Employee Engagement Starts with Communication
Communications Jan 27, 2017

Employee Engagement Starts With Communication

Employee engagement is an oft-discussed topic, but do you really know what moves the needle? Does your organization have a way to measure it? How do you know if things are getting better?

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Why Employee Engagement Matters

For years, employee engagement has been a hot topic for HR leaders and senior executives, yet many organizations are still struggling to define it, execute it, and measure it. To put a point on the issue, consider the following:

  • 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged at work
  • 60% of millennials are open to a different job opportunity
  • Disengaged employees are estimated to cost the U.S. up to $550 billion

Since I’m referencing Gallup throughout this blog, I’ll use their definition of employee engagement. They define engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.”

Employee engagement is a big deal. If you have it, your company is likely humming like a bee. If your company lacks it, you’re probably walking past empty cubicles because employees aren’t showing up for work. Lack of engagement means lack of interest, lack of motivation, lack of loyalty, and lack of pride. People who aren’t engaged aren’t bad people, they just view themselves as having a bad job.

Employee Engagement Challenges

Companies in every industry across every sector struggle with employee engagement, whether they realize it or not. Attracting and retaining good people is hard work. There is always a competitor ready to swoop down and grab your best talent. There are always going to be companies willing to pay more, offer better benefits and perks, more opportunities for career advancement, and a “cooler” work environment. Instead of trying to one-up them, which is an exhausting and never-attainable process, try figuring out what exactly motivates your employees.

Figuring this out is important. Gallup found that companies who score the highest on their Employee Engagement Meta-Analysis (those who are in the top quartile) are:

  • 17% more productive
  • Experience 70% fewer safety incidents
  • Experience 41% less absenteeism
  • Have 10% better customer ratings
  • Are 21% more profitable

…compared with business units in the bottom quartile. As Gallup puts it, “Badly managed teams breed poorly performing companies, and that weak performance puts added stress on employees, resulting in a negative feedback loop that is dangerous to any business’ long-term health.”

Communication Is Key to Employee Engagement

How can companies push the “reset” button and fire up their employees? The manager-employee relationship is really not much different from any personal relationship of value. It takes good communication to foster a relationship and keep both sides happy. Employee communication is critical in developing the kinds of relationships that breed loyalty, respect, and transparency. Good communications can reverse the negative feedback loop into one that is positive.

Good employee communications begin not only with the message but also with the channel. As one CEO correctly stated, “Like any engagement strategy, a successful employee engagement effort is a combination of the right message delivered across the right platforms – which means that in addition to redefining the internal message architecture, you must also evaluate your internal communications infrastructure. If you’re still communicating with your employees primarily via emails or intranets, you are effectively underscoring the image of out-of-touch, behind-the-times leadership.”

What does this mean for organizations who simply want to get better at communicating with their employees? It means you’re going to have to think bigger than email and intranets. You have to go where your employees go if you really want to engage them and show them you are making the effort to connect. It’s like the elderly grandmother who mails her grandkids cards and can’t understand why they don’t write her back. If she would learn to email, text or even use social media, she’d have much better luck getting them to engage with her. Few kids these days are going to handwrite a letter. Is your organization stuck in the past, expecting your employees to keep using outdated forms of communication? Think again.

Three Steps to Improving Employee Engagement

Step 1: Choose mass communication software to bring you into the 21st century

Your employees have moved on and expect you will follow them wherever they go. That means investing in technology that can send and receive messages in real-time across multiple channels and devices simultaneously. Fortunately for you, that technology is readily available and can help any organization connect with its employees for any reason, whether for regular communications or emergency situations.

Mass communication software enables organizations to choose the message and the method of sending it, based on their employee demographics and requirements. This means companies can keep sending out emails and updating their intranet site with employee communications, but they can also tap into the smartphones most employees are using every day. SMS text messages, push notifications, in-app messages, and voicemail are all available to deliver whatever message needs to be sent whether an employee is at their desk, visiting clients, or traveling internationally.

Related: How to Get Workers to Listen to Employee Communications

By transitioning from a single mode of communication, such as email, to a multi-modal approach, organizations can ensure their employees not only get the message but realize their company values their involvement and wants to connect with them on their terms.

Step 2: Choose your words

The next step in effective employee communications is the message. Organizations must choose their words carefully, ensuring only the people who need the message get it and that the message they get is highly relevant to them. The message must be customized based on the type of channels that will carry the message. For example, an email will be more detailed than a push notification. Forbes calls this “strategic targeting,” which they describe as “Internal communications is just marketing to employees. And just like in traditional marketing, the more you cater your message to a niche audience, the more effective it will be.”

So what if an organization needs to send an emergency alert to its employees located in a manufacturing facility in an area that is in imminent danger of major flooding? Of course, a push notification that just says, “A flood is coming; take precautions,” might be the ideal length for a push notification, but the message isn’t exactly informative and can cause panic.

Mass communication software allows an administrator to customize the message as well as provide sources to direct people to more information. This way, the push notification can say, “Your work area is in danger of a flood. Click HERE for info on where & when to take shelter.” The “HERE” link can connect them to a variety of sources, such as an intranet page where they can find evacuation routes, weather radar, news outlets, shelters, and even message boards where they can post eye-witness information to help others.

These are they types of internal communications that save lives, but what about the communications that just inform? Organizations can use the communications system to inform employees of important corporate events, volunteer opportunities, paycheck or bonus disbursements, holiday hours, shift schedules and changes, traffic alerts to delivery drivers, IT and power outages, shipment delays, sales wins, product launches, and much more. Virtually anything important an organization would send via email to a segmented group or all of its employees can be sent via multiple channels through a mass communication system.

Step 3: Rank your messages

This brings us to the last important step to consider, which is how frequently to send these messages. One of the downfalls of email is that we simply get too many of them to pay attention to all of them. You don’t want your employees to begin ignoring your messages again, or worse, get agitated at their volume. The point of your efforts to improve employee communications is to engage your employees, not frustrate them.

Set up parameters around your message types, placing them in “buckets” of importance. These rankings will help you determine when it is appropriate to use your notification system and when other modes of communication are better suited.

“Emergency” messages are critical in nature, where life and death are in the balance or the fate of the company is at risk. These messages must be sent immediately across every channel possible and demand immediate action.

“Urgent” messages are those messages that you need every employee to see in order to do their job. These may be directed at a subgroup of employees or company-wide and are considered highly valuable pieces of information for recipients who may need to take action as soon as possible.

“Important” messages are those that may not require an immediate response but are intended to keep employees informed with messaging relevant to them personally or to their job function. These are “need-to-know” facts that aren’t emergencies or urgent, but notifications employees would value nonetheless.

Any other type of message should be critically analyzed for value. If they don’t fit into one of the above categories, using your mass communication system may not be the best method. You want to save your mass notification system for those messages that carry the most weight. Overloading the system with less important messaging, like FYIs, will render the system less potent and all of your messages, emergencies or not, will become like static to your recipients.

Employee engagement begins with a strong internal communications strategy. Be sure you have the right tools to communicate with your employees in the manner they are accustomed to in their daily lives. A mass notification system is the best way to ensure your message is received loud and clear. Just make sure you are deliberate in choosing your words and the frequency of your messages. Your employees will feel more informed and more valued when they know their employer cares about them enough to keep the lines of communication open.

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