Employee communications

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Improve Employee Communications When You’re Not Around

29 January 2018
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It’s human nature to wonder what people are saying about you when you’re not around. After all, there’s nothing that feels worse than walking up to a group of people who all stop talking when they see you. What were they saying about you? Do you have spinach in your teeth?

The business manager version of this is when employees are talking about hating their jobs until you walk up and they all fall silent.

As a boss, you know your employees are talking about you and your company when you’re not around. The question is, does employee communication that’s all enthusiasm and smiles when you’re looking turn to eye rolls and negativity when you leave?

Short answer: it depends.

Longer and more helpful answer: if you run a business based on empowerment, honesty, and transparency you’re probably in good hands. If you aren’t sure, there are a few things you need to ask so that you can be sure employee communication is just as enthusiastic and sincere when you’re not around as when you are.

What’s the office atmosphere like when you walk in?

Do employees smile and chat with you? Do they show you projects and ask advice, or do they put their heads down and look away hoping not to make eye contact? When you mention promotions or long-term projects to employees are they enthusiastic or do they make excuses? Are a lot of employees just going through the motions?

If you answered these negatively, you’ve got a serious problem with employee communications when you’re not there.

Do your employees really care about the work they’re doing?

Was your response to this “of course they care, I’m paying them” or something like it? That is the wrong answer. If your employees are phoning it in because they no longer care about the job, of course employee communications are going to suffer, and unfortunately salary alone won’t get them fired up again.

Here’s the dirty little secret about motivating employees… it’s not so much what the job itself is as how they feel when they’re doing it. Money only motivates up to a certain point. After that point employees need:

  1. To feel like they have control over what they do,
  2. Reap rewards in proportion to what they accomplished, and
  3. Feel like what they do matters.

Employees who have those things spend their free time talking to their coworkers about ways to make the company better and telling their talented friends they should come work for you.

Do you only talk to employees when they’ve screwed up?

This is the most surefire way to destroy employee communications when you’re not around. Employees are like all of us, they want their efforts to matter and be recognized. I know it might feel silly to compliment someone for ‘just doing their job’ but a small token of sincere employee appreciation like a half day off, $5 Starbucks gift card, or company wide email can go a long way. I personally would take a job that pays a little less where I felt like I mattered over a job making a lot of money where I didn’t.

Are you only communicating with boring email chains?

The days of giving employees one tool to communicate with is dead. Email chains are inefficient and visually unexciting. If you want your employees to get excited and keep talking about what you have to say when you’re not around, try using something more interesting like a digital video postcard.

Is your company censoring employee communication channels?

I know a company that started an internal social media platform which had a message board that let employees honestly discuss their managers. Those managers soon started deleting negative messages and demoting or firing dissenters to make themselves look good. Guess what that did to corporate culture and morale?

Destroyed it completely.

If you never hear employee complaints, it’s not because they don’t have any. It’s because they don’t think telling you would get them anywhere. Employees are smart and know better than to tell you something that’ll just hurt them. If you want employee communications both in front of you and when you’re not around to improve, don’t punish honesty.

Elizabeth Woodard

Liz Woodard is an office veteran who's fascinated by office dynamics and believes that applied behavioral psychology can go far towards managing a company well. Find her at http://www.lizwoodard.com/.

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