Effective employee communication goes beyond sending emails and putting up posters around the office. As the demands placed on corporate workers continue to grow, communication between managers and employees has never been more important.
Gallup, a top public opinion research firm, reported that consistent communication in the workplace is connected to higher levels of engagement.
What exactly is employee engagement, who is an engaged employee and why is he/she so important?
According to Kevin Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University:
“Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.”
That is what engagement looks like. It’s when employees feel valued, secure, supported, and respected.
Successful employee engagement is earned. Employers can’t demand it, expect it or manipulate it by adjusting compensation. They have to earn it. Earning it involves moving employees along stages of awareness to understanding to acceptance and finally to commitment. Effective employee communication will move employees through the first three stages.
Let’s dig a little deeper into why effective employee communication is important.
When employees feel connected to their organizations, productivity skyrockets. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, productivity is 20% to 25% higher in organizations with connected employees. This can potentially account for an additional $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in additional revenue within the top four commercial sectors; consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional services.
Lack of effective communication can be very costly. Poor communication leads to disengaged employees who, according to studies by the Queens School of Business and Gallup, have 37% higher absenteeism and 49% more accidents. Disengaged employees also take more sick days — 6.19 vs 2.69 for engaged ambassadors. These can be very costly in the way of lost productivity and reduced workplace morale.
Communication issues also produce high employee turnover. Poor communication can contribute to workplace stress which leads to an increase of almost 50% in voluntary turnover. Replacing these employees is costly — the Center for American Progress estimates that replacing a single employee costs approximately 20% of that employee’s salary. In the healthcare industry alone, employee turnover creates an annual minimum loss of more than 5% of an organization’s total operating budget.
Reducing these costs is a key benefit associated with effective employee communication efforts. This is critical in Corporate America where doing more with less is a standard operating procedure.
Effective employee communication is important across all market sectors, although some rely on it more than others. According to GetApp research, nearly half (43.4%) of small business owners think healthcare is the industry where employee communication is most important, followed by education, hospitality, retail, and the financial sector.
Communication breakdowns between caregivers almost always lead to worsened patient outcomes, including preventable medical errors that are estimated to cause 200,000 deaths each year. Bridging these communication gaps would improve the quality of care and hospital efficiency.
Effective communication is also extremely important in manufacturing plants. Most employ large numbers of people who need to collaborate over different shifts and locations. An error in just one section of the production process can be detrimental to the entire process. And remember that most employees in the manufacturing industry don’t have access to standard communication tools like emails or phones. For this reason, the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently is very important. The more employees are aware of, the more empowered they are to make informed decisions.
Education is another sector where effective communication is needed. Professionals in this industry are tasked with educating and guiding young minds who are the future of the country. It’s critical that communication between these employees is transparent, open, fast, easy and most important relevant.
One of the biggest challenges of employee communication is getting employees’ attention. Employees are being constantly hit by information from every source imaginable. Their attention is being demanded by a myriad of content, most of which is distracting. Internal communicators want them to be aware of everything. But they are getting overwhelmed and drowning in information that’s not helping them get better at their jobs.
The second problem is the channel themselves. Any one office will have multiple channels of communication: digital signage, email, phone, meetings, intranet, bulletin boards, podcasts, text etc. The problem here is that they are not cohesive. It’s a classic case of multichannel communication instead of omnichannel communication. The transition from one channel to another is very clunky and distracting. There is also a lot of redundancy — some messages do not need to be communicated through all channels. And keeping the info updated can be a challenge. If one piece of information changes, multiple channels have to be updated separately. This can lead to employees automatically phasing out the repeated info/channel as “white noise,” running the risk of missing important information that’s needed in order to be productive.
The third challenge is the context of the information. Most times, the information is more directive than communicative. It focuses on the “what” rather than the “why.” Communication needs to be informative rather than authoritative. It should show how a certain program, policy or procedure will make the employee and the company more successful.
Another challenge is the lag in communicators adapting to changing employees. Today’s employees want to have a say. They want meaningful dialogue. They need to be listened to and to help shape what they find useful. They’re also tech-savvy and heavy users of mobile and social media. Nearly two-thirds of Americans now use social networks, up from 7% when Pew Research Center began tracking social media usage a decade ago.
This shift in the way adults communicate in their personal lives has also changed how they expect to communicate within the workplace. But most organizations are slow to respond to these shifting communication needs. They are not nimble enough to give employees what they need, as fast as they need it.
Managers have realized that in order to be successful at engaging employees, they need to adopt an omnichannel communication strategy. This happy medium is a combination of face-to-face and digital channels. In this new omnichannel world, employers need to provide information in a continuous stream that employees can consume using the most appropriate method and devices for their situation.
In a series of blogs to follow, we will discuss how one of these digital channels, digital signage, is creating unique opportunities for employee communication and higher levels of engagement: chapter 2 explores leaderboards on digital signage displays.