Trying to improve communication in your workplace? Use these tips to build a stronger workplace culture and grow your business.
When was the last time you opened your email inbox at work and found nothing but clear, useful messages? In a 2021 survey conducted by Wakefield Research for email platform Superhuman, 22% of remote worker respondents said “email fatigue” is the technology issue most likely to push them to quit their jobs. This highlights how inefficient communication can be a huge drain on productivity.
Other avenues for communication in the workplace can generate similar reactions. You know all those long, mandatory meetings you’re forced to sit through? According to a 2019 survey conducted by Korn Ferry, 67% of respondents say that spending too much time in meetings and on calls distracts them from making an impact at work. About 34% of participants surveyed say they wasted between 2 and 5 hours each week in meetings. Just 11% say that all of their meetings are productive. Most likely, your workplace communication can use an overhaul as it relates to efficiency.
In this article, we’re going to cover some workplace communication issues, including:
- The importance of effective communication at work
- A list of communication skills for the workplace that everyone should master
- Activities that improve communication in the workplace
- How employers can teach these skills to their employees
Think of this article as Workplace Communication Skills 101.
Why it’s important to improve communication in your workplace
You already know that bad communication can be aggravating. But why should good or bad communication skills in the workplace matter to employers? There are many reasons, but we’ve narrowed it down to two overarching themes. Good communication both improves productivity and increases employee job satisfaction and morale.
We could argue that good verbal communication skills are the most essential tools in any job. Regardless of how much industry knowledge you have, you can’t use it to your company’s advantage without good communication. Think back to that overflowing email inbox. Employees have to slog through hundreds of unimportant messages to get to the relevant information they need. That’s a huge waste of time.
Lack of clarity causes even bigger problems than email overload. Suppose an HR manager sends out new employee forms but fails to explain how to fill them out. Or a supervisor gives contradictory instructions on a project to two separate employees.
No worker can effectively and efficiently produce for their company under those circumstances. Workers might have to redo projects because they didn’t understand the first time. Supervisors might have to follow up and give instructions a second time.
And as you might have guessed, this decreased productivity costs companies money. That’s what new research by Grammarly and The Harris Poll found. The 2019 State of Business Communication survey of business leaders and knowledge workers revealed that poor workplace communication is a persistent problem plaguing businesses and employees alike. In fact, the study estimates a $1.2 trillion annual loss among United States businesses due to poor communication — or approximately $12,506 per employee every year.
The bottom line: Effective workplace communication boosts productivity. Bad communication loses money.
good communication between middle management and employees reduces employee turnover by 25%.
Want your employees to feel satisfied and empowered? Encourage upward communication.This term means that information is flowing upward, from employees to managers.
How can managers encourage their employees to give feedback? It requires supervisors to practice good listening communication skills. Be sure that you have heard and understood what your employees have said to you. Then let them know that their input is important.
Effective downward communication, from managers to employees, improves job satisfaction as well. Employees feel valued when they know what their bosses expect. They want honest information and company news. But what if workers don’t know what their supervisors want from them? They feel frustrated and unappreciated.
In fact, a 2020 study conducted by the University of Cologne and ECONtribute shows that good communication between middle management and employees reduces employee turnover by 25%. Companies that have excellent communication practices have a better chance of keeping good employees.
How companies can improve communication in the workplace
Many internal communication tools can help boost productivity and employee satisfaction. Here, we provide you with our top tips for improving communication in your company.
Say what you mean
The bulk of communication problems could be solved if both managers and employees would get right to the point. Use clear, thorough, and meaningful language. If you are giving instructions, say exactly what you want the employee to do. If you are delivering information, include all the necessary details. And almost just as importantly, leave out details that don’t contribute to the main point. Too much superfluous information will confuse everyone.
Learn and teach active listening
Active listening is an emotional intelligence skill in face-to-face communication in which you are fully engaged with the person who is speaking to you. You pay attention to their words and body language, you process the information, and you repeat it back. This lets them know that you heard and understood them. Practice it and encourage your employees to do so as well. Even when engaging with remote employees, use virtual meetings as an opportunity to practice active listening by focusing exclusively on the meeting without multi-tasking.
Review written policies
An employee handbook with poorly written policies may contribute to rule violations. It also might force supervisors to use their own subjective interpretations to discipline staff. This can lead to racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination.
Many companies send out large batches of information in all-staff messages. While this may seem like an efficient way to deliver information, it clogs up inboxes. Perhaps you could put non-urgent all-staff emails into a digital folder on your intranet instead. Allow staff to set their own reminders to check it at regular intervals.
For all other emails, be sure to copy only people who actually need to read the message.
And be sure to include all of your contact information in your signature and encourage your employees to do the same. That way, if someone needs to follow up, they won’t have to reply to your email to ask for it.
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Improve written communication skills
Better communication will improve email efficiency as well. When you send an email, use a clear and specific subject line. In the first two sentences, make your main point or state your request. Then include any necessary background details the reader might need. Be sure that your point is clear and no necessary information is missing. Otherwise, people will have to reply with questions and there’s a decent chance they will not reply at all.
Whether it’s an email, a blog post, or a white paper, everything you write reflects on you and your company. Weak writing also creates the potential for confusion and frustration. It is worth the extra time to read it over, looking for any mistakes and checking the readability. We recommend reading your work out loud. It helps you catch mistakes in your own work that your brain might miss because you are scanning on autopilot.
If you need a little extra help with strong communication, apps can help proofread your writing. These tools go beyond spelling and grammar checks; they can help you make any document easier to read and understand. Here are our top picks:
- Hemingway App: Finds common errors, passive voice, lengthy sentences, and overused adverbs. It will also “grade” your paper for readability, telling you which reading level it compares to.
- Grammarly: The free version finds spelling and grammar mistakes. The paid version will edit your sentence structure, vocabulary, and style.
- ProWritingAid: This app scores your grammar, spelling, and style. It also grades your document’s readability. It comes in free and paid versions.
Weak writing also creates the potential for confusion and frustration. It is worth the extra time to read it over, looking for any mistakes and checking the readability.
Hire and train for emotional intelligence
The best way to improve communication in the workplace is to screen for good communicators in the hiring process. That means hiring people who communicate effectively and can handle important conversations with professionalism. But this is a long-term strategy.
If you’re looking to improve communication with emotional intelligence in your workplace in the short term, consider offering online communication training and courses. The more employees you can get on the same page about communication, the smoother employee engagement and interactions will become. That goes for face-to-face and remote work.
As you can see, communication affects many workplace issues. By improving your skills and encouraging your employees to do the same, you can see higher customer satisfaction, save your company money, and boost job satisfaction.
Note: This article was originally published in August 2018 and has since been updated.