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How to improve communication to boost employee engagement

06 Jul, 2021 Employee engagement, experience, satisfaction, Internal communication

Nowadays, many employees feel left out by the changes in their work environment. Around the world, the work environment has become more complex as employers respond to the various pressures at work and on family life due to the COVID pandemic. This makes it very challenging for management to keep employees engaged. This article shows how to use communication to boost employee engagement.

Why is it important for your employees to be engaged in their work? 

When employees are engaged, they are naturally motivated to do work that is interesting, meaningful, rewarded and supported, according to Gallup experts. Employee engagement is the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace. Gallup research over three decades has consistently found that engaged employees produce the best results. Their latest study, conducted in 2020, concluded that “Developing highly engaged teams results in more positive outcomes, fewer negative outcomes and greater success for your organization” in terms of profitability, employee wellbeing, and participation in organizational citizenship. This was Gallup’s 10th meta-analysis (combining the results of many studies) of employee engagement and team performance, and is the largest such study ever undertaken, with data on 2.7 million employees in 112,000 business units in 276 organizations in 96 countries.

So why do many employees feel left out?

It’s mostly due to poor communication in the workplace – business owners, HR, and frontline/business unit managers failing to provide reliable and meaningful communication that helps everyone feel connected and satisfied.

Remember that the people in your organization are your most prized asset – your key stakeholders – who have the most important impact on your corporate financial performance. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, engaged employees increase customer loyalty and customer engagement by 10% on average, as measured in the Gallup study.

According to top PR agencies in London, these positive outcomes will only happen if your staff are engaged – and effective communication is vital for good engagement levels. Consultants from these agencies are experienced in advising clients and helping to implement engagement initiatives based on improved communication programs. The importance of effective communication in boosting employee engagement is why more and more organizations are now trying to improve their internal communication strategies. Find out here how to use better communication to boost employee engagement.

How to strengthen your communication to boost employee engagement

Here are essential steps to take your internal communication to the next level for a more engaged workforce:

1. Listen to your employees

Jim Macnamara, Distinguished Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology Sydney, identified “seven canons of listening” [principles or hallmarks of good listening] in a 2019 article:

  1. Recognition
  2. Acknowledgement
  3. Attention
  4. Interpretation
  5. Understanding
  6. Consideration
  7. Response.

These characteristics hold true for team members as well as team leaders/managers. You could copy this list and keep it at your desk as a reminder – because the extent to which managers and team leaders listen to their team is a major factor in engagement. Other factors Macnamara identified as important characteristics of listening include being open, active or even proactive, reciprocal, and ideally mindful and empathetic.

Enabling and acting on employee feedback is important for them – and you

COVID-19 is causing massive communication changes and changes in team relationships due to many employees shifting to remote and hybrid work modes. Amid this complexity it is vital for bosses to gain feedback from their team members about their preferred contact options due to the need for physical distancing.

The importance of feedback for successful communication

One of the keys to effective communication is gaining feedback. One-way communication is ineffectual. For communication to work, everyone needs to have a voice. Obtaining feedback should be a priority. Use social technology to send out surveys and ask questions to all employees and your own team. This leads to confidentiality and more honest opinions.

But just collecting information isn’t enough. All employee feedback has value. If an idea seems worthwhile, especially if various employees raise it, then leaders should evaluate how to put it into action or adapt it usefully. If they don’t intend to implement the idea, the team leader should always give a reason, ie “…because…”

Improving communication means that it must be reciprocal. Just as employees should have regular coaching and feedback sessions with their boss, managers and team leaders should welcome feedback from above and below, even though the prospect makes many leaders feel uncomfortable. Yet, communication consultant Lou Solomon believes:

People thrive on feedback. I have watched droves of top executives, emerging leaders, supervisors, and frontline managers become enlivened — even honored — by feedback, whether it was positive or negative.

2. List and analyze your current employee communication tools

Communication tools play a vital role in shaping employee engagement levels. Make a list of the communication tools/channels currently at your disposal. There’s always room for improvement, regardless of the type of tool you currently use. And now is an extremely important time to do this because of the workplace complexities caused by the COVID pandemic, especially when some employees now work remotely or in hybrid mode. That’s why it’s essential to rate the tools on your list based on survey feedback from your team members. A tool receiving a low score may need to be replaced by a more effective one. Just because you’ve been emailing a short weekly newsletter to your team members for the past 5 years doesn’t mean it still works for you and them.

So ask them about their preferred communication tools. Then ask questions on who they currently receive their information on selected important topics and who they would prefer in future. Compare against the range of current sources to identify where any gaps lie.

Typical questions to ask the respondents would be (you could enable them to list more than one answer if they wish):

  1. “Who is your current main source/s of information on that topic?”
  2. “Who is your preferred main source/s on that topic?”
  3. “What is your preferred communication channel/s to receive this contact?”
  4. “How often would you like to receive this communication?”

