Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Demand Attention! You've Got Needs!

Listen. Don't let these workplace newsletter publishers push you around. The content in your newsletter has to reflect what's important and on-topic in your organization. You need the right content. But you purchased a newsletter that is provided by a vendor, and they can't write articles just for your organization without charging you, correct? WRONG! Chances are that whatever is bugging your employees or your work organization, is an issue or problem for many companies too. And any newsletter provider (such as yours truly), should be wiling to construct article content that will meet these needs. That way your newsletter is relevant to your employees and you'll get more kudos for meeting the needs of the workforce. Any newsletter publishing company should welcome your input! Frankly, I am on my knees begging for it. I wish more subscribers would tell me what's going on in their companies. The fodder for original content is beyond comprehension. End writer's block forever, I say. Give me your ideas for articles. Plus, let's face it, that way you will renew your subscription. It's called customer service. Are you dealing with a publisher who is gone in Bermuda while the staff does the work? Or one who does the work to make sure you can get to Bermuda and relax while you're there knowing things are taken care back home. There's a difference. Demand attention!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Big Topic Idea: Improving Relationships with Supervisors

If there is on malady employees complain about more than any other, it's the problem relationship with their supervisors. Listen enough to these complaints and you would swear the employee is never at fault for these problematic relationships. Indeed, the problems that the supervisor is out to "get them." Employees need ideas and tips about improving the relationship they have with their supervisor or manager. And their are huge payoffs for doing it, especially if it comes from outside or neutral source--your newsletter author. If there is on thing on my mind at all times with subscribers, it's pleasing top management. There are so many things top management would like to say to employees, but they would never listen. Most of it revolves around communication in the relationship with the supervisors, and much revolves around the topic of not see the world of authority figures as evil and corrupt. Harmony can be obtain with the immediate supervisor in many cases, and in most it is not the supervisor's fault that things have gone to pot. Here are a few topics I like to put in employee newsletters that pertain to this issue. These are from my E029 fact sheet from the web site:

· Improve channels of communication and increase frequency of communication
· Speak with your boss freely about your concerns
· Ask for advice about problems you experience
· Write down your concerns and share them
· Consider your boss’s perspective
· Use tact when discussing your differences

When having trouble working with your boss, DON’T:
· Jump to conclusions
· Suspect your boss of plotting against you
· Make unfounded accusations based on supposition rather than facts
· Speak while angry
· Remain in denial and avoid your boss
· Criticize your boss in front of others

Anyway, you get the point!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is Your Newsletter Putting Your Company at Risk?

