Employee Communication

I was reviewing research papers recently and came across one on employee communication. I must admit some frustration on this subject since we have to revisit it all too often. Yet too few organizations seem to understand the keys to effective employee communication.

In this era of increasing technological and social media, all of which is at least one level removed from the actual employee, there is one certain pathway that research and experience have demonstrated year over year, decade over decade, is effective in reaching employees. We know how to create an organizational relationship with employees: through their direct supervisor.

Professor Bruce Berger of the University of Alabama presented an excellent paper on this topic in 2014 (although there are numerous research studies on this subject ranging back many years!).

I’m not going to regurgitate the paper here, he does a great job without my help! But I do want to summarize his key points. He observes there are three key elements to employee communication and relationship development:

First, the employee’s supervisor I(whatever the title) is the first place any employee goes for information about their organization or their position in that organization. We’ve known this for years, but seem to keep forgetting it. Implication: we need to arm our supervisors, managers, and leaders with the right communication toolkit to be effective.

Second, organizational leadership is critical to employee communication and relationship development. If we want employees working consistently toward achieving organizational visions and goals, tie them with effective communication with the top (notice I said with, not from). This communication must be two-way symmetrical, not one-way asymmetrical.

Finally, the organizational culture must be one of openness and dialogue. Employees must be encouraged, even empowered, to communicate vertically and laterally within the organization and cannot perceive communication as potentially resulting in punitive actions.

We also need to keep in mind that “behavior IS communication.” That means that how you act, what you do, how you behave is communication visible to all employees. They make judgments on you and the organization based on those behaviors. For example: If supervisor/leaders hide in their office all the time, employees will make certain judgments about them (and the organization) – mostly negative. If they are out and engaged with employees in honest, authentic interactions – again employees will make judgments about the supervisor/leader and the organization – often positive. Moreover, if what you do is different than what you say, what you say becomes irrelevant!

I’ve simplified this for the purpose of this blog post. But Prof. Berger’s paper does a great job of laying all this out in greater detail and providing the supporting background research. He also provides 48 key action points covering all three elements of effective employee communication in organizations.

I highly recommend his paper to all public relations professionals, and all organizational leaders. Find it at http://www.instituteforpr.org/read-lips-leaders-supervisors-culture-foundations-strategic-employee-communications/