How to Improve Communication in Your Workplace

Good communication boosts productivity; bad communication loses money. Here’s how to improve the communication in your workplace.

a woman practicing good communication in the workplace

When was the last time you opened your email inbox at work and found nothing but clear, useful messages? If you’re like most people, you probably can’t remember. Research shows that most people spend 13 hours of their workweek dealing with emails. But only 38% of the emails that end up in their inboxes are actually important and relevant to their jobs. This inefficient communication is a huge drain on productivity.

Other avenues for communication in the workplace share similar stories. You know all those long, mandatory meetings you’re forced to sit through? According to a 2015 survey, 46 percent of employees say they rarely leave the meeting knowing exactly what to do next. And a Gallup poll revealed that 74% of employees say they are missing out on important company news.

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 communication is important in the 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.

Productivity

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.

The bottom line: Good communication boosts productivity. Bad communication loses money.

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. A 2011 report found that companies with communication problems lost and average of $26,041 per employee per year. For corporations with 100,000 employees or more, this added up to $37 billion. Moreover, effective communicators made 47% more money for their shareholders.

The bottom line: Good communication boosts productivity. Bad communication loses money.

Job satisfaction

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? This 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, studies show that good communication reduces employee turnover. After layoffs and mergers, employees might be fearful about their job security. But companies that have excellent communication practices usually keep the remaining employees.

How companies can improve workplace communication

There are many communication tools that 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 means that you are fully engaged with the person who is speaking to you. You pay attention to their words and nonverbal cues, 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.

Review written policies

An employee handbook with poorly written policies may contribute to rule violations. They also force supervisors to use their own subjective interpretations to discipline staff. This can lead to racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination.

Reduce email

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 only copy 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 with you, they won’t have to reply to your email to ask for it.

Improve written communication skills

This 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’ll reply to all.

Proofread everything

Whether it’s an email, a blog post, or a white paper, everything you write reflects on you and your company. It also creates the potential for confusion and frustration if you write it poorly. 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 as it helps to catch mistakes in your own work that your brain might otherwise turn on autopilot.

If you need a little extra help, there are a few apps that will 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. There is also a paid version that will edit your sentence structure, vocabulary, and style.
  • ProWritingAid: This app scores your grammar, spelling, and style. It also grades your document’s readability. There are free and paid versions available.

As you can see, there are many workplace issues that communication can affect. By improving your skills and encouraging your employees to do the same, you can save your company money and boost job satisfaction.

Note: This article was originally published in August 2018 and has since been updated.
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