Quick Summary: When trying to improve communication, many HR directors, wellness coordinators, and benefits managers focus on the fine points—specific ways to help employees notice and understand messages. That’s smart, but it’s also valuable to zoom out and consider ways to overcome common reasons for poor communication.
Over the past decade, Sue Dyer has asked 134 workplace project coordinators the same question: What’s the biggest reason for the success or failure of the programs you create for employees?
The overwhelming answer didn’t involve how the initiatives were conceived or structured. “More than 95% said quality of communication was the main factor for success or failure,” says Dyer, president of the consulting firm OrgMetrics.
Here’s the problem: When a company realizes it needs to improve communication, but doesn’t analyze root causes behind the problem, little progress is made, Dyer says. “Only by understanding the symptoms of poor communication can you effectively work to solve issues and maximize the effectiveness of your messages.”
To improve the way you communicate to employees (and increase their level of feedback), consider which of these reasons for poor communication are inhibiting your goals:
Fear. Health and benefits are personal issues. “Fear makes us feel the need to protect our own interests, and it often stifles communication,” Dyer says.
Tip: To alleviate fear, develop trust. Remind employees that your workplace communication is a two-way street and that one of your goals is to simply provide information that helps them make informed decisions.
Confusion. Many employees turn a deaf ear to anything involving topics they don’t understand fully, Dyer points out. So when they see an email about important changes to the company’s health care plan, for example, their tendency is to simply tune out or delay reading it until they absolutely must.
Tip: Concentrate on clarity. Provide concise, visually appealing messages employees can understand the first time.
Loss of momentum. “Frustration is caused when employees go forward but keep getting pulled back” because of frequent changes to existing programs, Dyer says.
Tip: Spend ample time in the planning phase of your health promotion and wellness initiatives, and respond quickly to feedback.
Weightiness. “Communication is strained when a sense of dread takes over, and new programs developed for employees just seem like work,” Dyer says.
Tip: Build in fun by holding contests, recognizing achievements, and sending messages with a conversational “we’re in this together” tone when possible.
Infrequency. You don’t want to bombard employees with daily messages, but it’s important to send regular communication. For example, provide insight monthly on ways employees can maximize the value of their benefits, rather than relying on once-a-year meetings.
Tip: Identify which health and benefits topics are most important to employees and set a timetable for the frequency of presenting new material about each topic (monthly, quarterly, for example).
Conduct a quarterly or twice-annual survey of employees to measure how well you’re communicating messages.
Review the 5 common symptoms of poor communication just presented and tackle ones you deem most problematic at your company.
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