The Problem: Disengaged Employees
The reality is that internal communication tools are broken today at most enterprise companies. But it’s not the fault of you, the communicator. You work hard every day to connect your organization to its most valued asset – employees. You create great content that helps the company. You diligently work to engage and inspire your workforce.
And yet no matter what you do, you still feel like you’re failing. And you’re not alone.
Only 33 percent of U.S. employees say they are enthusiastic and committed to their work, according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report. That means two out of every three employees are struggling to stay connected with their organization and feel good about what they do every day on the job.
It gets worse. The majority of employees (51 percent) are not engaged and haven’t been for quite some time. Gallup found that these disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy between $483 and $605 billion each year in lost productivity. Gallup concluded: “The U.S. — and the world at large – is in the midst of an employee engagement crisis.”
One solution is a greater emphasis on strong internal communication. Successful companies communicate better than their competition because they know it improves employee performance. This isn’t rocket science. But the problem in many organizations is that something gets lost in translation between what’s communicated to the workforce and what’s actually received by employees. So, they end up feeling disconnected, alienated, not part of the team.
This is not just a communication problem. It’s a business problem. And it will only grow more urgent as the hyper-connected, tech-savvy Millennial generation becomes the dominant force in the workplace.
“I would definitely say that employee communication is in a transition because of technology,” said communication expert Lynn Loignon. “My big ‘ah-ha’ moment came when I realized that I shouldn’t restrict the channels that people can receive communication. Everybody wants it differently. The only thing that matters is your personal preference on how you like to get information. Technology can ensure that employees get the information they want, in the way they want it, and coming right to them. They shouldn’t have to do a lot of work to go find it.”
As a communicator, you’re doing your best with the tools you have. But you’re being let down by disjointed, outdated systems that are obstructing your efforts and resulting in a fragmented, under-informed workforce. And you don’t just need a streamlined, unified system. You need accurate metrics to be able to identify where you’re having success and where your communication strategy is breaking down.
It’s impossible to overstate the massive changes that are happening in the workplace. Increasingly, there isn’t even any definable “workplace.” Today, employees are doing their jobs remotely, often at all hours. Coffee shops and kitchen tables can be just as acceptable places to work as office cubicles.
“Work is no longer where you go,” said Kerri Warner, former Senior Vice President of Corporate/Employee Practice at MSL and now Vice President, Global Internal Communications at Mastercard. “It’s what you do – a vocation, not a location. As a communicator, you can appear as a laggard if you’re not thinking this way. It’s also why communicating with the changing workforce is so critical.”
Warner added: “It’s not just about thinking how best to serve the digitally native Millennial workforce. It’s just as important for the Gen X mom or dad.”
The landscape has evolved to where:
- A dispersed workforce can stretch around the world
- Employees are rarely behind desks because they’re working on factory floors, in hospital wards, in retail showrooms, or driving delivery trucks
- Workers might not have corporate email or intranet access, especially with the growth of the Gig Economy and a greater reliance on contractors
Gallup, the go-to source for work trends, has found that 43 percent of employees now work in a remote fashion at least part of the time – an increase from 39 percent in 2012. The shift has been profound. It’s forcing companies to rethink how they connect with employees to ensure they’re performing at their best.
“The No. 1 question that I’m asked at every conference is ‘How do I communicate with a dispersed workforce,’ ” said Mark Ragan, CEO and Publisher of Ragan Communications, who hosts events that draw thousands of communicators each year. “Yet amazingly, some companies are still literally putting up paper flyers around their offices, like in the break rooms. I’ll think, ‘What, are we in the 1990s?’ ”
Even when the problem is not their fault, communicators are the ones who are held responsible. More often, they hold themselves accountable because of the pride they take in their work.
Added Ragan: “The classic internal communicator is frustrated. They’re laboring in obscurity, pounding out content, sending it out into the world and having no idea if anybody is even reading it.”
Workers Feel Overwhelmed and Under-informed
A 2015 survey by Mindshare found that 74 percent of employees feel they’re missing out on company information. And a more recent study, by Siegel+Gale, determined that lack of transparent communication from leadership is why 30 percent of employees find their workplace complex and difficult to navigate.
Employees are bombarded with information from their organizations on multiple channels. Email. Intranet. Slack. Yammer. It’s a struggle just to prioritize all of that inbound noise – let alone actually engaging with the content.
Meanwhile, organizations also are competing with the entire digital world for the attention of employees. Everyone has access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, their favorite bloggers, and on and on. This can also lead to employees tuning out what they perceive as company “noise.”
“For years, communication has been sharing what the executive team wanted the world to know and thinking that’s enough,” Dietrich added. “But now you have all of these other voices. The communication industry has not kept up at all.”
Modern Tools for the Modern Workplace
The good news is this problem also has created an opportunity for communicators to step in and save the day. But it means picking the right tools that filter out all the noise for employees while also providing the ability to measure the results. Employee Communication and Engagement (ECE) Platforms enable companies to reach every employee with relevant content, wherever they work, in whatever manner they want it – including on their mobile devices. Using the right internal communication tool can start you on the path to a more engaged workforce right now.
“If you can effectively communicate to all of your employees, you can effectively solve a problem that companies have been trying to
solve forever,” said R. Joshua Whitton, a long-time communication and marketing executive who now is Regional Vice President of Sales at Aptaris.
