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Have you checked your data analytics to learn what communications employees access and if your internal communications are successfully getting noticed? Internal communications & employee engagement go hand-in-hand, but only if your employees are watching, listening, or reading the message. If the topic is considered boring or your organization has developed a reputation for boring communications, there is a good chance many employees will only notice the messages if the issue is of apparent personal interest. In the example conversation, the result is that your efforts to address and strengthen the health and safety of employees as one element of preventing union organizing has failed to achieve their purpose. There are many ways to connect employee engagement and internal communications. You can still engage employees by delivering necessary but boring messages, and many only require taking one or two additional steps.
Consider this example. One employee asks another, “Did you read the email explaining the new safety procedures?” The answer is, “Nah…I didn’t see it. I get hundreds of emails every day, and most of them are pretty boring or don’t concern me. You tell me what it said. Anything different?” Have you ever wondered how many conversations like this take place in the workplace?
Boredom is a real thing. People get bored at work, in meetings, and with internal communications, especially when inundated with topics of no or little interest. When messages are boring, your employees either stop reading or viewing them. They may skim emails, watch half a video, or stop a podcast before it’s completed. The message gets lost in a sea of boredom. Even if they stay tuned to the message or thoroughly read the email, bored people start thinking about something else and miss what they should learn anyway.
Alarming is the fact that the human attention span is decreasing. Dr. Gloria Mark studies how digital media impacts people and says, “In 2004, we measured the average attention on a screen to be 2½ minutes,” Mark said. “Some years later, we found attention spans to be about 75 seconds. Now we find people can only pay attention to one screen for an average of 47 seconds.” So boring communication and presentations that are too long will rapidly turn people off
Think about this. If people stay on a screen for an average of 47 seconds and also find the topic boring, your web pages on the employee-focused union website are probably not delivering full value. According to neuroscientists, boredom causes changes in the brain, and you have to develop a communication strategy to overcome these challenges.
When internal communications develop a reputation for being boring, too frequent, or too irrelevant, people will avoid them. Some employees will depend too much on coworkers to explain a new policy, procedure, benefits program, upcoming corporate change, corporate philosophy on unions, etc. The problem is that getting the information from a secondhand source creates a severe risk of misinterpretation or distortion. You want your employees to:
Suppose you have boring topics to address with employees. In that case, there are many ways to reduce general workforce boredom with communications and entice employees who need to read the messages to read them.
To be realistic, some messages will have to remain boring because the topic is so dry, but the vast majority don’t have to be by following a few simple strategies. The fewer boring messages you send to employees, the stronger the connection between internal communications & employee engagement.
Not everyone in your workforce needs to know everything. A survey of 2,000 U.S. adults found that 29 percent say their brain shuts down when they see or hear the word “data.” Astonishingly, 54 percent admit smiling and nodding to conversations about data and statistics without really paying attention. No doubt, the same thing happens when information is irrelevant to their job or success in the company or when the information is dull. Boring information could include statistics people don’t need to know, too many details, information about another department the employee seldom interacts with, a new position at the executive level, or a company change that causes shoulder shrugging.
Miller’s Law says the most a person can remember is seven (The Magical Number of Seven) objects, plus or minus two. If you give employees more than 5-7 points to remember in a message, some information is lost to working memory.
A Slicktext survey found that:
You should send information that matters to the people who are most impacted instead of everyone. It should be information people need to perform at their highest level. The message should make it clear upfront that the information is relevant to the employee and that the person will benefit from accessing the information.
To increase communications impact, avoid message blasting. Instead, segment the content and the employees, and send the information segments to the employees that need it. If you need to send a message to the entire workforce, make sure it makes clear that the information affects everyone and why it is important.
Internal digital communications systems usually have multiple ways to deliver information. There are emails, videos, podcasts, internal social media, employee-facing websites, texts, virtual meetings, and employee apps, to name some of the most used ones. If your company sends messages through multiple channels to all employees on a routine basis, many will be ignored. Employees start thinking, “Yet another message of no interest to me.”
Information overload is tedious and can cause stress, and people will avoid a known stress-causing event. The result is that employees avoid as many messages as possible. It’s a new form of the “fight-or-flight” response to exhausting amounts of information. Information overload occurs when the brain is exposed to more information than it can handle. Analysis paralysis (cognitive overload) leads to the inability to make a decision because there is too much information and data for the brain to process. When there is too much information, and people feel cognitive overload, they stop absorbing the information your leaders send. The message becomes futile.
