Regular and consistent communication is a vital component of the overall program and fosters an organizational commitment to employee health. Employees are key stakeholders and should be informed of the program’s purpose, the actions taken, and the reasons for and results of those actions. Consistency comes from repetition and uniform presentation from all levels of the organization and over time will create a culture of well-being.
Leaders, supervisors, employees, and family members should know what you are doing and why. The messages and means of delivery should be tailored and targeted to the group or individual and consistently reflect the values and direction of the programs. Communicate early and often, but also have a long-term communication strategy. Provide periodic updates to the organizational leadership and workforce to maintain program visibility.
As you plan your outreach to employees, consider developing the following:
- A statement of purpose
- Communication objectives
- Key educational messages
- A communication strategy statement or creative brief
- A branded health strategy, possibly including a logo
The information below will help your workgroup create the foundation for a comprehensive communication program.
Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose is the foundation of a depression prevention and awareness program. It acknowledges the problem, commits to supporting the individual, work team, or group, and expresses the core objectives of the program. Try to develop a statement that closely supports the company mission statement.
Here is an example of a statement of purpose:
Depression is a leading cause of disability for people of all ages, occupations, ethnicities, and gender. It poses a significant threat to employee health and quality of life. In order to safeguard the health of our workforce, (your company name) will help individuals engage in behaviors that prevent or address symptoms of depression. We encourage early identification and intervention and will ensure that those living with depression get the support they need to follow their treatment plan and improve their condition.
Defining communication objectives will help set priorities among possible communication activities and determine the message and content to use for each. Once you have defined and circulated the communication objectives, they serve as a contract or agreement about the purpose of the communication, and they establish what outcomes should be measured.
Because objectives articulate what the communication effort is intended to do, they should be:
- Supportive of the health program’s goals
- Reasonable and realistic (achievable)
- Specific to the change desired (the period during which change should take place)
- Measurable, to allow you to track progress toward desired results
- Prioritized, to direct the allocation of resources
Communication objectives describe the intermediate steps needed to accomplish broader goals; they describe the desired outcome, but not the steps involved in attaining it (you’ll design strategies and tactics for getting there later). Develop reasonable communication objectives by looking at the health program’s goal and asking, “What can communication feasibly contribute to attaining this goal, given what we know about the type of changes the intended audiences can, and will, make?”
As part of your overall effort, you might consider establishing communication objectives that:
- Build a supportive community to help those who have depression or are at risk of developing it.
- Help individuals identify the signs of depression so they know when to seek help.
- Raise supervisors’ awareness of depression symptoms to potentially aid in the early identification and referral to screening and treatment services for affected employees.
- Promote awareness that many suicides are preventable; make facts about suicide and its risk factors and prevention approaches available to employees and their family members.
- Reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and with seeking help for such problems.
- Promote the development of stress management and coping skills to help individuals deal with problems.
- Promote listening and the development of interpersonal skills to help individuals improve their relationships.
- For individuals with depression, encourage compliance with their treatment plan and lifestyle changes that can support their recovery.
Key Educational Messages
Messages should include both the program’s marketing strategy, as well as the rationale for the program’s strategic direction. If employees are unaware of the health promotion opportunities available to them, they are unlikely to participate. Without sufficient participation, program success cannot be achieved. Employees also need to be aware of program goals for both individual employee health and the employer’s bottom line.
Include the following key messages to support your communications:
- Depression is a real illness; it is common and it affects all kinds of people.
- Treatment can make people feel better.
- It’s a sign of strength to ask for help.
- You can take charge of depression with support from a health professional and loved ones.
- Addressing depression is a process that requires proper diagnosis, treatment planning and compliance, and support. Take it one step at a time, and believe that you will feel better.
- Talk to someone when you’re feeling sad, worried, or stressed.
- Take talk of suicide in a family member, friend, or co-worker seriously.
Creating a Communication Strategy Statement or Creative Brief
The National Cancer Institute’s “Pink Book—Making Health Communication Programs Work” suggests the following components for a communications strategy statement that can help drive the development of the plan:
- A definition and description of the intended audience (intended-audience profile). Think of one person in the intended audience and describe him or her, rather than describing the group.
- A description of the action the intended audience members should take as a result of exposure to the communication. The action is the change the communication objective specifies. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to find out if intended audience members are willing and able to take the action—and to identify the current behavior that you want to change. Knowing what an intended audience currently does—and why it does it—will provide important insights into the behavior change process and can be used to develop communications that demonstrate replacing the old behavior with the new one.
- A list of any obstacles to taking action. Common obstacles include intended audience beliefs, social norms, time or peer pressures, costs, ingrained habits, misinformation, and product inaccessibility.
- The consumer-perceived benefit of taking the action. Many theories and models of behavior change include the idea that people change their behavior because they expect to receive some benefit (e.g., gain in time, money, enjoyment, potential gain in stature among peers) that outweighs the personal cost of the behavior change. Short-term, high-probability personal benefits generally are more effective than long-term population benefits (e.g., “stop smoking to smell better and be more attractive” rather than “stop smoking to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer”).