Employees want the ability to:
- Connect with their organization immediately through mobile push notifications, alerts and video that gets high-priority content directly in front of them
- Align with the rest of the organization around a shared mission and vision
- Engage with the business through the ability to take action by commenting, liking and sharing approved content with their own social networks
Impact of Strong Internal Communication
Engagement is not just about job satisfaction. Communication and engagement directly influence how well employees do their jobs. Communication also impacts company performance by increasing retention of talented workers and boosting recruiting efforts. The ultimate goal is to make employees feel valued and invested in the organization’s success.
Gallup has found that:
- Highly engaged business units have 41 percent less absenteeism, 24 percent lower turnover and 17 percent greater productivity
- Behaviors of highly engaged business units result in 21 percent greater profitability
- Companies with more engaged employees outperform peers by 147 percent earnings per share
CEB (now Gartner) also has determined that more-informed employees perform at a rate 77 percent higher than their less-informed counterparts.
When employees don’t understand why their company makes a decision, they feel alienated. This saps morale and often leads to high turnover and low productivity.
An effective internal communication tool can prevent these kinds of misunderstandings. An ECE Platform can be a crucial instrument for leadership to cultivate an environment where employees have the information to do their jobs and understand where the company is going. Communications experts can be proactive with their messaging, reducing the chance of mistrust being fostered, and helping employees to understand the mission and vision of the organization. This leads to greater engagement, better decision-making, and a significantly more cohesive workforce.
The liability of not mitigating risk can be enormous. It can negatively impact brand reputation. It even leads to major financial costs in terms of a decrease in stock price.
Strong, clear communication ensures a healthy, inclusive, and conflict-free workplace. Communicators deliver organizational values. They work closely with HR and the legal department to share safety information, government regulations and anything else that maintains a nurturing environment for everyone. It’s about managing compliance.
The best way to properly mitigate risk is to make sure everyone has access to the information they need. The crucial step toward that goal is a solid technology foundation that ensures direct communication with every employee. Using the proper tool can be the difference between a well-tuned and compliant workplace, and an environment where exposure can lead to damage – financial or personal.
Keys To Repairing Internal Communication
A good strategy begins with you, the communicator. Understanding the challenges you face and what needs to be done to bring your internal communication up to speed will allow you to create a realistic approach toward meeting your goals.
For instance, communicators need to connect with employees on their terms. Employees expect relevant information to be delivered to them – wherever they are and in the manner they prefer. This is especially the case for Millennials, who will make up more than 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This means communicators need to be able to reach employees on their mobile devices.
Smartphones didn’t start becoming widely available until the mid-2000s. Today, they are life’s “remote control,” according to social psychologist and trend watcher Rich Luker. He describes how mobile devices aren’t just linking people to the online world, but connecting them to life. Pew Research Center found that more than 77 percent of Americans now own a smartphone and noted that the days of a “stationary” Internet are over. Today, people expect to be connected “on the go.” Any communication strategy needs to hinge on the ability to connect with employees via mobile.
“Employee behavior really is evolving, and it’s following the path we’ve seen with consumer behavior,” said David Armano, Global Strategy Director at Edelman, the communications marketing rm. “That was really the canary in the coal mine. Consumers have become so dependent on mobile devices. They are basically the dashboard of our lives. That’s now transferring over to the employee experience.”
Traditionally, communicators have not been able to link what they do with company success because they’ve lacked accurate measurement tools. More than 59 percent of respondents in Dynamic Signal’s “The State of Workplace Communications” report in 2017 said they lack an understanding about the financial impact of ineffective communication. But how can you improve your strategy if you aren’t measuring the results of your communication?
“Internal communication doesn’t have analytics to prove results,” Dietrich said. “Communicators have the intranet, but people may or may not go there. They send email, but people may or may not read them. They may be posting notices in lunch rooms, but people may or may not be reading them. There’s really been no way to show the effectiveness of their work.”
But when communicators have the ability to show their impact, they elevate their role as a critical business function. There’s nothing more impactful than comparative data to show organizational leaders the power of strong internal communication.
Technology is changing every aspect of how work gets done. One example is how an ECE Platform connects organizations with their workforces.
Yet in February of 2018, when Dynamic Signal conducted “The State of Employee Communication and Engagement” report, 50 percent of the communicators indicated that their organizations have not increased – or have even reduced – their budget for communication technology in recent years.
“Communicators are frustrated because there are all of these internal communication tools out there that their employees are using, and yet they’re not,” said Ted Rubin, a leading social marketing strategist. “So, they can’t achieve the results they know are possible because they don’t have access to the technology.”
Elevate the Role of Internal Communication
Respect is earned, not given. An ECE Platform enables communicators to earn that respect by showing tangible proof of the impact they’re having on their organizations. They finally can be considered a critical business function. With that comes:
This is not the future. It’s already happening. Organizations are transforming internal communication tools to modernize, streamline and measure their efforts. Kerri Warner, of Mastercard, said she encourages clients to consider those three words as just a starting point of what’s possible today.
“Those are capabilities,” she added. “Think about these as benefits that make our lives easier more than thinking in terms of streamlining and modernizing. That’s even more so when it comes to measuring. Typically, people don’t get into communications because they’re focused on data and metrics. We’re driven by creating words that influence and stories that matter. But the unintended consequence is that way of thinking doesn’t give communicators muscle inside the organization. Metrics are what get you taken more seriously.”
One conclusion of Gallup’s State of American Workplace report in 2017 was blunt: The rulebook is being rewritten for business success. “The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing. They cannot wait for trends to pass them by,” the report concluded.
Imagine a world where internal communication isn’t broken. If you solve the internal communication problem, you solve the employee engagement problem.
And what would that do for your organization?