus since the pandemic. Has Swiss Re augmented any of these services?
At Swiss Re, we use the term “personal resilience” to describe our mental health and well-being programs. This directly connects them to our organizational commitment to global resilience. And we talk about four pillars of personal resilience – Financial, Physical, Social, and Mental – to cover all the areas that can cause stress or anxiety for employees.

Our employees were fairly heavy EAP users prior to the pandemic – about 10 to 15 percent, which is much higher than for most employers – and we haven’t seen much change. We have augmented our programs, but that work was underway before the pandemic. For example, we launched a new mental health offering through our Teladoc virtual care service, and we rolled out new services through our EAP, including a chat/video service called Talkspace which gives people access to a broader range of mental health providers.

Besides the new enterprise portal, were there other channels you used to communicate about these new services?
We have a robust Employee Resource Group (ERG) network at Swiss Re. These are internal communities within our organization who share professional and other interests, and we often use them as ambassadors for our programs. So, we connected with Pathways, our mental health ERG, to get a pulse on employee concerns. And we provided them with information about the expanded services and asked them to share it with people who might be interested or who might benefit. It turned out to be a tremendously successful grassroots effort.

When it comes to onboarding, have you done anything to enhance the new hire experience?
Our team has been having conversations about providing the best experience possible. We always make sure new hires receive an in-person welcome, and we set them up with resources like our new hire guide, benefits information, and so forth.

One emerging challenge, as pay transparency laws take effect in several states this year – New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts, among others, is that Swiss Re, like other employers, will be required to disclose compensation and benefits information in our job postings. As a multi-location employer, how will we manage that?

We can communicate what’s required, but we may not be able to control how the information is interpreted – especially without the context of the Swiss Re culture, our mission, what we stand for. How do we frame our legally required benefits and compensation information to attract the talent we need and want at Swiss Re? How will Swiss Re stand out among the other insurers? It’s given us a lot to think about.

And remote work itself. Do you envision a swing away from the hybrid model?
I don’t foresee a world in which we fully go back to the office five days a week. Our people have learned a lot about how to be productive working from home, although some may have struggled in the beginning.

The way we phrase it at Swiss Re is, “We own the way we work.” We are a global organization, so it’s not uncommon for some of us to be on the phone very early, or very late, in our day – and this was happening prior to the pandemic.

Now, as we embrace this hybrid model more broadly, it’s become “Own the Way You Work 2.0.” We rely on our people to make decisions about how they get their work done. We focus on productivity, performance, and outcomes, and we balance that with a commitment to our culture, collaboration, and the spirit of the organization, to make sure we’re all moving in the right direction.


Are you rethinking your communication programs to meet new challenges? The O’Keefe Group delivers strategic communications support and tactical solutions that help Fortune 500 companies address transformational changes and launch new initiatives. Find out how we can put the experience and insights we’ve gained “in the trenches” to work for you. Contact us today.

4 Ways to Create a Mental Health Communication Campaign that Sticks

By Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant

Long before we ever heard the term “coronavirus,” employee mental health was declining. Now, as we enter a post-pandemic world, we’re coming to terms with how the stress, isolation, grief, burnout, and caregiving challenges experienced by employees during the pandemic have made the mental health problem that much worse.

If we can point to a so-called “silver lining” in all of this, it’s that employers are now much more aware of the role they need to play in helping employees with their mental health. For example, during May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, employees will likely see lots of messages from employers about the importance of taking care of their mental health.

Despite this heightened awareness and stepped-up resources, there’s still a pretty big elephant in the room—and that is the persistent stigma of talking about mental health in the workplace.

Whether it’s the fear of being seen as weak or unstable, or the feeling that their manager or coworkers may think they can’t do their jobs, many employees are often reluctant to bring up a mental health concern or seek help. However, breaking down the stigma of mental health in the workplace—a place where we spend up to one-third of our lives and the source of a lot of our stress—is exactly what needs to happen to begin to move the needle on mental health.

Creating a mental health campaign that helps overcome workplace stigmas isn’t easy. The O’Keefe Group recently partnered with United Rentals to develop a campaign to change the conversation about mental health in their organization. The campaign, which won a prestigious IABC Gold Quill Award of Excellence, gave us valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t.

Here are some tactics for creating a mental health communication campaign that sticks.

