It’s easy to confuse employee communications with employee engagement these days. Engagement numbers in most workplaces, especially large companies, have been low for some time. This has prompted HR departments in all industries to create better programs and systems to communicate more effectively with employees, measuring it through improved indications of employee engagement: better productivity, more collaboration and teamwork, more leaders emerging from the staff, and so on.
But there are crucial differences between employee communications and employee engagement that must be addressed. One sticking point for corporate communicators is reaching deskless employees. Businesses that employ truck drivers, maintenance experts, factory workers, sales personnel and others can’t reliably use employee communication apps like Facebook, Yammer, Slack and others to reach everyone. These employees are less likely to utilize desktop-based digital communications, like email, on a regular basis. They might be completely engaged by their duties and perform admirably every day, but if employee-communication tactics don’t take their difficulties accessing traditional online resources into account, that engagement could wane.
Employee Communications vs. Employee Engagement
Employee communications are a means to an end. You invest in communication technology and tactics to increase employee engagement. Putting the best communication technology in front of your employees isn’t going to improve engagement on its own. It needs to be supplemented with a positive, productive corporate culture and inspiring leadership.
To those outside the human resources department (and even within HR for some organizations), employee communications and engagement are similar enough that they’re often treated in a similar way. It’s easy for leaders to invest in communications technology and think their engagement issues are over. But technology doesn’t provide all the answers (and sometimes it gives you answers you don’t like). You’ll be lost if you choose the wrong technology to solve your employee-engagement problems or ignore what that technology tells you to do.
True Employee Communications
For internal-communication specialists and HR leaders trying to improve engagement, it all starts with how they gather information. When HR doesn’t know what employees’ issues are, it can’t help solve them and increase engagement. HR is left guessing which engagement initiatives will work. To become a trusted purveyor of information for employees, HR must contend with three basic questions, starting points for better employee communications and engagement:
1. Which audience are we struggling to communicate with?
Who has easy access to your company intranet, employee portals and digital communications and who doesn’t? Usually, the audience question is about desk versus deskless workers, who have different access points to the same information. But those access-point issues aren’t limited to deskless workers. Remote workers, traveling personnel and employees who are in the field are examples of different audiences. Employees working in different departments could also require different communication tactics at larger companies. Your sales force might not need the same information as your billing or customer service departments.
2. Which problems do we need to solve?
Once you have an employee-communications system set up, you can monitor its effectiveness and adjust in most cases. If you have a lot of deskless workers or a widely distributed workplace, however, the success or failure of your investment could be difficult to track. For deskbound workers, information delivery isn’t the same issue it is for deskless workers (in fact, getting them engaging with that material might prove more challenging, as deskbound workers can become desensitized to certain forms of messaging because they have ready access to it). Adding access to collaboration platforms allows desk workers to get things done without company-to-employee systems. To find out how your remote and deskless workers are using your employee-communications systems, make your technology accessible by mobile device or supplement the system with in-person interviews every so often to check in.
3. What information will my audience need?
Different workers need different information at different times. There’s, of course, more nuance involved, but most employee-communications experts have to determine what information is “need to know” and what is “nice to know.” All employees deserve this information, no matter where they work or what they do, but communicators and managers need to prioritize. Timing is everything. For companies whose annual benefits enrollment is in the fall, employees won’t need reminders to sign up for healthcare before mid-summer, but reminders and how-tos for using existing benefits could be good nice-to-know messages that pave the way for active enrollment messaging. Deskless employees near retirement will need different information about benefits than most recent hires.
By understanding which employees need what information when, HR experts can craft employee-communications initiatives that are easier to access with technology. They can better target certain employee populations at opportune times to increase interaction and engagement. And they can solve specific employee-engagement problems as they arise. The key to continuous improvement is focusing on analytics and monitoring of communications initiatives by asking for employee feedback.