Imagine an informative article on "Compulsive Gambling" in your organization's employee wellness newsletter. What would you rather see—an article with 5 to 6 questions in it that helps an employee reading it to begin seeing that he or she has a gambling addiction, or an informative article that includes all 20 quiz questions from Gamblers Anonymous, so the employee with a concern knows for sure if they have a problem?
Many freelance-authored employee newsletters with long feature articles go for the whole enchilada—the 20-question option—and, as a result, “overeducate” the reader. It's a big mistake. And it can expose your organization to greater risk. Did you think it should be just the opposite? It's not.
After 20 years of writing workplace newsletters for work organizations, EAPA chapters, small business associations, addiction and psychiatric programs, hospitals, and supervisors, I have learned that the best approach is to have only 5–6 questions in this type of wellness article.
But why?
An article that discusses a health problem associated with strong components of denial is more able to help an employee or point the employee in the direction of solving the problem if it gives enough information to create a sense of urgency and then motivates the reader to take action. Too much information can undermine the desire to take action.
A shorter, less informative article permits the author to motivate the reader to hunger for more information, and possibly get help for the personal problem—whatever it might be. In this example, it is compulsive gambling. The goal of such an article should be to motivate the reader to follow the instructions within the article to the next step. In other words, articles in wellness and EAP-type newsletters are not entertainment. They are sales letters.
Unfortunately, the risk is great that the more information an employee has about a personal problem, the more likely it is that he or she will become educated enough to self-treat the problem or (at worst) add to their intellectualization defense to avoid treatment, perhaps with a dose of additional willpower to control symptoms thrown in. Intellectualization is the most difficult defense mechanism for professional helpers to penetrate.
Of course, self-diagnosis is a good thing, but with diseases prone to denial, and in the absence of a professional steering the decision to accept help, defense mechanisms can become more deeply engrained. When this happens, employees often pursue self-treatment or partial cures.
Have you heard the catchy phrase associated with advertising that says, "Be sure to leave them wanting more."? This sums up my point.
When informative health articles provide only a measured amount of information and leave the employee "wanting more" with instructions on how to get it, it is easier to motivate the employee to get help—and professional motivational counseling can increase the likelihood of proper treatment being accepted.
Hopefully, an employee assistance program is available in your organization and it is one that knows your work culture well, so preselling of the EAP assessment occurs before an employee ever picks up the phone. This is a critical but missing (or impossible) element of many EAP delivery models.
But you get the point. Long articles with lots of information decrease utilization of an employee counseling program and increase behavioral exposure for the work organization. When it comes to problems like violence in the workplace, prevention could lie in the way an article on anger management is written and how it motivates the employee to act.
Articles in employee newsletters are also loss prevention tools. The goal should be not to just create better employees, but to create better people. Your company employee newsletter has power. Use it to maximize the help employees receive and the good it does for your work organization.
Daniel Feerst, MSW, LISW, is author and publisher of an employee newsletter used by the U.S. Congress, and publisher of the workplace newsletter FrontLine Employee, which is available by subscription and used by thousands of companies nationwide. Learn more about FrontLine Employee. You can reach Dan Feerst at 1-800-626-4327. See Dan's newsletter tips on his blog. Click here to learn more: http://www.workplacenewsletters.blogspot.com/.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More On...Who's Writing Newsletter Articles Your Employees Will Read

Yipes! Never start a sentence with the words, "Have you ever wondered..." It's the sure sign of an amateur writer, but in this case it's critical. Have you ever wondered what degree of influence an employee newsletter writer has with your employees? It's a lot. So, what is the resume of this person? What is their experience? Are they cruising the internet for superficial content just so you can say that you have a newsletter for your employees? Or, is the writer using extensive experience to always go one step lower, one layer deeper, to find the unique and fascinating concepts within in any story that has not yet been revealed? Can the writer find that one issue so important that employees will grab it and run for a better life with it--changed forever. Employee newsletters can do that. But you have to decide that is what you want in your employee newsletter. Chances are that your employees deserve that much. Add customizable ability and you have a powerful newsletter tool working for your company. Information changes all of us. Make sure your employee newsletter can change and enhance your employees' lives. our company will reap the rewards. You'll not only produce better widgets, you may influence the happiness of employees in ways so profound, you change the world and never know it. Match professional writing experience with practical work-life experience of the writer and you will do your employees justice--and their families and children when the newsletter finds its way home. And it will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Two Pages or Four Pages? That is the Question

Don't do it. A four page newsletter is trashed at the end of couple pages. Why? Distraction of course. The sense of urgency to go back and pick it up after the distraction is over won't be there. New things are attractive, so any newsletter will be picked up and read, but how far employees get with the content is almost predictable. They may scan quickly for catchy titles, but frequently 4-page newsletters (usually distributed quarterly--and that is another problem for discussion.) get tossed. When employees get four page newsletters, the chances are that they are not sitting down in their living room with a cup of tea and a warm fireplace. Instead they are on the go--in the elevator reading your newsletter that they just grabbed out of their mailbox on the way out the door. You only have minutes and short articles, fewer pages, more frequently distributed are the only way to go. This is the 21st Century, not the 1900's. Time is a precious commodity and employees need the information fast. So quick and fast is where it's at. There are more reasons too. And I will discuss them, but right now you have to run! I will be here when you get back! See what I mean!

Where's the Hottest News for Employees?