1. Conduct employee research to zero in on the right creative design and messaging.
Starting with employee listening is a best practice for any communication campaign, and is particularly critical for building a solid foundation for the right creative design and messaging.

United Rentals has a unique employee demographic: Nearly 90% of the company’s 19,000+ employees are male, and half are between the ages of 31 and 50. In other words, not a group that is comfortable talking about mental health.

To understand the barriers to seeking help and the themes and concepts that would resonate with this demographic, we conducted focus groups with employees and the Mental Health Employee Resource Group. We learned some valuable insights:

• Awareness of EAP services was low.

• Some employees did not know that the EAP was truly confidential, staffed by a third-party, and that no one from the company would know if they reached out.

• Employees viewed the EAP as a resource for a “mental health crisis” versus a service that provided help with all facets of life.

• Safety is a critical aspect of this client’s culture, hence the importance of linking physical and mental health in our messaging.

Taking these findings into consideration, we developed and tested a few taglines and a clear winner emerged: “Getting Help is a Sign of Strength,” which flips the stereotype of appearing “weak” for seeking help on its head.

2. Communicate with a “surround-sound” multimedia approach.
Leveraging multiple channels to communicate your message is vital to ensuring it has staying power and reaches as many employees as possible.

For instance, United Rentals attempted to raise awareness of mental health before during previous Mental Health Awareness Months. The efforts created a little buzz, but once May was over, the campaign just didn’t have “legs.” To ensure the new campaign’s longevity we encouraged them to use a multimedia approach that included:

• Posters, mirror clings, and infographics at each of their 2,000 branches to grab employees’ attention in break rooms, conference rooms, and even in the bathroom—long after May was over. We coupled this with a digital campaign featuring the hashtag #signsofstrength.

Leveraging an important existing communication vehicle: a daily, in-person “safety huddle”—a natural forum for talking about the connection between physical well-being (safety) and mental well-being.

• Increasing awareness of the mental health benefit among family members. We mailed an oversized postcard to each employee’s home with a tear-off wallet card, so every employee and family member knew how to reach out for help when they needed it.

3. Give managers tools that help them be helpful.
Managers can’t effectively support employee mental health if they don’t have the right tools. At United Rentals, managers regularly expressed to Human Resources and leaders that their employees were struggling with mental health issues. However, they did not know their role or feel equipped to have mental health conversations. They also didn’t know where to point employees for help.

To address this problem, we created a 30-minute interactive training course that featured topics such as Mental Health in the Workplace, How to Have a Conversation About Mental Health, and The EAP and Other Mental Health Resources. Managers could also print tip sheets from the platform to use in employee meetings.

Over 20% of managers engaged with the course. After taking the training, one manager wrote: “These short courses are fantastic. They not only build awareness around mental health and well-being, but also offer practical tips for talking about and addressing mental health and well-being concerns.”

4. Get buy-in from senior leadership.
Executive buy-in is vital to the success of mental health campaigns. At United Rentals, it was especially critical because prior campaigns didn’t have the desired effects, and therefore executives were skeptical about the new effort. To gain executive support and buy-in we helped United Rentals provide leadership with regular updates about the project, and solicited their input on the creative as it was developed.

When the effort was launched, executives were squarely behind it and sent out emails, mentioned the campaign in town halls, and posted their own messages on workplace social media, sending a powerful signal to employees that leadership was supportive of their mental health.


To recap, as you consider how to give your own mental health messaging “legs” keep these tips in mind: 1) Take the pulse of employees to figure out exactly what images and messages will resonate. 2) Think about surrounding your employees with mental health messages that they’ll see in a variety of ways—print, digital, and social. 3) Make sure you’re equipping your managers with the tools to give them confidence and courage in this important space. 4) And, as with any change management effort or new initiative, make sure leaders are not only on board but “walking the talk” too.

Need help creating a mental health communication campaign? Reach out to The O’Keefe Group today.

The O’Keefe Group Receives the Prestigious Gold Quill Award of Excellence

We are honored to share that The O’Keefe Group (OKG) has received the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Gold Quill Award of Excellence.

The Gold Quill Awards program has been recognizing and awarding excellence in strategic communications for more than 40 years. It’s acknowledged as one of the most prestigious industry awards programs, and is focused on identifying “the best of the best” communication efforts in the world. OKG received the award for a mental health communications campaign created for United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company.

