Improving employee communications

Survey finds HR communications are often viewed as ineffective

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl 

Back in 2011, I blogged about the importance of employee communications and the link between effective HR communications and several of the principles taught in organizational behaviour classes. At the time, I mentioned how communicating effectively with employees is one of the most important things an organization can do to foster a positive and collaborative employee relations climate, position the organization as an employer of choice, set expectations and minimize exposure to liability. 

However, many organizations don’t handle internal communications particularly well. Because of that, employee communications can be inadequate, overly complex or poorly thought out, and in many companies, employees are continually bombarded by HR and other internal communications, resulting in information overload. 

According to a recent survey conducted by HR consulting company Davis & Company, only 30 per cent of employees are happy with the HR communications they receive. The 2015 HR Communication Study, which surveyed 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies, found that while respondents generally cared about the content of employee communications, they didn’t feel they were getting the information needed to make informed decisions. Two problems in particular were the complexity and inconvenience of the communications received by employees. 

Not communicating using plain language 

One of the main problems associated with overly complex organizational communications is failing to communicate with employees using plain language. Studies show that the average reader reads at about a Grade 8 or 9 level, and it is best to aim for around that level when developing organizational communications. We also live in a multicultural society where English is a second language for many employees. 

While I have always felt that the goal of written communications is to inform rather than confuse people, I personally believe that writing this blog — which is written using a journalistic style — has helped to make my writing a bit less formal than it was in the past. Even business communicators could learn from journalists when it comes to communicating clearly and concisely — even if I don’t always agree with my journalist colleagues on some minor points of grammar and style. 

Employee communications shouldn’t be as formal as academic writing, although certain documents such as policies may need to be written in a tone that is more official and prescriptive. But regardless of the nature and purpose of the document in question, the goal should never be to complicate the message by being overly verbose or using excessive jargon and acronyms or five dollar words when simple ones will do just fine. 

Using only one communications channel 

We all have different preferences when it comes to how we like to receive information. While some people prefer to have organizational information communicated to them via email, others may prefer to read it on an HR Intranet or in a company newsletter — or have it delivered in person or via video, podcast or voicemail message. 

Ideally, employees should have a choice in terms of where, when and how they access and consume organizational information — particularly with respect to highly important information or messages that are lengthy or extremely complicated by their very nature. 

Providing inadequate context to employees 

A very important part of managing and communicating change is explaining the rationale behind the change. Employees need to understand the context for organizational change, even in the case of something relatively minor. 

In this day and age, employees expect authenticity and transparency from their employers, and wherever possible it’s important to explain the reasoning behind change and why things are being done a certain way. It is also important to provide notice of change being implemented rather than springing the change on them with little or no advance notice. 

Being bombarded by employee communications 

There’s no question employees are faced with information overload in many companies even when it comes to internal or organizational communications. Some of the issues I have seen in some organizations include multiple executives communicating the same message, inconsistent messaging, irrelevant information, messages from people I didn’t know and information that didn’t apply to me, my line of business or even me as a Canadian employee. 

There is a fine line between under-communicating and over-communicating. However, many organizations need to do a much better job of ensuring they aren’t bombarding their employees with too many communications — particularly when many people these days are experiencing stress and information overload. Employers should try to avoid being part of the problem.

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