In response to a new study that found trust in government and corporations are at an all time low in the United States, Impact’s Associate Vice President Sandi Sonnenfeld recently published an article in O’Dwyer’s, one of the leading magazines covering the PR and corporate communications industry, on the importance of internal communications in building employee trust and improving staff engagement. Below is an excerpt from that larger piece.
A workplace engagement study of employees at companies with one thousand or more workers revealed that 94 percent of employees want to hear more about what’s going on from leadership; 86 percent would feel more engaged if they were more informed about company news and information; and 68 percent of executives believe they do a “good” job of communicating, though only 21 percent of employees agree.
To help executives improve how they communicate and keep employees more engaged, below are seven internal communications tips you may find of value:
- Vary how you share information.Rather than always defaulting to email, vary the methods you use when distributing corporate or employee-related information. If the news will significantly impact how the organization functions, what it does or marks a key milestone, consider having the CEO leave a voicemail message on everyone’s business phone or creating a brief video message that pops up when people turn their computers on in the morning. Bonuses or raises, like performance reviews, are best delivered individually by a worker’s supervisor.
- Be inclusive.While confidential information must be protected, too often companies restrict more general information about their goals, achievements, new products and services and long-term growth to certain types or groups of employees. Creating a two-tier system of those in the know and those who aren’t not only fosters resentment and mistrust, it also prevents support staff and other employees from understanding how their individual tasks and responsibilities helped contribute to the bottom line.
- Give employees a safe way to report harassment, fraud or other bad behaviors. A key reason employees opt not to report bad behavior of colleagues or supervisors is fear they’ll be viewed as disloyal or that HR will automatically side with the more senior person, resulting in further harassment or termination. One solution may be contracting with a qualified independent third party to serve as an ombudsperson. Another would be the creation of a report abuse tip line, where employees can report information anonymously. Both of these options work well, but only if leadership commits to follow up on complaints and investigates them thoroughly.
- Let staff know when the company faces a challenge or crisis.This may seem counterintuitive, particularly for private companies which lack a mandate to publicly disclose if they have failed to meet forecasts or are under investigation by a regulatory agency. Yet employees sense when supervisors or leadership seem tense or take note when senior leadership suddenly seems to constantly be behind closed doors. If your company has encountered a setback, convey it openly to staff, as it will reduce dangerous speculation and uncertainty which could result in your best workers jumping ship or a leak to the press. Moreover, when workers know a problem exists and why, they may be able to help identify a viable solution.
- Give staff skin in the game.Granting employees a say in how the company operates boosts productivity and morale because they feel vested in the company’s performance. For example, instead of leadership determining which charities or causes the company supports, let employees decide by setting aside a set amount of dollars, developing a pre-vetted list of trusted philanthropic organizations and asking employees to vote for which organization(s) should receive the money and in what percentages.
- Announce all new hires, not just senior executives. Not every hire warrants a press release or even a mention on the firm’s website. The new employee’s supervisor still should introduce the person internally via email or post an announcement on the company’s Intranet, internal blog or social media site(s). Not only will it make the new staffer feel welcome, but it demonstrates the areas in which the company is growing or strategically maintaining or increasing support, which helps all employees better understand the company’s larger goals.
- Host in-person or virtual town halls. These forums allow employees to freely ask questions of the CEO or other designated senior leader. Some companies have better success with such town halls if people send in questions ahead of time and anonymously. This gives the CEO more time to prepare her answers, but also generally results in staffers asking tougher or more critical questions about the company’s direction. That may put a bit more pressure on the C-suite, but it also lets them know what’s on employees’ minds and shows that personnel care about the company’s long-term success.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so when companies fail to communicate with their workers regularly, employees will fill in the missing information with rumor and gossip. A culture of transparency and openness generally reduces the risk of disgruntled workers taking their unhappiness to the media or expressing it online. Employees will also be more willing to stick with leadership during bad times if they have regularly been communicated with and recognized during good ones. Moreover, when employees themselves feel trusted by their employer, they’re far more likely to trust the company in return.
If you are interested in launching an internal communications program or would like some counsel on how to improve it, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.