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Could Employee Communication Be the Key to Combatting the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation is afoot and it’s an expensive business for employers. Whether it relates to offering higher wages to attract new people, negotiating better terms to retain existing staff or dealing with the fallout from losing high performers, it’s all pressure on the bottom line.

But whilst salaries and benefits are grabbing the headlines, the way organizations communicate with employees affects how they feel about their work every day. So let’s look at three ways internal communication could help people choose to stay.

Making work meaningful

What’s the point of the task you’re working on right now? When your organization makes difficult changes, what reasons does it give? What does your company really care about?

If the answers are ‘I don’t think anyone will even notice I’ve done it ’, ‘the competition/market’ and ‘shareholders, mostly,’ chances are you’ve got no real affinity towards your employer. If a better offer came along, you might well be tempted.

As co-chair of The Purposeful Company, Will Hutton says in our book, Successful Employee Communications, ‘People want to work for organizations that make a difference. They want to work for organizations they feel proud of. If you get this right, you’ll have a powerful retention and recruitment tool.’

Positive psychologist Martin Seligman describes having meaningful purpose in life as ‘using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are.’ So show your employees how the organization uses its core strengths to benefit people, society or the planet. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to ask customers or beneficiaries to share their stories directly, via employee events or on video.

People also want to feel their own daily work is making a difference. Make sure their efforts are not taken for granted. Celebrate successes; recognise hard work. Where tasks could seem mundane or pointless, explain the part they play in helping the more inspirational stuff happen. Purpose is about why something exists or why we do things, so make sure you always answer the ‘why’ questions. Why does your organization exist? Why is this change happening? Why do people need to do this boring but important task?

Helping leaders be better communicators

The way leaders/line managers communicate has the power to inspire and engage people … or leave them feeling confused, disillusioned or disconnected. Before the pandemic, Gallup found it took a pay rise of over 20% to tempt most people away from an engaging line manager.

Here are four steps you can take to help leaders play their communication role:

  • Set out what good looks like. Your organization might have a whole host of communication resources spread around the Intranet or other places, but line managers are time pressured, so make it easy for them to understand what’s needed. For example, you might ask them to hold a one-to-one conversation with each person each week, as well as regular team meetings.
  • You’ll be asking managers to talk about key business issues and sending people their way with questions. So make sure your managers understand the issues themselves. Think about providing interactive sessions via Zoom or Teams for anyone who leads people, hosted by senior leaders or subject matter experts. Don’t rely on a traditional cascade to ripple messages down layer by layer – the chain often breaks close to the top, leaving middle managers exposed.
  • Offer communication training. Giving managers a simple communications framework and showing them how to use it can really help. Communication can seem like common sense, but it takes skill, practice and confidence to translate a high-level corporate message into something meaningful and relevant for a team, pick out a few key messages and bring them to life with stories or examples. Helping leaders learn to ask open questions and enhance their listening skills is important for supporting meaningful conversations.
  • Provide good communication tools and materials. Leaders are often asked to communicate about a huge volume of topics. Requests can come from a range of different people across the organization. Make life easier by sending managers a single weekly or monthly communication which brings the topics into one place. Help them prioritise by signposting what’s need to know/nice to know/needs action/needs discussion. Keep an eye on the volume and make sure it’s realistic – organizations sometimes ask the impossible.

Listen up

Organizations usually put a lot of effort into telling and not much into listening to their people. But communication is a two-way thing. You won’t be able to connect with employees if you don’t understand what really matters to them. And remember that if your organization isn’t willing to respond to their concerns and act on their feedback, they might just go in search of another company that is.

As a starting point, you could:

  • List out your organization’s formal communication channels. Set out the purpose of each one, noting whether it aims to tell, listen or discuss. Do you have the balance right?
  • Look at any mechanisms you have to measure employee sentiment, capture feedback or observe conversations and concerns (such as social media channels). Review what you’re doing with any data. Are you using it to genuinely listen to and understand people? What actions has the organization taken in response?
  • Reflect on how easy or difficult it is for people to speak up. For example, do people participate in Yammer or Workplace? Do people ask questions in forums or interactive sessions? How open are senior leaders to challenges or ideas? If not, think about doing some work around psychological safety.

We’ve dedicated a new chapter to listening in the second edition of our book Successful Employee Communication, because we don’t see many companies doing it well, and we think organizations and employees are missing out as a result.

The bottom line

If someone’s wondering whether to stay or leave, money does matter. Gallup told Fast Company that 64% of people looking for a new role say a bigger salary is one of the key things nudging them in search of greener pastures. But the company also reports that in 2021, two-thirds of the reasons people left organizations related to engagement and wellbeing and if someone has low engagement at work, they’re likely to be tempted by almost any job that pays more.

Communication isn’t the only driver of employee engagement. But it’s certainly a key driver. And if you can harness its power to help people feel their work matters, their leaders care, and the company listens to their views and acts on their ideas, it should certainly make people think twice about moving on.

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