Employee communication issues

In The Workplace
Rey Elbo

Posted on December 09, 2016

We have probably the best employee communication program in this planet, and yet management still hear complaints that our workers are not being heard enough. Can you please help us diagnose all possible issues? -- Still Unhappy.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” says Stephen Covey in the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1989). It’s a defense strategy of many people, regardless of their position in an organizational hierarchy. That’s why it’s best to understand first the context on your side -- are you listening or simply hearing what the workers are saying.

Let me explain this further by telling you a story: The teacher asked his kindergarten class -- “Which is more important to us -- the moon or the sun?” One of her bright pupils answered: “The moon!” The teacher pressed on the reason.

The pupil explained: “The moon gives us light at night when we need it most, while the sun gives us light in the day when we don’t really need it.” It is not the best answer, but that’s how the pupil perceives it, no matter how patently wrong it may appear to be.

The same thing can happen in any employee communication program, regardless of its level of superiority to others as you may probably see it. Perception matters. And what matters the most is the perception of your workers -- one of your important resources, and not your own discernment. You can only validate this by exploring with the use of a corporate-wide opinion survey.

If the perception is valid, at least in terms of employees who are voicing the same concerns, then you may have to move fast enough to correct them. Now, what can you do to help people understand what you mean? There are many effective strategies to cover this. But first, let’s analyze all possible employee issues.

The list can be endless, and depends much on the number of workers and the sophistication of your line management team. In general, here are some questions you may want to answer before we move forward.

Do you have line supervisors and managers who are selective in giving out information with some of their favorite workers and not to others? Do they share confidential information about employees who are either poor performers or with discipline issues? Do they use their authority wrongfully to force people to change their religious or political beliefs, among others?

Are the supervisors and managers ignoring the basic rules of listening and flaunt it in style? Do they threaten the workers not to divulge publicly the organization’s violations of the law? And do they know and practice the most basic and minimum form of employee communication? This alone can be identified in the employee satisfaction survey that I was talking about earlier.

Sure does. These issues are happening in many organizations. But as long as your management is objective and patient enough to listen (and not only hear), and admits its fault, then nothing can be done. Now, to help you improve on your current system, here are some techniques that can immediately help you ease the “tension.”

First, jump-start your employee communication program. After all, you may only need few adjustments. Repeat what you’ve been doing all these years, but with a different touch and monthly flavor. Repetition is a powerful tool to help the workers understand what management is doing.

Second, use visuals to reinforce management message. Use employee stories and their examples to make your programs easy to grasp and retain. There’s no better way than to say it in pictures than rely on a thousand words. There are many inexpensive approaches to do this.

Third, be honest, credible, and trustworthy. Tell it like it is. Use the most recent customer complaint to emphasize this point. It shows your organizational vulnerability, but at the same time you can use to harness employee support and how one particular person managed to solve it.

Lastly, be specific with a major employee issue. There’s no need to identify the concerned workers who brought the same. Rather, speak plainly and keep your message brief and how management intends to solve such problem.

Every step of the way, and let me repeat it -- don’t flaunt management authority. The people know it, anyway. Cracking the whip or letting your ego show the way won’t earn you respect, but disdain. If management wants to be respected, it must respect others as well.

ELBONOMICS: The issue is not about bad communication, but preventing it from becoming worse.