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Can You Hear Me Now? 5 Top Employee Communication Challenges HR Must Meet

Julie CooksonJulie Cookson·

We live in a time when there are so many ways companies can communicate with their employees: intranet portals, email, Lync, Zoom/Skype, e-learning, newsletters, surveys and so on.

Yet, is it not ironic that most companies still struggle mightily to identify the best way to update their teams? To highlight how widespread dissatisfaction with company communication is, a recent Gallup report stated that 74% of employees felt disconnected at work; they also believed they were missing out on important company information and news.

Another compelling statistic is that only 24% of global employees are highly engaged at work; that means a majority, 76%, are moderately engaged or not engaged at all.

Is it really that big of a deal that employees don’t feel communicated with, connected or engaged?  You bet it is! To put it in dollars and cents: disengaged employees cost U.S.-based
companies more than $500 billion each year in lost productivity, so the world-wide implications are staggering!  How did we get here?

First, let’s define employee communication so we are all on the same page.  It is the practice of effectively communicating to all employees in an organization.  This communication is critical to:

  • keep the workforce in the loop on strategic company priorities, successes, and challenges
  • lessen confusion and miscommunication
  • educate employees and build awareness of the industry and competitive landscape
  • increase employees’ engagement and productivity

HR, then, is in the enviable and challenging position of being a trusted partner to the company and its employees, and in identifying clear communication strategies by keeping the above factors in mind.  If you are not already an HR influencer in your company, it’s time create a plan and get started!

So, how will HR meet the challenge?

During my 20+ years as an HR executive in the Entertainment industry, I learned to add value by developing very strong communication and collaboration skills and being courageous and strategic in teeing up concerns with leaders. I employed 5 strategic tactics below that I found particularly helpful.

    1. HR ensures that the C-suite and management team understand and support effective employee communication, both up and down and across the organization.
      I believe HR professionals must first build credibility and trust with management (which can take time, I know).  Then HR must begin to educate and provide awareness on how critical it is for the company and management to value and embrace clear employee communication.

      1. To be effective, HR must present statistics that illustrate the problem and the cost to global and U.S. companies, such as those previously mentioned.
        Studies suggest that companies can increase productivity up to 25% by communicating and connecting their brand mission/objectives with their employees; that’s huge!
      2. HR then shares recommendations to address the company’s specific communication issues (including feedback from past surveys).
        Tie it together by providing a reminder that effective communication can build trust and ignite passion and loyalty, which leads to engaged, productive employees.
    2. HR partners with management to ensure employee communication is accurate, timely, honest, and clear. One of the worst things for an employee is to see an e-alert
      that their company is laying off employees, or that their CEO is leaving.  As an employee, how would hearing this first from the outside make you feel–angry, unappreciated,
      distrustful? Of course! Having a communication (triage) plan already in place allows for executives and HR to focus on the accurate message points during a time of upheaval
      or when clear communication must happen.  A company should always strive to update employees as soon as a final decision is reached in clear, honest terms. Conversely,
      sharing premature updates with employees may land the company in legal hot water, damage the stock price, or cause even more confusion and distrust.
    3. HR validates that communication is delivered to employees via the right platform. Everyone hears and retains information differently, so it is worth researching the most effective platforms to use.
      1. It is estimated that about 97% of 18 to 34-year-olds and 94% of 35 to 49-year-olds have access to smartphones.
        How do these statistics influence how HR could recommend communicating more effectively to employees? For example,
        would it make sense to use a mobile app or other smartphone technology to provide quicker updates than the traditional company portal (which many employees admit they don’t ever visit)?
      2. Bluesource estimates that 205.6 billion emails are sent globally every day, yet only 1/3 of them are ever opened!  So how effective are email updates?
      3. And finally, there are a host of one-off considerations: who should the message come from: the CEO, Corporate Communications, HR or someone else?  Are there any global nuances to be considered? Does a manager Q&A need to be created for consistent follow-up?
    4. HR professionals must develop themselves to understand the company’s mission and imperatives and to effectively communicate a strong business case to management. These skills are also needed by HR to influence an employee to improve performance, and to recruit a valued candidate to join the company.  Seek out development opportunities for yourself to learn the company’s:
      1. business niche
      2. products and services
      3. advertisers
      4. clients
      5. financials
      6. competitors and industry players, and
      7. economic and political influences

      Ask a co-worker or informal mentor to give you a 101 overview of Finance, Digital or whatever area you’re seeking to learn about.  Take time to invest in your own development! I want to mention here that I have also paid for my own development if no budget was available.  There are countless free webinars, certifications, networking groups or even book recommendations to tap into.

    5. And finally, HR ensures, through Learning & Development offerings, that all other employees are also taught to be effective communicators. Oftentimes employees are promoted into management due to their technical expertise, not because of their communication or leadership skills.  HR professionals know that a lack of honest, clear communication between a manager and a direct report can lead to a negative impact on the entire department. Examples of key documents in HR’s wheelhouse:
      1. employee evaluations (mid-year, annual, and self-evaluation)
      2. goal-setting forms
      3. work plans
      4. corrective action documents, and
      5. new employee orientation materials
      6. recruiting materials

I am sure that you agree employee communication is critical at every step of the employee life-cycle. Management and HR must work hand-in-hand to create the template for effective communication. HR professionals must research new, creative ways to communicate and add value. By truly listening to management and the workforce, and taking the steps above, positive changes to employee communications will enhance the workforce community we have discussed and combat the negatives plaguing other organizations. This will lead to a more engaged workforce: one that is educated, passionate and confident about the decisions their leaders are making. And you, the HR professional, will be viewed as an indispensable, strategic problem-solver!


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