- A description of the support that will make the benefit, and its ability to attain it, credible to the intended audience. Support can be provided through hard data, peer testimonials about success or satisfaction, demonstrations of how to perform the action, or statements from organizations the intended audience finds credible. Tailor the particular supports you use to the concerns intended audience members have about the action. For example, if they are worried they can’t do it, a demonstration may be warranted; if they question why they should take the action or whether it will have the promised health benefit, hard data or statements from credible organizations may be in order; if they don’t believe they need to take the action (e.g., they deny being in the intended audience), a peer testimonial can be compelling.
- The settings, channels, and activities that will reach intended audience members—particularly when they will be receptive to or able to act upon the message.
- The image your program plans to convey through the tone, look, and feel of messages and materials. The goal should be to convey a culturally appropriate image that convinces intended audience members that the communication is for them. Image is conveyed largely through executional details. Printed materials convey image through typeface, layout, visuals, color, language, and paper stock used. Web materials convey image through design, typeface, color, layout, and ease of use. Audio materials convey image through voices, language, and music. Video materials convey image through visuals, characteristics of the actors (including their clothing and accessories), camera angles, and editing. Work with the creative team to develop the image you select.
Communication to Men About Depression
Research suggests that men are less likely to seek treatment for depression; data also show that men die by suicide at four times the rate of women. Instead of acknowledging their feelings, asking for help, or seeking appropriate treatment, men with depression may be more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs, or to become frustrated, discouraged, angry, or irritable. Some men may throw themselves compulsively into their work or hobbies, attempting to hide their depression from themselves, family, and friends; other men may respond to depression by engaging in reckless behavior.
The National Institute of Mental Health launched a successful public health education campaign titled “Real Men. Real Depression,” which featured the personal stories of men who live with depression. The focus was on telling men, who have often been taught to “act tough,” that it’s OK to talk to someone about their thoughts, feelings, and hurts. It attacked the stigma that tough guys can’t seek help. In fact, the campaign stated that it takes courage to ask for help.
By asserting their rights and facing this challenge, men can get treatment for depression and get back to their jobs, their families, and the activities they enjoyed before the depression. These desirable character traits can be emphasized in communications with men, along with the resulting return to productivity and capacity to take care of one’s self and family.
You may also want to point to successful men who have struggled with depression in order to support the concept that getting help opens the door to future successes. Think Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Isaac Newton, Mike Wallace, Boris Yeltsin, Paul Getty, Buzz Aldrin, Terry Bradshaw, etc.
Consistent and frequent communication will maximize the impact of the message. Keep in mind these communication principles as you design your plan:
- Conduct a situation analysis to determine overall strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the current employee communication strategy.
- Define the target audience(s). Identify the employee group(s) that will be the subject of the communication efforts. Consider identifying subgroups for tailored messages, in view of such demographic factors as job category, education level, or age. Engage employees to learn as much as possible about their demographics; their knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs related to health promotion; their needs and interests; and opportunities and barriers for employees to access health information.
- Know your audience.
- How can you best reach everyone in your workforce? Do they prefer written or oral communications? Print or electronic? Live or video-based?
- Tailor communications to the specific workplace or workgroup. Successful programs recognize the diversity of the workplace even within the same organization and target communications to be responsive and attractive to a diverse workforce.
- What is the functional reading level of the employee population?
- Are there cultural issues or perspectives to consider? Language needs beyond English?
- Do you anticipate special needs—for example, the anniversary of a co-worker’s suicide? Ideally, a strategy is created for the general population and then specific tactics and activities are designed for targeted audiences.
- Consider context. What else is going on in the organization? Does this initiative dovetail with other company programs? Has the organization experienced stressful events in the recent past (for example, downsizing, merger, or a traumatic incident that affected workers)? The risk of suicide and workplace violence escalates during such times. Make sure your message is communicated in the appropriate context.
- Consider pretesting and revising of messages with representatives of the target audience.
- Strive for frequency. People need to hear messages several times in order to process them and eventually adopt them. Therefore, consider embedding messages that relate to the depression prevention and awareness initiative in other communication campaigns that support physical and emotional well-being.
- Be focused and consistent. Try to keep the communication focused on supporting the key messages rather than introducing new concepts. Keep the language and design of materials consistent.
- Select communication channels and try different approaches. Keep in mind that individuals typically retain 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 70 percent of what they talk over with others, and 80 percent of what they use and do in day-to-day life. Multiple communication channels should be used to ensure that employees receive the information they need to make informed decisions. These channels may include email, direct mail, bulletin boards, newsletters, the intranet, presentations, and direct communication from management and co-workers.
- Make a long-term commitment. Repeat interventions will reinforce the commitment of the organization and the original prevention goals.
- Recognize and celebrate success. Employee success stories could be highlighted, shared, and celebrated to help motivate others to make lifestyle changes. Recognition can also be achieved for the overall efforts of the workplace program.
- Conduct outcome and impact evaluation. (How well did we do?)
With a strong foundation of commitment, clear objectives, and solid communication planning, you can now devise tactics that support your communication strategy. We’ve provided a number of turnkey tools you can use as you develop your plan.