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Employees say this is the essential communication they want

01 Jun, 2020 Internal communication

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Employees report on what they wanted from communication with them, in response to a survey conducted by international HR firm, Willis Towers Watson. The respondents detailed these expectations:

  1. Open and honest exchange of information
  2. Clear, easy-to-understand materials
  3. Timely distribution
  4. Trusted sources
  5. Two-way feedback systems
  6. Clear demonstrations of senior managers’ interest in employees
  7. continual improvements in communication
  8. Consistent messaging across sources.

However, these expectations are not often met. For instance, the latest Gatehouse State of the Sector report, 2020 of 1,000 respondents from organizations in 45 countries and representing millions of employees, shows internal communication teams continue to perpetuate the lack of feedback to employees about their responses to surveys – and therefore it would seem that management doesn’t give the results much priority:

“Only a third of internal communicators (32%) go on to share the output of their measurement activities with the workforce they collected the data from! This is despite the fact that 72% believe a key part of their role is to capture, but also to amplify, the employee voice.”

Image: From the Gatehouse State of the Sector 2020 IC report.

The survey results echo a general finding from a 2016 online Interact survey conducted by Harris Poll with 2,058 US adults — 1,120 employed, with 616 of the employed people being managers. In a subsequent Harvard Business Review article, Lou Solomon explained that a ‘stunning majority’ of 69% of the managers said they were often uncomfortable communicating with employees (refer image below). Over a third (37%) of the managers said that they were uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they thought the employee might respond negatively to the feedback. Solomon said:

The survey results also showed that many managers are uncomfortable with becoming vulnerable, recognizing achievements, delivering the ‘company line,’ giving clear directions, crediting others with having good ideas, speaking face to face, and having difficult feedback conversations in general.

Managers ‘often uncomfortable communicating with employees’

Image: Harvard Business Review, March 2016

The Willis Towers Watson study identified 5 key elements as most influential in shaping employees’ opinions about the state of communication within their organization. In order of influence, the key elements were:

1. Supervisory effectiveness in communication

This centers on how well supervisors respond to employee questions and concerns, explain complex concepts in plain language, seek employee input, help employees understand their role in the organization’s success, and take time to explain events affecting the organization.

2. Basic communication tools

Employees indicated they had definite preferences on how they receive news relating to pay and benefits, the organization’s performance and other types of information. Organizational printed materials seem relatively effective. Around 85% of respondents in the 2020 Gatehouse survey said their printed employee magazine was ‘very effective’ or ‘quite effective.’ They also reported most personable, interactive digital channels, such as mobile messaging platforms, allowing employees to connect with one another, and videos, showing a more human side of leaders and colleagues, are
leading the way, with around 85% of internal communicators describing them as ‘very’ or ‘quite’ effective.

3. Market understanding of competitors and customers

Employees were generally interested in information about competitors and customers, eg feedback on customer satisfaction, and they wanted to know what differentiated their organization’s products and services in the marketplace.

4. Understanding the business (how the organization succeeds)

Employees were eager to understand their role in the organization and how their individual contributions could help achieve business objectives. They wanted to know the specific factors that would make their organization successful, and they welcomed discussions on their own role in helping the organization reach its goals.

5. The employer-employee deal

Employees like to receive lots of information on pay and benefits programs, provided it is useful and clearly explained, along with information on learning and development opportunities that can help them in their career.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from

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