McDonald’s has come under fire for a personal budgeting tool it recently launched for its employees, which to a variety of bloggers and media appears to underscore how difficult (if not impossible) it is to make ends meet working at the fast food chain. A sample budget provided lists income from a second job, and it makes seemingly unrealistic assumptions, budgeting only $20 per month for health insurance. The company defended the tool, saying the examples were generic and the tool was one part of a financial literacy program aimed at employees.
It’s impossible to know the thought process behind this tool, but many companies find themselves in similar quandaries that were perhaps avoidable. While no employer nails 100 percent of its communication, here are three questions employee communicators should ask themselves before rolling out any message that could generate significant attention:
- Could this communication be taken out of context? The well-intentioned HR department at a company my team worked with recently wanted to give employees more career development resources, so they announced a new series of workshops on topics including resume-writing and interviewing skills. The only problem: Rumors were swirling that a competitor was buying the company and cutting thousands of jobs in the name of “achieving cost synergies.” Naturally employees assumed the workshops were the company’s way of preparing them to find a new job once they lost their current one. Take a step back and ask yourself, “If I found this communication sitting on the bus seat next to me with no other background information, what would I think?” Better yet, convene a small group of employees from various levels and ask them how they’d perceive the message. Too often, we as communicators are simply too close to our subject matter to be objective.
- Is this information most appropriate coming from the company? Years ago I worked in internal communications at a large corporation, and there was one guy in Finance whose personal mission was to rid the world of drivers who talked on their cell phones. (This was before laws that prohibited such behavior.) He kept imploring the intranet team to run an article highlighting the dangers of dialing while driving. Finally, we had to tell him that while his position was scientifically sound, the company had no policy at that time regarding phone usage while driving and it wasn’t appropriate for us to dictate employees’ driving habits outside of work. Perhaps something like a budgeting tool would be best delivered in a workshop led by an outside financial counselor who does not appear to speak on the company’s behalf.
- Is the tone appropriate given my audience? Yes, this is communications 101. But when it comes to some HR-related information (e.g., on health insurance, financial planning or other externally provided services) companies are sometimes working off of generic language written by a benefit provider. I don’t know if that was the case with McDonald’s, but the language introducing the budgeting tool (“Managing your money can be simple. Really.”) has been characterized externally as “patronizing and paternalistic.” What might work within another corporate culture doesn’t necessarily translate universally. I once had a client tell me an intranet article my team wrote was “too easy to read” because their company’s style was “more corporate-y.” (The final version was written almost entirely in acronyms.) Make sure that anything composed on behalf of your company sounds like it’s coming from your organization, and test it with a few employees first if you’re not sure.
Tamara Snyder is VP and group manager of Employee Engagement.
Image by The Consumerist.