Effective Communication in the New Workplace

Check out iCIMS' latest blog post from iCIMS guest blogger Mike McKerns.

Mike McKerns, SPHR is the Founder and CEO of Mamu Media, LLC and the Editor-in-Chief of their branded and custom magazines. He partners with HR thought leaders to help them and Mamu Media’s clients share timely and relevant HR related news with their target audience. Connect with him via email or on twitter @mamumedia.

At the close of the 20th century, pundits predicted that the new century would herald huge changes to all aspects of society. Many studies (including those done by the U.S. Department of Labor, IBM, and countless HR experts, economists, and scholars) singled out workplace demographics as one area likely to experience dramatic shifts.

Just a decade and a half into the 21st century, the business landscape has already been reshaped. Globalization trends have sharply increased the use of remote teams of varied backgrounds and cultures, for example, and workplaces are more diverse (in terms of age, ethnicity, and sex) than ever. The next few years are likely to bring even more changes, in light of the following forecasts:

● By 2020, the workplace will encompass five generations of employees.
● Over the next 15 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire each day.
● By 2020, Millennials will make up about half of the U.S. workforce.
● The use of contingent workers (spurred, in part, by a recession and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) has expanded at tremendous rates in recent years and will continue to do so in the near future.
● Worldwide employee turnover is predicted to jump in 2014 and hit a high of 23.4% four years later.

In light of those staffing forecasts, management and HR departments must be more prepared than ever to negotiate issues that arise within an increasingly diverse workforce. Internal communication, in particular, poses many challenges at all levels of an organization. Effective communication—what you say, how you say it, when you say it, and to whom you say it—is critical for employee engagement and can have a profound impact on how employees feel about their company, workplace, manager, and colleagues and how they fulfill their responsibilities.

Long ago, employee communication took place primarily through face-to-face meetings. Technological innovation led to the use of printed materials (e.g., memos, newsletters), then the digital revolution introduced portals and e-mails, which have recently been joined (and in some cases supplanted) by blogs, wikis, social media, and videos.

On the surface, this all sounds great. More options means better opportunities to connect with multiple generations, right? Not necessarily.

True, communicating with employees via multiple media (both hard-copy and digital) might seem to yield huge benefits for the company, managers, and staff alike. But having too many active channels can actually cause problems if they aren’t unified into a coherent and consistent internal employee communications program. This can be particularly true when the workforce includes people from diverse background and varied communication styles.

I once worked for a company that shared information with employees through five completely different electronic platforms—each with multiple methods of notification. Often, when trying to locate some information that had been communicated to me earlier, I grew so frustrated that I’d abandon the search if the information I sought wasn’t mission-critical.

So what can you do to avoid a similar scenario and insure that internal communications at your company are effective?

First, identify all the strategies already in place for internal employee communications. This one may be an eye opener, because there’s a chance you’ll discover some forgotten or underutilized resources at your company. Sometimes the preferred solution for communications particular to a local or regional branch may not even be known at the corporate office. A West-coast HR group, for example, might record a Webex seminar on California-specific compliance issues, or an overachieving sales manager in Iowa might create her own newsletter to highlight deals she won in the Midwest.

Next, evaluate each strategy’s quality and relevance. I’ve written about the power of good design and its ability to help a message reach its intended audience. Although I referred specifically to external marketing materials, the points I made apply to internal communications as well. Don’t cut corners when it comes to getting the message out to your employees. Putting together a flyer in Word or converting PowerPoint slides into a YouTube video, for example, just won’t cut it. If you take the time to make sure your communications have both good content and good design, you increase their ability to reach employees.

Finally, bring it all together under one roof. This is the cornerstone of an effective communications program. Definitely make use of multiple channels: e-mail, printed materials, websites, videos, face-to-face meetings, wikis, blogs, social media, etc. But save all communications in one well-designed site that is easily searchable. If your employees can’t find the information when they need it, it’s not doing them (or your organization) much good.

For a large organization, reorganizing (and possibly completely overhauling) internal communication practices can be a huge undertaking. It will seem less daunting, however, if you approach it with the end goal in mind. By increasing employee access to information, you encourage employee engagement and build company advocates, making it possible for everyone to work more productively—an outcome that translates to great bottom-line results.

Mike McKerns, SPHR is the Founder and CEO of Mamu Media, LLC and the Editor-in-Chief of their branded and custom magazines. He partners with HR thought leaders to help them and Mamu Media’s clients share timely and relevant HR related news with their target audience. Connect with him via email or on twitter @mamumedia.

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