Employee Engagement – getting communication right

When we go into an organisation to run focus groups with staff we often find a certain amount of scepticism about the whole exercise. For organisations that are going through difficult times, change programmes or management restructuring this scepticism can be a huge barrier for staff to believe anything they say can make a difference.  It feels that there is so much work that needs to be done in connecting with staff before we can even begin to ask the questions the organisations want to find out. To be honest, we often leave places wondering what on earth has gone wrong – why are people so dis-engaged? Why has communication broken down so badly?

The staff survey is often the mainstay for measuring employee satisfaction and it does give staff an opportunity to express how they feel.  However, as with all surveys, they can only go so far and often a more vocal sounding board is needed not only to help organisations really understand their staff, but also for staff to feel that they really have the opportunity to be heard.

But in 2016 – what does real engagement look like? With all the tools we have today, the annual staff survey and a few focus groups just doesn’t seem enough – and surely an on-going programme of engagement and communication needs to be embedded in organisations rather than a reliance on the staff survey and the inevitable accompanying discussions around improving communication between staff and management.

There are of course many great places of work that have nailed good employee communication and are building a culture of engagement through the use of regular meetings, video messaging and social media – social media to engage employees not just customers.  This is interesting, so many companies still ban the use of social media during working hours and whilst we don’t want a workplace checking their personal Facebook page or Twitter stream every minute, it is a powerful medium of communication that can be used well.

In an NHS briefing paper (no.88) in November 2013, examples were given of Chief Executives who were using Twitter to talk about their week, their thoughts and to connect with their staff and thus helping to engage their workforces.

Really understanding how preferred styles of communication can support and engage staff is an ongoing challenge.  We don’t have the answer I’m afraid, but because we often find ourselves as the sounding board in employee groups, we at least think that listening to staff is probably part of the answer.