Try Technorati.com! Never heard of it? Well, some web site tech experts decided that blogging was so hot and here to stay, they decided to create a web site where anyone could go and discover the hottest topics in the blogisphere. Do you know what this means? It means whatever is "topical" in the news or in society, probably has someone who knows a lot about it "blogging" daily, or a couple times a week on that subject. These experts are often the brightest folks on the planet. You always get a chance to see who they are on their blog, but doing so will give you confidence that what their are saying is credible. When you visit www.technorati.com you can search on any topic and instantly discover who is blogging about it. For example, if you want stress tips for employees, try plugging it in, and then see what comes up. Then visit that blog and ask that blogger for permission to use something you find worthwhile. Of course, as I have mentioned before, you can always use the subject matter to trigger your own thoughts, expertise, or experience that can allow you to compose copy that is original, but includes the ideas of the article. Remember, ideas can't be copyrighted.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Make Your Employee Newsletter Drive People to Get Help

Do you have an employee assistance program or some sort of counseling service to help employees resolve personal problems that interfere with job performance. You’re smart if you do, but is your newsletter shooting this program in the foot. Perhaps your program is nothing more than an “800” hotline available to your employees located on the back of an insurance card? If so, this service is under-utilized if is it is not well promoted and it is especially under-utilized if your work-life-productivity newsletter does not encourage employees to use it continuously in its articles. One way to promote such a program and boost utilization, is to mention the EAP to employees in newsletter articles that discuss specific types of personal problems. Drawing attention to the EAP in articles will cause employees motivated by the article, to go to the next step and phone for help. Also, a newsletter must not be superficial but also should not be too comprehensive either. Either type of article will increase risk to your organization. Why? If articles are too comprehensive then employees get too much information and think they have everything they need to effectively self-treat the personal problem, affliction, or disease themselves. They may seek the wrong treatment, use half-measures, or simply make renewed attempts with willpower to control symptoms. Short articles can be extremely effective, but don’t count on employees getting much out of a newsletter that only discusses simple subjects like “how important it is to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—something almost everyone knows. Your newsletter must go farther, deeper by encourage people to use the organization’s EAP.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Don't forget about Supervisor Stress Management

Supervisors are your silent sufferers. Of course they are also employees, but they have different needs than line staff or the larger group of employees in your company. Nearly all employees see supervisors or line managers as having fewer needs than themselves. Supervisors are privileged the average employee will say. "We're they peons! We make less pay. And we're the ones who need the help." As you know, this is nonsense. Supervisors and line managers need support too, and typically lots of it. So, make sure you employee newsletter deals with supervisor stress! These issues include keeping relationships effective with top management and learn skills of supervision concretely so they don't have to do it on the fly placing the company at risk.

Have You Been Fooled By Newsletter Publishers?

Print newsletters are e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e! And publishers know that you really don't want to spend all of the money, so what was their solution to get you to bite? Well, back in the 1980's when work-life newsletters became popular, most came up with the idea to print and sell you a quarterly 4-page newsletter. They could print less frequently, charge a lot of money, and if because you didn't have much of a choice, play to your sense of laziness and only put you to work distributing a quarterly publication. Great. Then somehow, all of that became the "standard". Everybody had a 4-page newsletter--like there was only four months in the entire year instead of twelve.

You then began to thing that this was the way newsletters were supposed to be--quarterly, in print, and priced high. WRONG!

You forgot about your employees.

You see, they deserve better than you only showing up 4 times a year offering them useful and vital work-life information they are desperate for having as soon as they can get it. With a quarterly newsletter, trust me, you are an afterthought. Distributing a quarterly newsletter is almost like an apology for bothering people. Have you been intimidated by top management telling you that "employees already have too much to read"? Well, you the one who should be distributing a newsletter more frequently, and the organization should be distributing its stuff less!

And get this, 4-page newsletters--hold on to your 3-holed punched binder--don't get read by employees. They scan them, read the headlines, and toss them. Usually 4-5 five articles is all they contain, but most are too long-winded. Employees are too much on the go to spend much time with them. They want short, action-oriented, punchy, useful articles--not a book.

So what the alternative.