United Rentals engaged OKG to develop a global campaign to raise mental health awareness, destigmatize mental health in the workplace, and increase utilization of the employee and family assistance program (EFAP). The award-winning campaign, developed with creative partner Taylor Design, was called “Getting Help is a Sign of Strength,” and launched last year during Mental Health Awareness Month.

United RentalsThe campaign met or exceeded all objectives using a variety of communication channels and tactics to reach United Rentals’ predominantly male employee demographic.

“We’re truly thrilled to be part of such a distinguished group of winners,” says OKG founder Teryl O’Keefe. “Mental health is a critical issue for employers today, and it’s extremely gratifying that our team was recognized for the success of this campaign.”

Need help creating a an employee communication campaign? Reach out to us today.

Global Communications Projects: Secrets for Success

Congratulations! You’ve been tapped to lead communications on a large global project. This offers a world of opportunity to prove your communications chops, flex some new muscles, and even advance your career.

These types of projects tend to be fast-paced with a constantly changing roadmap – but there are things you can do to set yourself up for success. O’Keefe Group associates have worked on numerous projects like these spanning everything from launching new enterprise benefits to mergers and acquisitions to corporate spin-offs to information technology. We’ve compiled our top tips below to help you knock your project out of the park.

Always think global
One of the great opportunities with global projects is to work with colleagues from different countries and cultures. So remember to Think Global in everything you do. This means avoiding US-centric references (e.g., referring to American “football” which is soccer in the rest of world) and idiomatic language that could be potentially confusing or offensive in other parts of the world. Even graphics need to be approached through a broader lens. An owl, for example, depicts wisdom in some cultures but symbolizes death, desolation, or bad luck in others.

Think, and act, like a project manager
As the comms lead, you’re likely to be an advisor and shaper of messaging as well as the project manager for communications. Having the right tools to manage all the moving pieces can make your job a lot easier. An Excel spreadsheet or project management software will help you build your schedule and stay on track. For example, if you’re going to send an email communication to all finance employees in Japan, you’ll need to allocate time for drafting, key stakeholder review, legal review, translation, translation quality control, formatting, proofing, and delivery.

Multiply this by dozens of other messages and you begin to understand the need for a good tracking system. Start with your deadline (e.g., All finance employees in Japan need to receive this email on October 1, 2023) and work backwards to capture every step in the process. Then fill in the dates for meeting the key milestones.

Understand roles and responsibilities
Sometimes lines of responsibility get blurred with groups that work closely – communications and change management, for example. It helps to sort this out with your colleagues early in the project to avoid turf wars and duplication of effort.

Also, as the lead communicator, you may need to identify the subject matter expert on a number of different topics to develop messaging. This is often a challenge with large global projects because roles rarely have a detailed job description. So expect to put on your detective hat to track down the people that can provide the information you need.

Be transparent
Transparency is collaboration’s best friend. Here’s an example: One of our global projects involved liaising with project team members in every geographic region, plus a laborious process for creating communications that included enterprise and legal review, translation, translation quality control, formatting, distribution list prep, and other tasks that added days or weeks to the timeline.

As we focused on getting the job done under tight deadlines, we realized that our non-communications colleagues were unaware of certain steps in the process that they weren’t directly involved with. One simple slide that detailed the end-to-end comms process solved the problem. We also shared our communications tracker with the larger team so that deadlines and accountabilities were crystal clear. As a result, other team members came to understand that the process was more time consuming than they imagined – and adjusted their ways of working to meet critical deadlines.

Don’t get lost in translation
On a recent project we supported, nearly 30 languages were involved, and we came away with some important lessons:

• Use Google Translate judiciously: It can be a great tool, but it has limitations and rarely captures the nuances you will need to communicate clearly and accurately in a corporate environment.

• Be sensitive to language variations: There is a difference between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, for example. If you want to get your audience on board with your message, provide it in the language they speak – not the one that closely resembles it.

• Build in native language review: If you don’t have someone on your comms team who is fluent in a language, a team member from the region should review the translation, because even the best translation services rarely provide flawless work. Regional project managers should identify and liaise with these native language reviewers. Make sure to give them a clear deadline and to build translation quality check into your timeline.

• Communications in other alphabets (Arabic, Chinese, etc.) should be carefully proofread by someone who knows them. It’s hard enough proofing content in another language, but it’s virtually impossible when you don’t recognize the characters.

