Communicate More to Increase Employee Engagement

It’s hard to argue against increasing employee engagement. Research repeatedly shows that companies with more engaged employees have higher customer satisfaction, lower turnover and attrition, greater customer loyalty, and better financial performance. What’s not to love? So it is not surprising that there has been a surge in the number of companies measuring employee engagement.

And it should also not be a surprise that many companies are finding that their measures of employee engagement are demonstrating they have a vulnerability: most employees are not engaged. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000. In spite of some minimal changes in either direction, less than one-third of U.S. employees were engaged in their jobs over that period. On a global basis, engagement among employees is 13%.

So, what do we do about it? Managers tend to assume that increasing engagement will cost money: we must give raises, improve benefits, and give more vacation time. At a minimum, we will have to spend money to improve working conditions and training!

Not necessarily. One of the most effective methods of improving employee engagement is also one of the most cost effective: internal communications. A recent MSW-ARS Research study reported, “Today’s workforce is looking for more than financial rewards. Open and honest two-way communication is the common thread that runs through each of the key factors of employee engagement.” And the best place to start that communication is with the Employee Engagement survey results:

  • First, tell them openly and honestly what the Employee Engagement showed: Without “spin” or “massaging” the results, how engaged are your employees? What does that mean for the future of your organization?
  • Next, tell them openly and honestly what you are going to do about the results: Employees don’t expect miracles, but they do expect you to listen, evaluate, and act on the feedback they have given.
  • Finally, tell them what you are not going to do about the results: Don’t mislead employees into believing in changes that will not be forthcoming. This type of manipulation will come back to you in even worse employee engagement metrics next year.

Beyond the employee engagement survey, establishing internal communications channels will encourage discussion, feedback, and sharing of information and ideas. These communications channels should be:

  • Varied. Not all employees communicate in the same way. And while face-to-face communications are preferable, having other communication channels available to accommodate other needs and preferences is important.
  • Safe. It may be difficult at first for employees to understand that communications will not result in recrimination or punishment. However, over time, it is critical that employees believe they can openly and honestly express dissenting opinions.
  • Frequent. While the optimal frequency for employee engagement communications is not certain (and probably varies by company), managers must find that sweet spot between over- and under-communicating.
  • Engaging. Tailor communications to the individual. While higher-level, more strategic information may be appropriate for some employees, others may find those overwhelming and may need more operational, day-to-day information.
  • Two-way. You must listen as well as talk. Honest, two-way communication and feedback will lead to increased employee engagement.

The beauty of using enhanced communication to improve employee engagement is that it does not increase costs significantly. In fact, many companies will find no additional incremental cost; they repurpose existing communications channels and vehicles to send different messages. Many companies have achieved significant culture change by simply encouraging managers to get out of their offices and walk around!

Communication is a powerful management tool that can have a significant impact on employee engagement and corporate culture. Continuing to periodically measure key employee engagement factors will provide additional guidance into how enhanced communications programs are working to improve employee engagement.

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