The Reality of Employee Communications Today
— September 11th, 2022
It’s clear that Internal Communications (IC) teams and employees are not on the same page when it comes to communication.
The years since the pandemic have been especially tough as IC professionals have tried to adapt and find new ways of communication, first for the switch to remote working and now the complicated reality of our hybrid world.
And for comms professionals, breaking through the noise and communicating clear and relevant information to employees while making an impact requires the right strategies.
To explore how the pandemic has impacted how comms teams work and the communication experiences of employees, we conducted a survey of more than 4,000 IC professionals and employees.
The findings revealed a growing divide between perception and reality in relation to workplace communications, between what businesses think they communicate to their workforce and what employees actually experience.
These survey results were explored in a webinar in partnership with employee comms expert Priya Bates, President of Inner Strength Communication Inc., and it’s available to watch on-demand here. But if you want a quick read through the main takeaways, here they are.
So, where does the disconnect between employees and IC professionals come from?
1. IC Teams Are Using More Channels Than Employees
The research shows that a whopping 54% of Internal Communicators have increased the number of comms channels they use to communicate since the onset of the pandemic.
But only 23% of employees are using more channels than before. Plus, 49% of IC teams admitted to communicating more often compared to only 35% of employees, which could be a show of dedication to ensure that employees stay in the loop.
According to Priya Bates, this comes as no surprise as most IC folks often put in the effort and resources to try and meet employees where they are by adopting various tools and communication methods. On the other hand, employees are more concerned about getting information when they need it, hence the disconnect.
Their perspective (IC teams) is that they prefer certain tools based on their demographics and what they do…and they are trying to find the various ways to meet employees where they are…but from an employee perspective, they just want to get the information they need when they want it—Priya Bates
2. Most Employees Don’t Prefer Comms Directly From Line Managers
IC teams often equip line managers to communicate with employees. But the latest research has proven this mode of communicating to employees to be mostly ineffective.
While 65% of surveyed employers think that their employees prefer to receive comms from line managers, it turns out that 80% of employees would rather NOT receive communication from their line managers.
Priya suggests that the type of information that line managers pass on to employees matters. For instance, employees would rather receive personal information directly from their employers.
There's a need to sort out different kinds of information to determine which mode of communication to use. Priya also insists on the importance of building and cultivating relationships between line managers and employees by equipping managers with the right information and ensuring that they pass it over to employees in a timely and transparent manner. Managers then become the first point of contact for employees.
"While there's some information we should send directly to employees, we should also equip line managers to pass on information to create a relationship with the employees and then let them know where to turn to when they don't have all the answers."
3. The Pandemic Altered Communication
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Hybrid and remote work settings forced IC teams to change their approach to communication and focus more on increasing the value of comms.
But there also seems to be neglect in boosting employee access to that information. That's why, when asked whether the pandemic has changed how they communicate, 80% of IC teams said Yes—but only 55% of employees admitted to seeing a change in the way they receive information.
These findings show that there's a skill gap in IC teams that needs to be addressed through more effective training.
The opportunity for us is to build the skills for IC teams. We have so many people without the strategic experience in delivering information to have the impact that it needs to have—Priya Bates
"The key for me is that when employees hear something external that they trust the organization and leaders more to come back to you and get the real story. You want to establish yourself as the point of truth that employees can come to even when they hear the information out in the marketplace."
Meeting Employees Where They Are
Personalization is increasingly becoming hugely important in employee communication. But it’s another area where IC intent differs from employee experience.
One of the issues around personalization is addressing employees by name—and 51% of employees admitted that email communication would feel more personalized if employees addressed them by name, while only 33% of IC professionals address them by name.
IC teams must be able to understand who they are speaking to—namely their stakeholders, their needs, and their preferred mode of communication channel. To show employees that you value them, information should be personalized based on employee needs, locations, roles, departments, and geography.
"Understanding who your people are, especially now that it has become more complex in the hybrid workplace, is important in meeting your employees where they are," said Priya. "There's more need to make people feel like they matter, especially when you're not working in an office setting.
"You need to create a feeling that you're part of the organization and not just a number. If you're sending a one-size-fits-all message that isn't relevant to like 80% or 90% of your audience, you're teaching people to ignore you," she said.
Do Less and Accomplish More
Another surprising statistic is that 52% of employees said that they prefer more communication after the pandemic, with 51% favoring communication via their preferred channel and only 3% preferring less communication.
Despite this, Priya says she's experiencing an increase in the number of employees who are complaining about the level of comms noise in their organizations, and advises IC teams to focus more on delivering information that's relevant to their various audiences.
"There's an opportunity for IC teams to do less and accomplish more. Deliver more impact and say 'No' to some of the things that don't matter to employees," she said.
Delivering Impactful Comms
It isn't easy. Only 5% of IC professionals think that their workforce completely engages with and absorbs internal comms. The employee engagement rate is much higher than what IC professionals think.
But the level of engagement might increase or decrease with the type of information that’s being communicated. Employees engage the most with health and safety information, or updates on working models.
The numbers are, however, still low, barely hitting the 50% mark, which signals a need for better strategies to improve engagement.
It's Time to Invest in IC
99% of communications teams know that they could do something to improve their communication, pointing to strategies such as personalization and finding more interesting ways to communicate.
Priya agrees that more companies are now willing to invest in improving employee communication by expanding IC teams. Companies are asking for assessments and audits to do better because they see the opportunities that come with more effective communication including the achievement of company goals.
"Internal communication is an integral enabler of organizational success. It is the glue that fits all those strategies together into results," she said.