by Caitlin Gibson
HR.com recently published The State of Employee Communications 2021, a research study designed to uncover which communication tools and practices can boost employee engagement in 2021 and beyond. The significance of this study’s findings ultimately inspired an HR.com employee communications event. Among its major findings, the study showed that, although most HR professionals view employee communications as extremely important, the effectiveness of those communications is often disappointing. The report found that this is due, in no small part, to communication breakdowns between people managers and their direct reports.
This is a critical issue. Managers are the communication conduit between their employees and the company’s leadership. When manager communication breaks down, employees can become less productive and engaged at work. That can turn into a lack of job satisfaction overall, which can ultimately lead to costly turnover. Fortunately, effective communication is something managers can control with the right support.
In particular, three key findings in HR.com’s study have illuminated specific steps organizations can take to enable great manager communication.
“Only one-third [of employees] say managers keep their direct reports informed about important matters to a high or very high degree.”
Solution: Use communication channels that work.
This finding means that the majority of respondents feel their manager—however unintentionally—keeps them out of the loop when it comes to important issues that affect the organization. When that happens, it’s easy for employees to assume they’re not trusted or valued enough to be kept in the loop. Ultimately, that can diminish their trust in the company.
So, what can managers do to keep employees in the loop? They can commit to sharing important team and company updates in a timely matter using the right communication channels. To pick the best channels, managers will need to determine how their employees prefer to communicate. For example, younger employees may appreciate a Slack message over an email; deskless workers may be reached best with a text message.
Once they pick the right communication channels for their direct reports, managers should use those channels consistently. That way, employees know how important updates are shared with them. When they’re able to rely on that consistency, managers can cultivate a sense of belonging among their direct reports and boost their employees’ trust in the company overall. Plus, when employees know what’s going on, they’ll know what priorities to focus on and what’s expected of them on a daily basis. This is especially important for organizations that have an increasingly distributed workforce.
“Managers are somewhat better at communicating upwards than downwards. Most respondents (61%) agree or strongly agree that managers are good at communicating with their supervisors.”
Solution: Provide manager communication training.
Knowing how and when to communicate with direct reports takes practice and training. So, provide your people managers with training to help them hone their communication skills. That training should cover what communication policies are in place throughout the organization, including guidelines for how to use all the available communication channels. If there isn’t a clear communication policy in place, take the time to create one. It’ll help you train your managers to be great communicators. In addition to general manager communication training, provide specific communication training. This should be tied to initiatives that directly impact the employee experience, including internal programs like performance management.
Along with training, encourage managers to maintain an open, ongoing dialogue with each of their direct reports and regularly ask for feedback. This dialogue can happen through regular one-on-ones and informal conversations via channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, video chat, or text message. By keeping this line of communication open and touching base often, managers will have lots of opportunities to ask their direct reports for feedback on the quality of their communication. As a result, employees will be able to share what is and isn’t working in real time, so communication issues can be resolved before they become a problem.
“In communication-leader organizations, managers are almost twice as likely to keep direct reports informed about important organizational issues (83% vs. 42%).”
Solution: Take steps to become a communication leader.
HR.com’s study divided its respondents into two groups—communication-laggard organizations and communication-leader organizations. The latter are those who answered “High” or “Very High” to the question, “To what degree is overall employee communication effective in your organization?” Communication-laggard organizations answered “Moderate,” “Low,” or “Very Low” to that question. In communication-leader organizations, employee communication is viewed as extremely important to the organization’s success; managers are twice as likely to be trained in communication; and employee performance tends to be above or far above average compared to the company’s industry competitors.
How do you become a communication leader? In addition to using communication channels that work and providing manager communication training, orchestrate a holistic employee communications strategy and measure the effectiveness of all the communications you deliver. You can use employee communication software to do this, so you can identify what’s working with your strategy and what’s not in real time. By collecting data and feedback, you can adjust your approach as you go and prevent communication snags from becoming bigger issues.
Great manager communication is achievable, and it can have a powerful impact on employee engagement and the employee experience overall. To make it a fixture of your organization, set up your managers for success with effective communication training. Leverage an internal communications strategy that not only responds to the pandemic’s effect on employee communications, but also enables you to become a communication leader. By taking these steps, you can ensure your communications are as effective as they are important.