Overcoming Employee Communication Challenges

Effective employee communications can be difficult, no matter how well organized and diligent you are. Ask any human resources or information technology executive about getting employees to acknowledge a change or adhere to a deadline — you will no doubt hear some war stories. 

These internal employee communications war stories might go something like this:

“IT announced 6 months in advance we were retiring our old conference room software and replacing it with new software. We sent several email reminders, posted announcements in each conference room, and held training classes, but very few people attended. We supported redundancy for a full month. Then the day came that we officially retired the old software. Our support staff was bombarded with complaints about missing software, complaints that the change was not announced, and more.

“HR always starts communicating with staff about benefits open enrollment well in advance, typically 60 days. This gives people plenty of time to review options, discuss it with their family, and make informed choices. We send email announcements and reminders, post flyers, and have presentations that very few people attend. Inevitably, there will be many people who don’t take action on time, haven’t opened or read the materials, or tell us they didn’t know it was happening. We brace ourselves for it every year.”

What does the research tell us about employee communication?

Research suggests that these war stories are real. This Benefits Communication Survey conducted by the The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans found that the top challenge (80%) for employee benefits communication is that employees do not read/open the materials.

How can employee internal communication content be improved?

There are many best practice resources for internal communications out there. For instance, this article If Employees Aren’t Reading (or Even Opening) Emails, Here Are 5 Things to Do Differently offers the following advice for improving emails to employees.

  • Make sure your email format works well on mobile platforms.
  • Keep emails brief because everyone’s short on time.
  • Tell an engaging story with a human tone — no corporate speak.
  • Stop telling people the same old stuff. Increase variety!
  • One size does not fit all, so personalize your content whenever possible.

And  MIT Just Discovered How to Get Employees to Pay Attention offers tips for creating novel content that will pique your staff’s interest, for instance, communicating visually rather than with words (an image speaks a thousand words), injecting some levity into the mix (humor sells), and being innovative (shake it up).

What’s the best channel for employee communication? Text Messaging!

One thing is for certain, you can write interesting content and deliver it through a variety of channels, but if no one is opening or reading it, it won’t be effective. Consider this scenario: people may have email filters that dump all HR emails into a folder they rarely open. This is because they receive HR emails they never needed or no longer need, like a weekly timecard reminder.

Some organizations even snail mail printed materials to their employees’ homes which can be expensive and time consuming. Like email, this is often not an effective communication channel. While a 2015 Gallup poll found that over 90% of Americans are happy to receive a personal card or letter, that number fell to 30% for receiving a letter from a business, and 22% for advertising cards and fliers.

There is however, one communication channel that people consistently pay attention to: SMS. Everyone has text messaging, SMS is mobile-friendly, brief (so it doesn’t lose people’s attention), and supports URLs for directing staff to additional information. When’s the last time you received a text and didn’t pick up your phone to check it out? You probably can’t remember. Chances are your employees are the same as you.

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