For simplicity, the sources of information could be numbered as follows for each item of selected information:

  1. = CEO
  2. = My Divisional General Manager
  3. = My supervisor/manager who directly supervises me
  4. = My manager (where the manager does not directly supervise me).
  5. = Hard copy newsletter
  6. = Email newsletter
  7. = Intranet
  8. = Digital tools (list individually to identify preferences), eg Slack, ProofHub, Microsoft Teams, Yammer or Facebook Workplace, etc.
  9. = Social media [name channel preference]

Generational differences

Be aware that generational differences also play a significant role in segmented messaging. To effectively use the different types of content above, take a closer look at the generation each team member belongs to so you’ll have a better understanding of their communication preference.

Generally, generational communication preferences are:

  • Boomers like face-to-face meetings.
  • Gen X individuals prefer short, direct messages.
  • Millennials like any digital messages.
  • Gen Z individuals prefer video calls.

Active feedback

Conduct follow-up surveys to check that changes to communication activities since the surveys have reduced the gap between what is available to employees and what they prefer.

Making information accessible fosters transparency in the workplace. When the objectives of your organization are transparent, employees tend to work more effectively towards helping the company achieve those goals because they understand the employer’s perspective. They also know how their work contributes to the business’s success so they feel responsible for their actions and are motivated to make a difference.

The latest employee communication technologies have made two-way communication a more tangible reality. Where companies once struggled to get employees to regularly check the intranet, or tried to extrapolate a year’s worth of feedback from one annual survey, now tools like Slack, Yammer, Workplace from Facebook, Microsoft Teams and more offer opportunities for “continuous listening,” which strengthens employee engagement.

This kind of constant engagement has become even more important in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. According to Gallup, highly engaged teams are more resilient than their peers, which is a strong case for using the most up-to-date communications technologies.

These new platforms offer clear benefits over more traditional channels like email because of their transparency and because many users can interact simultaneously. On email, the only visible participants are the person sending the email and perhaps a responder. On a platform like Slack or Teams, various people can join a collaborative conversation and feel like a valuable part of the process

Make all essential information visible

One way to boost employee engagement through communication is to ensure that everyone can easily find essential information. Do it by publishing or storing everything in a central location that employees can access or view anytime.

It’s also a good idea to use tools such as content management systems for organizing and sharing important documents. These help to ensure all essential information is easily accessible on the organization’s intranet page or similar.

3. Segment messages in your communication to boost employee engagement

A mistake many businesses make with their internal messaging is following the broadcasting model. The problem with broadcast messaging is the model’s nature itself – sending the same content to everyone. When the information being shared is irrelevant to the recipient, it ends up getting ignored. The solution is embracing segmentation by adopting communication styles or channels that fit individual employees.

Employers have to understand that every employee absorbs information differently. Some like to read, while others prefer to listen or to watch. The best internal communications strategy won’t only use more than one channel but also a good mix of content to fit different team members.

Depending on what’s the most digestible way of getting information across to a specific segment of employees to help them understand and learn/remember the material, you can use one or a combination of the following types of content:

  • Visual: Team members who like to watch can benefit the most from visual communication–using photos, videos, infographics, and posters.
  • Written: For those who like to read, post-its, letters, and emails will work better.
  • Auditory: Employees who prefer to listen would be more engaged with podcasts and voice notes.
  • Kinaesthetic: Team members who comprehend, learn and remember from “hands-on” participation in an activity rather than just watching demonstrations, reading written content, or listening to instructions about a workplace initiative.

How to segment your distribution lists for internal communication

It is fairly straightforward to segment your employee distribution lists according to different types of messages. You can set this going with the following segmentation:

  1. Employee lists based on office locations
  2. Employee lists targeted at just leadership teams and managers
  3. Employee lists grouped by job function or department
  4. Employee lists targeted at specific business divisions or units
  5. Employee lists segmented by the employees’ primary device type
  6. Employee lists segmented by the recipients’ primary language

Ensure you check with your recipient group regularly that their status hasn’t changed over time. For instance, a person may be transferred from one location to another location. This attention to segmenting distribution lists will significantly help to develop communication to boost employee engagement.

4. Ensure your management team has a constant line of communication with employees

Whenever employees experience problems at work, they turn to their managers or team leaders first. That’s why you need to provide your management team with all the tools and resources necessary for constant, quick-response communication. That way, they can sort concerns immediately instead of letting employees wait several days, weeks, or months for their issues to get resolved.

In addition to maintaining a constant line of communication with team members, managers must also understand their vital communication roles. Emphasize that the responsibilities of senior leaders involve articulating where the company is heading, clarifying priorities, and sharing progress and accomplishments.

Read more about this in my article, “Your CEO and senior executives are crucial to employee engagement.”

Final thoughts

Organizational performance slows if a significant number of employees are disengaged. However, when effective internal communication strategies are in place, employees feel more secure, motivated, and dedicated to their work – achieving better overall results.

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 cuttingedgepr.com.

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