Unengaged employees cost the US economy an estimated 484-605 billion annually in lost productivity, according to a 2017 Gallup survey. That mind-boggling number easily doubles - if not triples - when we look at the state of the matter from a global perspective.
More than anything else, this underscores the bottom line importance of employee engagement.
In recent years, the conversation about engagement has been getting louder. At Ambassify, we’re working with companies that are dismantling and rebuilding their internal processes just to address the productivity and wellbeing issues that stem from an uninspired and disengaged workforce. Sometimes, the problem is the employee - they are not a good fit for their role. Other times, the problem lies squarely with the company - no effort is put in acknowledging poor engagement or dealing with it.
However, in most cases, assigning blame is not as straightforward because the real problem is not engagement - it’s communication. Most companies don’t know how to communicate with their employees the right way. This creates huge business problems because efficient internal communication is vital to business success.
Internal communication affects every facet of a company - from engagement and productivity levels to employee advocacy and brand perception. Rachel Miller, a renowned expert in the field, offers a deceptively simplistic definition of it:
“Internal communications is the way that a company interacts with its people and they interact with it.”
The key word here is interaction. Much like our daily personal interactions shape our life so do our business interactions shape our motivation, productivity, drive, and engagement.
If these interactions are not easy, efficient, targeted, and positive, they start to negatively affect engagement levels across the whole organisation. The role of internal communication is to create shared understanding and meaning by enabling two-way conversations - only then can employees efficiently work toward company goals.
If you’re looking to up your internal communications game, here are three ideas for you to implement that will have a positive impact on the overall employee engagement levels in your company.
1- Recognise Individual Achievements in an Open Forum
One of the most effective ways to boost employee engagement is to recognise and reward your top performers. According to Gallup data, only one in three employees feel that they’ve received any praise in the last 7 days. That’s a missed opportunity if there ever was one - telling someone that they’ve done a good job costs nothing but it can have a measurable impact on their productivity.
One way internal communicators can take this to a whole new level is by providing employees with a platform that has an integrated recognition feature. That way, managers and department heads can regularly recognise job excellence in a public forum, which amplifies the effect, instead of just doing it once a year during performance reviews. Additionally, all employees can use it to express their gratitude to peers that have in some way contributed to their projects.
While harping on about recognition seems offensive in its simplicity, the fact of the matter is that a lot of managers still fail to execute on it. That’s why the importance of recognition needs to be baked into internal comms procedures and processes - to constantly shine a spotlight on it. This won’t turn every manager in your company into a recognition-focused superstar but it’s a great start.
Remember, when we’re talking about employee recognition, It’s not just engagement that’s on the line - studies have shown that recognition-rich work environments also promote productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention rates.
2- Encourage Transparency & Right to Discuss and Disagree
Organisational transparency has long been a controversial topic in management circles. How much do your employees really need to know to do their job well? We subscribe to the school of thought that says that they need to know a lot - after all, it’s their work that is making money for the company. Isn’t it only fair that top management returns the favor by being open and honest about the decisions that are being made or are in the works?
Organisational transparency is not only ethical but some studies find it to be a vital building block of an engaged workforce. According to a TINYPulse survey, transparency is ranked as having a 0.93 correlation coefficient to employee engagement - far higher than it was anticipated by survey-makers. What this means is that employees are more engaged in their job when they don’t suspect that they’re being kept in the dark.
Organisational transparency is the key to engaged employees but, as an internal communicator, we want you to go a step further and provide employees with a forum in which company information can be discussed openly and honestly. Otherwise, you’re creating an army of employee yes-men who will not challenge any decision put in front of them (thus creating an unimaginative environment that leads into stagnancy).
Encouraging discussion and dissent might seem controversial but, as Amy Gallo writes in Harvard Business Review, it can be a boon for your organisation. During her research, she has found that companies that allow for radical transparency and disagreement reap the benefits of:
- Better work outcomes
- New opportunities for employees to learn and grow
- Improved relationships
- Higher job satisfaction
- An inclusive and diverse work environment
Incidentally, these are all things that increase the overall employee engagement so, when done right, it’s a win on many different fronts. Again, practicing openness and transparency, and encouraging employees to voice opinions doesn’t cost a thing - it is an adjustment to company culture but it’s an adjustment that will pay out dividends for years into the future.
3- Solicit Feedback & Act On It
Although one of the roles of internal communications is to create processes that make it easy to disseminate accurate and targeted information to employees, even comms professionals often forget that ‘real’ communication is a two-way street.
There’s nothing more frustrating to employees than finding out that, despite the “we listen to our employees” prominently featured in the company’s values manifesto, the top management is completely tone deaf when it comes to constructive criticism and employee feedback. And, a lot of employees do feel like that - a recent study from Vevox found that 34% of them feel like management would never listen to their proposals, and 57% are actually afraid to speak up.
By all means, ask your employees about how they feel their role could be improved and their contribution enhanced, or what they think about the new paternity leave policy that the HR department is considering. Do it often, and use every appropriate channel - pulse surveys, engagement platforms, email, intranet, polls, and face-to-face conversations. But don’t invalidate all that work by collecting the responses and sticking them in a cabinet to collect dust.
Asking for feedback and then ignoring it is the most obvious way of telling your employees that their opinions don’t really count for anything. Once they realise that, you’ve ruined every chance of creating and sustaining highly engaged teams in the future.
It’s obvious that a company can’t make many concessions, or act on every suggestion that employees make. But, good will to do so needs to exist, especially when suggestions have merit, and when they’re supported by a considerable number of employees.
Internal communications officers can’t strong-arm the leadership into considering employee proposals. However, what they can do is codify policies and procedures that relate to them. They can create rules that will outline how employees submit their suggestions and feedback, and how managers are expected to respond to them. These rules will, in and of themselves, encourage employees to voice opinions without worrying that it’s a ‘screaming into the void’ exercise. Managers, on the other hand, will have guidelines on how to respond respectfully to suggestions that they decline, and how to fight for the ones that they believe are worth the company's time and effort.
Engaged Employees Are Your Company’s Most Efficient Salesforce
Engaged employees are (usually) happy employees. To become a source of happiness for every person who walks through the doors of your company at 8 AM is an admirable accomplishment.
But, it’s also a difficult sell to company stakeholders, especially when money is being spent on initiatives that contribute to that happiness.
We get that.
Here’s a ‘bottom line’ reason why investing in internal communications and employee engagement makes sense - not only are engaged employees more productive and more likely to stay with you, they’re also your most effective advocates and salespeople.
Whether we’re talking social promotion, word-of-mouth marketing, or general unsolicited PR, it’s your engaged employees that have your back. They’ll burst into spontaneous praise of the company when barbecuing with friends, or rush to its defence when it’s maligned on social media. No amount of money can buy that kind of devotion. It needs to be earned, and one way to earn it is to tailor internal comms processes so they’re conducive to a company culture that promotes high-performing engagement.
If you need help taking your internal communications to a new, better level, schedule your Ambassify demo today. The platform provides you with the tools to communicate more effectively internally, and has additional modules that support ongoing employee engagement and advocacy activities!