Who handles formal communication in the workplace?

Maybe it’s HR. Maybe it’s a branch of Public Affairs. Maybe there’s a dedicated internal communication function. But employees don’t care about the source of all the crucial news and information they need to do their jobs, as long as it’s credible. And they don’t want to go looking for it in a dozen different places.

So, if HR gets the communication job, don’t be tempted to cover just the latest benefit plan changes. Create a plan that tells employees all they need to know and want to know (not the same thing), whether it’s about their jobs, company culture, or your company news.

It may require a very different employee engagement strategy. Hiring a professional who specializes in journalism or copywriting may help your organization create a source of effective communication. Or work with a consulting firm — PartnerComm, maybe? — to help produce your materials.

When should you communicate with employees?

Always sooner than you think. For one thing, the grapevine is now infinitely faster and more tangled than its water-cooler days. But no less inaccurate. For key business changes, communicate early, and don’t skimp or censor.

For less crucial information, give employees the time they need. Use the calendar wisely. For example, the weeks leading up to a fall enrollment are when HR needs to reinforce what employees know about their benefits. After that enrollment deadline, switch to end-of-year decisions, such as 401(k) plan investments. Then in the new year, you can remind employees of fresh opportunities, communicate tips for using their benefits coverage wisely and thriftily, etc.

How do you know what’s working in your employee communications?

It’s reported that a 65% open rate is typical for internal emails. But did you know that rate plunges when you check if the employee bothered to click through?

And is email right, anyway, if your people are working, say, on an assembly line or on a hospital ward all day? Do they have access to a computer or time to look at their phones?

Gen Y-ers will like a tweet. Gen-Z is up for a video. Baby Boomers don’t mind a longer read, if it’s well done and relevant to them. So, the temptation, of course, is to flood the workplace with every option — for the readers, the listeners, the viewers. And then the risk is that you drown employees in info.

The answer is clearly to find out which communication channels work best for your business! Don’t assume you know, or that one method is ideal for the entire workforce. Check the effectiveness of your current channels:

  • Measure those click-through rates.
  • Send out surveys.
  • Get your consultants run focus groups.
  • Just go out and ask your people what works for them … and what doesn’t.

Measure and then adjust your HR communication plan until you find the balance between choice and overkill. Then measure again. (By the way, mobile-friendly seems to be the way to go just now.)

What gets your employees’ attention?

It isn’t just the pandemic. The workforce is increasingly dispersed anyway and increasingly distracted. In a digital world, there’s more competition than ever for your employees’ attention.

Don’t assume, therefore, that the mere arrival of an email or a video or a flyer or a podcast is enough. HR needs to engage with the employee audience, encourage them to focus on the communication piece, keep them reading or looking or listening, entertain them and even reward them for following through. And always ask for feedback.

To burst out of that in-tray — whatever form it takes — may need a blast of fun! Build that in. Tell stories. Draw pictures. Apart from anything else, a well-crafted, creative message can help make employees feel they matter to your business.

Where does the communication travel?

You control “formal” communication. But never forget that managers are essential to your company’s overall flow of information. HR must encourage and equip that, too.

Much business news will pass along the management chain anyway. But even broad, company-wide ventures will benefit from equipping managers to answer questions, explain change, and remind their people of deadlines. Get their buy-in from the top down. And ask for their feedback from the bottom up.

Why is a well-planned HR communications strategy so important?

Because the way you communicate, even in the short-term, has a long-term effect — it injects honesty, openness, care, and creativity into your culture.