Internal Communications: The Time Is Now

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Published on November 15, 2018, at 3:04 p.m.
by Elizabeth Summers.

Understanding and addressing the importance of employee engagement has become an increasingly crucial component in the success of high-performance companies. With increasing technological developments, employees have the immediate ability to connect with each other, customers, prospective business, the media and the public. With this power, employees can either be a company’s strongest advantage or strongest disadvantage.

Employees can provide the business valuable consumer insight, promote the brand, deliver new innovation and, most importantly, contribute high-quality work. In order for an organization to gain maximum advantage from the workforce, individuals must feel respected and appreciated.

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An effective internal communications strategy creates clarity on strategy and forms the foundation of a company culture that motivates employees and makes them feel valued. Statistics show 90 percent of employers think an employee engagement strategy has an impact on business success, but only 25 percent of businesses actually have one.

Dr. Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., professor emeritus of advertising and public relations and current board member of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, explained that most organizations are dealing with three tiers of employee engagement: engaged, unengaged and disengaged.

Engaged employees are committed to the job, bring evident energy to work and go beyond standard expectations. Unengaged employees complete the job with minimal effort and are unlikely to go beyond standard expectations. Disengaged employees are bad influences and actively work against a company, becoming massive detriments to a company’s success. An engagement report generated by Gallup in 2016 states 16.5 percent of workers are actively disengaged.

“The actively disengaged can be redeemed through leadership and cultural changes,” Berger stated. “If workers experience a tangible company culture change that seeks out their opinion and makes them feel like a part of the team, workers become more engaged.”

An article in Forbes reported the employee turnover rate is the highest it has been in 10 years. A lack of strong internal communications may be one of the leading culprits in employee dissatisfaction. This creates an opportunity for communications professionals.

Companies can battle unengaged and disengaged workers and lift performance through more effective internal communication strategies. These focus on prioritizing relationships between employers and employees by promoting collaboration and communication.

The path that leads employees to become disengaged workers is multifaceted, but typically involves a breakdown in internal communication. There are three components of failed internal communication that often lead to employee disengagement: a lack of clarity on the company’s strategy, feelings of unimportance and poor relationships within the company.

Lack of clarity
If the strategy and values of a company are clear to an employee, they become a driving force behind the employee’s work. Employees must understand how their efforts contribute to a business. In order to complete a job successfully and see results, employees must understand what is expected of them. If there is a lack of direction, individuals experience burnout.

According to an article in Forbes, 88 percent of effective work comes from an employee asking inquisitive questions. Inquisitive questions are questions like “Why don’t we do this?” or “How can I improve on this?” Cultivating a culture in which employees are encouraged to ask questions and explore ideas is essential for worker engagement.

In addition to clarity on job expectations, employees require clarity on a company’s values. Employee motivation relies on the company’s communication of its purpose, strategy, culture and values. Internal communications should enable workers to believe in the mission of the organization and see how they fit into the bigger picture.

“Having employees understand what the higher purpose of the organization is and why we do what we do is essential,” said Mark Harris, visiting professor in advertising and public relations at The University of Alabama and former vice president of communications for IBM Global Business Services. “That is the distinct role of workforce communications.”

Feelings of unimportance
Naturally, companies tend to become overly focused on what they do, not who is doing it. When this happens, employees feel unrecognized and undervalued.

“In internal communications, you have to understand you are dealing with human beings that have the choice to decide how hard they want to work,” explained Harris. “The role of communications is to support the motivations of employees who have free will in their decisions. In effect, we want to create true believers in the direction of the company and the value we create for clients, customers, investors and for each other.”

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Supervisors are aware that employees need to feel valued, but oftentimes mistake showing appreciation as a responsibility of another department such as human resources. An alarming 76 percent of workers admit they would leave a job if they did not feel appreciated.

“Workers need to sense they have the ability to participate in the decision making,” Berger explained. “They need to feel like they have a voice in the future of the company.”

Feelings of unappreciation derive from the inability to grow in a job and the inability to conduct influential work. An article in Forbes explained the opportunity to use one’s skills and abilities is the key to employee happiness: “The bottom line is that [employees] need to continue to grow in order to remain engaged and productive.”

It is imperative that workers are provided acknowledgment and the opportunity to grow from experiences to produce valuable work.

Poor relationships
A company culture that practices open communication between a boss and employees promotes employee engagement. Berger suggests a primary driver of disengaged employees is the quality of the employee’s supervisor.

“The boss has a direct impact on whether or not employees are engaged,” Berger stated. “If you have a great supervisor that communicates well, then it is much more likely your employees are motivated.”

Harris notes the employer’s ability to understand and address the issues a disengaged employee is experiencing is highly dependent on the attentiveness of the first-line supervisor. It is important to remember that employees are humans with emotions and unique needs.

“Reclaiming a disengaged employee will take an extremely personal approach,” explained Harris. “The supervisor will need to be able to understand why the employee has chosen to distance themselves from the job and then customize a response. Making sure our first-line managers are equipped to do that kind of work, support a healthy culture, and understand why that matters is a fundamental role of the internal communications team.”

Many employees suffer from the inability to communicate with other individuals in the company. The McKinsey Global Institute reported that employees who are connected with one another and the business are 20-25 percent more productive. Establishing ways to easily communicate is helpful in fostering strong relationships within a business.

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To encourage communication, companies utilize online chats in which employees can connect, find answers and share ideas with other employees. This allows workers to express ideas and receive feedback from a wider range of people. Additionally, implementing an open-door policy that allows employees to speak with leaders other than their supervisor promotes strong internal communication. If employees feel they have numerous outlets of communication, discontent and burnout are less likely to occur.

A happy employee is a productive employee. With the employment turnover rate at a peak, employers are hard pressed to not only employ excellent workers, but to get them to stay. The current generation of workers is demanding company cultures that embrace internal communications. The time is now to begin investing in internal communications.

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