We mentioned emails as one communication tool, but there are many others. Emails are not the most efficient communication tool for deskless workers, but employee apps work well because they are accessed on a mobile phone. Videos appeal to younger workers. The CEO, HR Vice President, and other leaders can deliver a video message or make a podcast that can make internal communications & employee engagement more personal than in an email.
Think in terms of your employees at home. They are watching TV, checking text messages on their mobile phones, talking to friends and family on the phone, scanning choices on an app to find information of most interest, and chatting with people over the internet. You want to give your employees a variety of communication channels for work also because the information delivery method alone can turn a boring message into an interesting one. Following are some communication & internal engagement suggestions.
When you conduct employee engagement surveys, ask for feedback on how well the communication system and messaging work for them.
Including employees in communications when it makes sense can add interest to boring messages. It cultivates employee voice, adds an emotional connection, and supports a connected culture. The employee can tell a short story in a podcast that supports a manager’s message or give a quote that is added to an email.
If you don’t want employees in the videos or recording podcasts, find ways to give them opportunities for feedback and content suggestions. In addition, offer the information in more than one format for the multi-generational workforce. While Gen Z and millennials may prefer podcasts and apps, baby boomers may prefer reading an email or watching a video. To avoid accusations of boredom, break down more complex information into a series of messages or communicate only basic information.
Once again, only use this strategy when it makes sense. Of course, you don’t want to make a serious message appear trite by adding entertaining features like funny images or irreverent headlines. However, many messages can be livened up. For example, add a funny picture to introduce (yet another) email or add an entertaining caption to a video. If you want to encourage employees to watch a video, make a video with an animated character who talks on a subject like taking care of personal health by accessing a new wellness program, and use the character in the promotional message sent to employees to get their attention. Animated videos are one of the best ways to present bland information.
The days of intensely serious, abrupt messages are gone because millennials and Gen Z communicate differently than baby boomers and Gen X. The younger generations prefer an informal and friendly approach to communication. As generational researcher Giselle Kovary explains, “There’s lots of noise in a digital environment, and unless we’re chatting live, things can be misinterpreted. To younger workers, the formal business communication of older generations can come off as very cold and a little harsh, while the criticism is that younger people are too casual.”
Not all messages have to be serious too. Even your leaders need a break at times from reading dashboard statistics. Some more entertaining messaging includes employee quizzes, sending hints about a positive announcement (but don’t overdo it), and gamification for problem-solving or reinforcing collaboration.
Information communication is less at risk of seeming boring when it’s connected to the organization’s purpose, engaging people in company success and values. The added benefit is that it helps your workforce remain aligned with the company’s vision. Senior executives usually develop general messages to discuss topics like the importance of the customer experience or a significant organizational change, but all leaders, including frontline supervisors, can connect the message to the organization’s mission and purpose.
A recent (January 25, 2023) Gallup survey report said that employee engagement had reached its lowest level since 2015 at 32 percent engaged and 18 percent disengaged. The engagement elements that experienced the steepest declines included clarity of expectations and connection to the mission or purpose of the company. Your internal communications are critical to employee engagement – all employees. The people experiencing the most significant drop in engagement were women, young workers, and remote-ready onsite workers. The interpretation of the results included this: leadership is not clearly communicating the organization’s cultural values. Perhaps another reason is that employees aren’t reading or hearing the messages because they find them boring.
Though the previous discussion doesn’t include meetings, they can also be very dull. Meetings are still held in-house and now frequently virtually since many workforces are hybrid or remote. You don’t want to bore your onsite, hybrid, remote, or deskless workers! This is especially true in an age where people want to be entertained due to technology. Sitting there listening to a speaker drone on or watching a video of a speaker droning on is unproductive, and most employees will mentally zone out.
Meetings can also be a more entertaining internal communications & employee engagement communication event. Some things to avoid are having one person do all the talking, choosing topics better taught with employee engagement tools due to their complexity, like eLearning training programs, not engaging employees in the discussion, and showing software-produced slides on a screen that only present facts and figures.
Internal communication really doesn’t have to be boring 90 percent of the time. The general rules are to use fewer words and more videos, podcasts, images, and other technology tools and to target an audience segment. Think outside the box when preparing a message because communication must be more strategic, dynamic, and progressive to capture employees’ attention. Think about what would bore YOU in communication. Whatever that is will undoubtedly bore your employees, and you may be very surprised at the answer after giving it some thought.
IRI Consultants can help your organization implement effective communication strategies. Contact us at your earliest convenience, and let our industry experts help you deliver messages across your organization in the most productive and successful manner.
Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.