There's a minefield of communication challenges embedded in the new overtime rule

Just when you thought the coast was clear after surviving the 1095 onslaught, another nasty communication challenge is rapidly bearing down on you. The new overtime rule, issued by the Department of Labor TODAY – which relates to who is exempt from time and a half pay (and who’s not) – is about to rock your world.

So what IS this new overtime rule?

Most of you are probably up on all this, but in case you’re not, here’s the skinny:

  • The salary cutoff test for exemption from paying overtime to workers is moving up from $23,660 to as high as $47,476. Above that, overtime pay will depend on an employee’s duties.
  • The other two tests that are used to determine exemption from overtime pay–namely that the employee is paid a fixed salary that doesn’t change based on quantity or quality of work, and that the employee’s responsibilities are primarily executive, administrative or professional–basically stay the same.
  • This change will go into effect on December 1, 2016. (UPDATE – 11/22/16: A Federal judge has temporarily blocked the implementation of this rule on November 22, 2016. The current rule will stay in place until the courts have a chance to review the merits of the lawsuit that’s challenging the DOL’s authority to make these changes).

(Here’s a great summary from on the new overtime law and more info from the Department of Labor on the new exemption rules).

But I’m not here to talk rules and regulations…
I’m here to talk about communication–good communication to be exact. And since these changes will be happening in less than 6 months, you don’t have a ton of time to set up your communication plan.

So, with all that in mind, here are three things to take into consideration as you put your plan together:

1) Be Careful

This topic is multi-layered and complicated; the reaction by your employees to this new overtime law could be very negative if not communicated clearly
People don’t like change. In fact, they hate it. Depending on what your company decides to do in response to this new overtime rule, there could be a BOATLOAD of change that impacts people’s lives, routines and habits in a bunch of sensitive areas, like:

Even people whose compensation may be increasing due to this new rule may not like it due to changes in other areas of their work lives.

Tip: Tread very carefully with the way you communicate all of this. Wherever you can, minimize disruption in processes and required new actions, from the frontline managers on up through the management chain, and expect that people will likely wonder how co-workers above and below are impacted by the new changes, especially as it relates to compensation.

Resource: ‘Explained: Why we don’t like change’

2) Be Empathetic and Available to Help or Answer Questions

For the people who are impacted by change caused by this overtime pay rule (change in process, change in compensation… change in anything), you need to do four things:

  • acknowledge the change
  • explain why it’s happening in honest, non-jargony language
  • explain how you can help them adjust to it as fast and painlessly as possible
  • be visible and follow up proactively throughout the process

In order to keep things conversational, don’t use the words like exempt vs. non-exempt with your colleagues. They might not recognize them. Instead, stick with terms that people will understand: “eligible to receive overtime pay” and “not eligible to receive overtime pay,” for example.

Furthermore, some people’s self-esteem may be impacted by the move from a salary to hourly compensation structure. They may feel like this stigmatizes their new classification. This is natural. Treat them with extra sensitivity and empathy; if this isn’t impacting their status, seniority or place in the organization, be sure to cover this with them.

Tip: Expect blowback from your colleagues. They will want to vent their frustrations. Don’t take it personally. This is perfectly normal as they are reacting to the change. Your best course of action is to listen to them and provide them urgent and clear guidance throughout the transition.

Resource: Harvard Business Review article on communicating and managing change.

3) Arm Your Managers with the Needed Information and Resources

Your front line managers are the ones who will be in closest contact with the people impacted by this new overtime pay law; as a result, they’re probably your most important allies in helping this go as smoothly as possible. They’ll likely be the first place your impacted employees will turn. Their way of handling the situation will make or break how well the transition to compliance goes. And if they’re on point, they’ll be able to minimize questions that float up to you.

Here’s how you can help them:

  • If you haven’t already, give them a heads up that this rule change is on its way and that some of their direct reports may be affected.
  • Include some of the tips and suggestions from items #1 and #2 above – both when communicating the new rule and coaching them on how to convey the message to their team members. Their suggestions apply as much to the relevant managers as they do to you and your communications challenge.
  • Provide them with opportunities (specifically webinars and meetings) to ask questions and to role play what questions they may get and how to respond to them.
  • Be super responsive to them when they need help assisting impacted employees through the transition.

Tip: Spend extra time with these front line managers. Communicating with them may be your toughest challenge, as they are both subject to the change (their routines could be altered) AND they will be communicating the change to people who will be impacted by it (and likely not generally happy about it).

Resource: Five tips for developing managers and supervisors as coaches of change

Just like the 1095 communication challenge, this new overtime rule communication challenge shall pass. But while you’re in the thick of it, make sure to over-communicate your plan, be as helpful as you always are and be especially patient and empathetic with those who are impacted by it.

Good luck and let us know if you have any other suggestions to share.