There is plenty of information on the web about what employees should ask employers regarding benefits. But there are surprisingly few resources that address steps employers can take to create a positive work environment- specifically one where it’s safe to ask questions about benefit plans.
John Maxwell, leadership mentor and speaker, said “People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” Keeping his words in mind, here are three “do” actions and three “don’t” actions to help you cultivate open communication at work so employees feel comfortable asking benefit plans questions.
Creating a Safe Environment to Ask Questions: The Do’s and Dont’s
- Encourage a “no stupid questions” policy. If an employee is worried about feeling judged, he or she will be less likely to come forward. This can result in the employee staying quiet and therefore staying confused about his or her benefit plans. Over time, this confusion can contribute to lower job satisfaction, which in turn can impact employee performance.
- Be a guide. Even as a manager or supervisor, you may not be sure how to answer an employee’s benefit plan question. Connect the employee to another individual within the organization (like the HR manager) who may have a more in-depth understanding of your company’s employee benefits plan offerings.
- Give the benefit of the doubt. In other words, don’t assume your employee didn’t check available resources before coming to you. Even if they took this step (such as checking an online portal) they may still have questions. When people learn, it takes several rounds of repetition for new neural pathways to form in their brains. So if an employee reviews information and then comes to you with clarification questions, it’s a good sign – it means they’re learning and engaged.
People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” -John Maxwell
- Make the answer sound obvious. Statements like “That was in the packet we gave you” are less than helpful to a questioning employee. If the employee is new, he or she may not be familiar with where to find resources on benefits. Even seasoned employees can struggle to remember where information on benefit plans are kept. Maintain a team mindset when finding answers, rather than a student-teacher mindset.
- Be critical or condescending. An answer containing unintentional criticism can have negative consequences. First, it dissuades more timid employees from coming forward for help in the future. Second, it frustrates employees with good intentions who may feel there is a lack of support from the company. In either case, it creates a barrier instead of an opening, which is the opposite of what you want.
- Close the door on future questions. Whether an employee has two questions or twenty, they should feel comfortable approaching you as a resource. If you’re a direct manager, you may often find yourself as the first stop on your employee’s journey to answers.
The End Goal
Employees should understand that it’s safe and smart to ask questions, especially about benefit plans. Too often, asking questions is discouraged as we climb the proverbial ladder of success. We lose site of the need to create a positive work environment or stop believing we should expect a safe environment. Instead, we condition ourselves to think the reason people climbed the ranks is because they knew the answers. In truth, they were probably the people who didn’t know the answers but knew it was safe (and smart) to ask questions.
Are you ready to create a safe, positive environment for your employees to ask questions about benefit plans? Start with our three tips: Encourage a “no stupid questions” policy, guide employees to the appropriate resource, and assume employees did their best to find answers before coming to you.