“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
In the pantheon of observations about communication breakdowns, it doesn’t get any better than Shaw’s famous quote. And we thought this would be a fitting way to dive into a discussion about what we saw this year when it comes to trends in employee communication and engagement.
There was some good news. But there also were some, to borrow from Shaw, problems.
Companies increasingly understand that keeping employees informed is foundational for business success. When employees don’t know what’s going on with the business or feel left out, they’re not as engaged – or productive. Worse, they walk. With unemployment at historic lows, organizations realize they need to create great places to work if they want to keep and attract talent.
But in 2018, there were signs of a continuing failure to communicate – invoking another well-known quote.
So, here are some of the things that we learned about workplace engagement, what people now expect in on-the-job communication, and how employees are becoming more effective advocates for their brands.
The Cost of Poor Employee Communication
How important is communicating with employees in a straightforward fashion? Half of all American workers are completely stressed out by the explosion of communication systems they use on the job and 33 percent are so frustrated that they have even considered quitting their jobs. Those were the key finding in the 2018 State of Employee Communication and Engagement report, which surveyed 1,072 U.S. workers. “The impacts of poor communication and engagement are serious,” Joelle Kaufman, the Chief Marketing Officer at Dynamic Signal, told CMSWire.com. “Employee turnover or churn is often driven by a lack of connection to the company and a belief in the value of the company’s purpose.” Other notable findings from the research: 42 percent of employees report missing critical information necessary to do their job caused by ineffective communication tools and 74 percent say they needlessly waste time searching for information.
Employee Engagement on the Rise
Gallup found that the percentage of “engaged employees” – those committed to their work – has risen to 34 percent. That tied the highest level since Gallup began tracking the figure in 2000. On the flip side, 13 percent of employees are “actively disengaged” and report having miserable workplace experiences. The remaining 53 percent of workers are “not engaged.” This means they may be generally satisfied, but don’t feel connected to their work and will quickly leave their company for even a slightly better offer. There’s also a less rosy way to view the Gallup report. “From Dynamic Signal’s perspective, that means 66 percent of the workforce isn’t engaged,” Kaufman said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for all of us to do way better.”
An analysis of data from Dynamic Signal’s platform found that there are three months when employees are the most engaged: January, October, and November. And October is the month with the highest engagement. There are likely several reasons why early fall is the time when employees are the most focused on the job. Employees are back in the rhythm of work after summer vacations and the kids have settled into school. October also is when companies are rallying the troops for a successful close to the year and working on budgets and planning for the new year.
These Boots Are Made for Walking
Americans quit their jobs in May at the fastest rate since 2001, according to the U.S. Labor Department. It was a sign that workers feel confident about the economy and are willing to risk jumping from one company to another. But it also was an indication that companies aren’t doing enough to keep their employees feeling wanted at a time when there are more open jobs than people available to fill them.
Erosion of Trust
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer showed just how deep the skepticism is toward major institutions like the government, the media, and brands. Trust in the U.S. suffered the largest-ever drop in the survey’s 18-year history. It also found that people are likely to judge “a person like you” or an employee as more credible than a CEO. “The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. That sentiment was echoed by Trish Wexler during her keynote at the Summit by Dynamic Signal conference in October. “The truth has never been more in question in my lifetime,” said Wexler, the Chief Communications Officer at Chase, the retail arm of JPMorgan Chase. “In our role in communications, this has deep and serious implications for what we do because our job is to build trust.”
Millennials and the Workplace
The Millennial generation, which the Pew Research Center defines as people who were born between 1981 and 1996, now is the largest segment in the workplace. Within the next two years, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of Millennials, and it will grow to 75 percent by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is having a profound impact on how organizations communicate with employees. “In nearly every corner of the U.S., business executives, community and civic leaders, marketers, and managers are talking about Millennials and their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs,” according to Gallup’s “How Millennials Want to Work and Live.” “They want to understand how this generation is similar to and how they differ from their predecessors, as well as how to apply this knowledge to create more engaged employees and consumers and healthier, happier citizens.”
Mobile Devices as News Source
When we want news, we turn to our mobile device. Roughly six-in-10 U.S. adults (58 percent) often get their news on cellphones, according to a Pew Research Survey. That’s much more than Americans access news on desktop or laptop computers. Translation: People now expect all information, both in their personal lives and on the job, to be instantly available and at their fingertips.
LinkedIn found that 80 percent of professionals experience the “Sunday Scaries” – the feeling of stress in advance of the work week. Sixty percent of people are worried about their workload, 44 percent are thinking about their personal to-do list, and 39 percent are fretting over tasks they didn’t finish the previous week. Joelle Kaufman, the Dynamic Signal CMO, authored a blog post about how communication overload contributes to this work-related anxiety – and not just on Sundays – with too many emails, too many Slack messages, and so on. “It makes sense to look to a communication channel other than email to convey important work-related information in a way that supports employees without overwhelming them,” Kaufman wrote. “More broadly, we need to rethink how we communicate. We need to think about the employee first and how they want to engage with information from work.”
An estimated 80 percent of the 2.7 billion global workers don’t sit at desks each day. So, why does just 1 percent of the $300 billion in annual business software venture funding go to technology benefitting these on-the-go employees? That was the question addressed in a report called “The Rise of the Deskless Workforce.” It’s a problem that technology companies are only creating solutions designed to help 20 percent of employees do their jobs better, said Kevin Spain, General Partner at Emergence Capital. “It just makes logical sense that once you can build and deploy great software for the other 80 percent of the workforce that there will be similar benefits that you already see in deskbound workers.” The trend, he added, is starting to change.
Finally, we learned in 2018 that there’s a growing hunger among communicators to share and collaborate on how to connect with employees at their companies. A perfect example was the first-annual Summit by Dynamic Signal conference, which drew more than 150 communicators, marketers and HR professionals from around the world. They gathered to learn and discuss best practices – together. “It was great to have an opportunity to talk to people at different companies who are experiencing the same struggles and also opportunities that we are,” said Alyse Lamparyk, Social Media Expert, Sherwin-Williams. “We got a lot of great ideas out of this.”