The answer is the 2-page, short and concise, actionable article format, and distributed monthly by PDF/e-mail.

Why is this way the most effective way to go. Number 1 is selfish but critical: It gives you top of mind visibility. No matter what you're doing, your marketing if your in business. In fact, marketing is more important than what you market. Without marketing, you're gone. No one gets what you have to offer. The facts from directing experts are this: Every month that you do not "touch" your customers (employees in this case) 10% forget that you even exist. Can you affort that? No.

4-page newsletters are less of a burdon on you but they are threat to your business because they do not provide the top-of-mind visibility you need to stay in business. Also, do you realize with all that content (most of which is not read) employees frequently "self-diagnose" personal problems and medical conditions, and then self-treat? If the articles in your newsletter are too comprehensive, they create risk because they offer too much information and little or no call to action. The call to action is calling the employee assistance program if the company has one or contacting a mental health center or other resource to address the problem discussed in the article.

For example, it is far better for an article to quickly energize and educate about gambling addiction and provide only a few scarey symptoms of the illness, and then a call to action. If the article is long-winded, and gives all 20 questions of a Gambler's Anonymous quiz, then the employee will seek no more information on the subject. That's it. Risk continues. The employee will self-treat, which usually means half-measures, the wrong treatment, or another commitment to willpower. Are you starting to the point of how powerful a work-life or work life newsletter can be.

Your employee newsletter articles MUST LEAVE EMPLOYEES wanting more. And a helping resource is where that information needs to come from. These articles will feed your employee assistance program. And whether you are an EAP reading this, or a business owner, that is precisely what you want in order to make such a risk reduction investment worth every penny.

Go for two-page newsletters and begin today. Stop apologizing and feeling like other programs in the work organization are more important than you, or that employees "already have too much to read" (Geez, I hate that phrase). Be assertive with your work-life-productivity newsletter program. Employees deserve nothing less than to get 50% more content per year, and more likely to be read content as well. Only a two page monthly newsletter will do that.

Dan Feerst is publisher of WorkLife Excel and FrontLine Employee Editable work-life-productivity newsletters. You can reach him at http://www.eaptools.com/

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Finding Good, Solid Original Content for Your Newsletter

How do I come up with original content for articles that go into my workplace work-life and productivity newsletters? There is a secret to it, and I would like to share it with you. I have written about 1700 articles for the workplace that help employees and supervisors, and my last best calculated estimate is that about 3,500,000 million employees read my articles each month. I guess it is possible that I am the most widely read employee assistance professional and social worker in the U.S. (I just thought about this for the first time while writing this - GEEZ!)

At any rate, helping people with a work-life article that is meaningful is not hard to do. That's more important than being first or last as an author. Articles that talk about the same old topics have always ticked me off -- you know, like eat these five vegetabless--the same old stuff. I want meat in my articles! So the topics must focus on family productivity and improving wellness, both physical and mental health wellness. Mental health wellness (some people call it right thinking) are really important topics for me. Anyway, how the heck is this done. Here's how:

If you go to your local library or the internet (sometimes I like libraries better because I get out of the office easier) and start searching periodical stacks, you will discover thousands of contempoary, timely articles in this magazines. Millions of dollars are plowed into these publications to determine what employee and people in general want to read. Pick up any one and begin to read any article. Keep a note book and a pen handy because soon the ideas will be flowing.

As you read any article, keep in the forefront of your mind what this article means to you personally, what is missing from the article, what questions does it raise, what more could be said, and who it could possibly help? Ask your self, what would be Part II to this article be if you wrote it, and think about the sentences in the article and what topics--no matter how unconnected they might--be pop into your mind as you read the article.

You could read an article about dog-grooming and as the brush strokes are being described, you may think "How much to dog grooming brushes cost and are some better than others?" There's your article: Dog Grooming: Don't Brush Off the Type of Bristles You Using - then talk about effectiveness, injury to dog, disease, and do some research or talk to some experts on the type of grooming brushes that best for which type of dog coat.

I think you get the idea. Jot down your ideas and you are off to the races with solid original content of for your em

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