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:

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