Ask yourself: email or meeting?
Email is to a project as air is to breathing: You critically need it, but it’s important not to pollute your project with email overload. Ask yourself: Is email the right channel for this? As the communications lead on the team, you can provide a model for getting things done efficiently and effectively.

You’ve probably been on an email thread that goes back and forth without resolution or that is forwarded to multiple people in search of an answer. And online collaboration tools are great – but they’re no substitute for real-time meetings.

A half-hour virtual meeting with key team members from different functions is often the most efficient and effective way to resolve a thorny issue or develop an important message. We know it’s easier to send an email than to navigate the calendars of six busy people and come up with a suitable meeting time – but in our experience, it’s worth the effort!


Do you have a large global project coming up? The O’Keefe Group has a wealth of experience providing strategic communications support and tactical solutions to Fortune 500 companies undergoing transformational changes and launching new initiatives. Our experience “in the trenches” has yielded valuable lessons learned and best practices that we can share with you. Contact us today.

4 Reasons AI Won’t Replace Communicators

By Margo Hackel, Senior Communication Consultant

Ai - artificial intelligenceArtificial Intelligence (AI)—specifically, the reigning AI darling ChatGPT—is everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. It’s been covered by major media and broadcast news. Many columns and explainers tell us how to use it and how creepy it can be. And then there are the gazillions of LinkedIn carousels highlighting ways to use it for work tasks and job hunts, and how best to prompt it.

Every single day, I see multiple mentions of this natural language learning machine from OpenAI. ChatGPT was even an answer on my favorite game show, “Jeopardy!,” and a recent topic on my favorite late night show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Of course, ChatGPT is not the only contender in the AI space. Everyone from Google and Microsoft to Salesforce and Meta have joined the race to capture attention and interest. For example, in addition to embedding OpenAI into its Bing search engine, Microsoft recently announced it will embed the technology into Word and Excel. They’re also rolling out AI-enabled Microsoft Designer, which some are saying can out-canva Canva!

I’ve spent some time experimenting with ChatGPT over the past several weeks, and despite some of the fear it will replace communications jobs, I’m completely fascinated by what it can do—and what it can’t. I personally don’t believe AI can realistically replace communicators and writers, despite some organizations experimenting with using it that way.

Here are four reasons AI won’t replace communications jobs—and why I believe we should embrace this technology.

1) AI can enhance but not replace human creativity
While AI can perform certain tasks more efficiently than humans, it is not capable of creativity and understanding context, which are essential elements of effective communication. Communicators can use AI’s data-driven insights and automation to develop new ways of conveying information and engaging audiences. However, communications also requires a high degree of creativity that AI currently can’t match. And when it comes to using AI for writing, it can’t create anything original–it simply repurposes content that already exists.

2) AI lacks emotional intelligence
Effective communication is not just about sharing information. It’s also about building relationships and connecting with people on an emotional level—ever hear or use the phrase “Winning hearts and minds?” While AI can simulate human-like interactions, it can’t replace the personal connections and rapport that human communicators can build with their audiences. AI also can’t comprehend sentiment, understand cultural nuances, or respond to non-verbal cues like we humans can.

3) AI can generate insights but not interpret them
While AI can certainly analyze vast amounts of data and generate insights, it can’t interpret those insights. Communication is not just about delivering a message—it’s also about understanding the audience and their needs. AI can help gather and analyze data about audiences, but communicators are needed to interpret and apply that data to develop effective communication strategies.

4) AI can’t replace human judgment
Communicators often need to make judgment calls based on their experience and understanding of their organization and audience. AI can provide data and insights to inform those decisions, but it can’t take the place of human judgment. It is not a replacement for the strategic thinking and decision-making skills experienced communicators bring to the table.

What AI can do: free up time for more strategic work
While there’s a lot that AI can’t do, it does excel at certain things such as automating tasks and processes. This frees up time for communicators to spend on more strategic work that requires their unique skills and expertise. For example, they can use AI to streamline routine tasks like scheduling social media posts or generating first drafts so they can focus on developing communication strategies or building relationships with stakeholders.

For these reasons I believe communicators should embrace AI rather than viewing it as a threat to their jobs. By combining the strengths and capabilities of AI with experience and expertise, communicators can be more efficient and effective at helping organizations and clients achieve better communication outcomes.

Full disclosure: This post was written with an assist from ChatGPT.