How to run an internal communications audit

How to run an internal communications audit

This is an excerpt from our Ultimate Guide to Deskless Employee Communication. Download the free 40+ page guide for more information on internal communications audits – plus a printable worksheet to help you track your audit from start to finish! 

An internal communications audit is a review of how well your organization and its leaders distribute and collect information to and from your workforce and how well the current setup aligns with your overall strategy. 

This audit is especially crucial for organizations with deskless and frontline employees, who spend very little face-to-face time with management and don’t have regular access to computers, so a specialized strategy is crucial. A communications audit will ensure you identify the right way to share information. 

Why is an internal communication audit beneficial to organizations?

It may sound unnecessarily bureaucratic at first, but an audit is actually one of the best things you can do for your organization. Even organizations without a formal strategy can benefit from an audit. In fact, we would argue that they need it even more

Well-executed internal communications can engage and motivate your frontline staff. Just ask Clear Company, who found that businesses with effective communication are 50% more likely to have lower employee turnover. And ThinkTalent, who discovered that organizations with effective communication programs are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers. 

The reverse is also true. Poorly-run communications can lead to disengagement, and disengaged employees are a flight risk. According to Gallup, 56% of not engaged and 73% of actively disengaged employees are either looking for jobs or watching for other opportunities. 

Auditing can uncover serious issues with your internal communications strategy and reduce the risk of disengagement. It can also provide easy wins that open lines of communication and get employees back on board. 

So let’s get started. Here are the first steps to take when starting a communication audit: 

1. Create an audit team

Conducting a proper audit will involve time, effort, and dedicated manpower. While it’s tempting to hire an external company to conduct the audit, an internal team can be just as effective, provided they approach it in an organized fashion, and they have the independence and authority necessary to gather data and act on their findings.

If you don’t have a dedicated internal communications team to run the audit, put together an ad-hoc team composed of delegates from operations, HR, and marketing. You may also want to include someone to represent the frontline employees to provide additional perspective. 

2. Set goals

Question: what part of your internal communications do you want the audit to improve? You may be tempted to conduct an audit with a broad scope (“are my communications working?”), but you might see better results if you fine-tune your audit.

Audits work best when they focus on improving specific aspects of your internal communications. The narrower and more measurable the goals are, the greater the chance your audit will succeed.

3. Collect info and insights

Collecting the intel for your communication audit is a multi-stage process. If you have a digital communications platform in place, collecting these insights will be much easier – but taking a more analog approach is definitely possible as well. Let’s take each stage one at a time. 

Metrics review

We’ll talk about numbers more later, but workforce insights are a critical step in any communication strategy – and are extremely informative in your internal communication audit. Raw numbers can be used to either support or challenge the anecdotal feedback you’ll be collecting later. They may also signal warning signs for internal communication problems. 

Look for the metrics that relate closely to the goals you set, but make sure to consider multiple data points to get as wide a picture as possible. Again, a digital communication platform will make collecting these metrics easier, but there are still workforce insights you can tap into and learn from, even if you’re not using communication technology. 

Communication tools review

An internal communications tool is a method, product, or software that you use to send and receive messages to and from your team. Many companies use email, but we’ve seen everything from low-tech solutions like bulletin boards and posters to high-end digital communications platforms. The tools you use should make your communication strategy more effective and streamlined. And the only way to truly gauge its effectiveness is by questioning your assumptions. 

For a worksheet to help you assess your communication tools (and track your full audit start to finish!) download our Ultimate Guide to Deskless Employee Communication.  

Anecdotal information

Numbers can tell you a lot, but the human side can tell you just as much, if not more. It’s important to interview both sides of the conversation: executive management and the workers. When talking to management, get their perspective on what they prioritize, how they think the company should be communicating, and what they think the gaps are. When you do get to talk with frontline workers, don’t ask leading questions. Balance quantitative and qualitative responses  and give respondents an opportunity to free-write their answers.

4. Analyze the intel

Once you’ve harvested your information, you can analyze the data to uncover weaknesses in your internal communications strategy and look for signs your communication is broken (check out our sidebar for warning signs). Compile your findings into key insights, then go back to your audit goals to see what conclusions you can derive. From there, you’ll develop a list of recommendations to share with stakeholders and start to prepare a plan of action. Here are a few examples of recommendations you might bring back to the organization based on your audit findings: 

  • Choose a new communication tool or platform to make communication simple and easy.
  • Create a monthly or quarterly communication calendar to ensure your communications are targeted around a core goal or objective. 
  • Identify the metrics you want to track and how you’ll track them. 
  • If you don’t have one, create a dedicated communications lead who will work with various stakeholders to create and share information. 

Remember, you don’t have to overhaul your entire internal communications system all at once. You can improve one component at a time, focusing on the area that will deliver the most value to the organization and its employees. 

Ready to try your first audit? Get additional tips and an internal communication audit worksheet in our Ultimate Guide to Deskless Employee Communication. (It’s free! And it’s awesome!)

6 employee metrics every deskless organization should be tracking

6 employee metrics every deskless organization should be tracking

Tracking employee metrics helps organizations to make fact-based, data-driven decisions to improve performance, engagement, and more. Whether you have a formal employee communication strategy in place or not, these are the numbers you want to keep an eye on. 

Why? Workforce analytics allow organizations to tap into workforce insights, i.e., the stories your data tells. How engaged is your workforce? How reachable are your teams? How confident are your employees in executing current or future programs and strategies? These aren’t questions to answer with your gut. These are questions that can – and should – be answered with data. 

Here are 6 employee metrics every deskless organization should be tracking: 

1. Adoption and reachability 

This is a crucial metric for any communication strategy. It answers the question, “Who can I reach?” Ideally, the answer would be 100% of your workforce. At Nudge, we consider employees reachable if they’ve used our app in the past 90 days, but this metric might differ depending on your platform or communication tool. 

2. Open/read rates

Again, this will depend on your communication tools and channels, but ideally you have a metric to track how your workforce is consuming content. What percentage of your staff opened your latest announcement? How many read to the end? How many clicked the CTA at the bottom? How often are SOPs accessed and read? These numbers, where available, will help you see whether your content is actually being read by your employees. 

3. Feedback metrics

We’ve already touched on the importance of a channel for two-way feedback. Employee metrics are a great way to get an at-a-glance understanding of whether you’re fostering a culture of feedback across the organization. These might be participation metrics or even word clouds highlighting what key sentiments are coming from your teams. 

4. Execution/employee performance metrics

Depending on your industry and organization, you might be leveraging standardized task lists within your internal communication strategy to reiterate standard protocols and processes. Employee performance metrics on your most frequently assigned tasks and their completion rates will indicate the effectiveness and consistency of your execution.

5. Knowledge rates 

Generated through knowledge testing and quizzes, knowledge rates will show whether the information that has been shared has been properly retained. This will ensure you’re identifying knowledge gaps as quickly as possible. 

6. Employee engagement metrics

The final step in measuring success in your teams is to see whether all the above employee metrics have done their job in fostering engaged, empowered teams. Employee engagement metrics can be measured in a variety of ways. They can be an aggregate metric based on how your employees engage with your communication and feedback channels, or it can be based on dedicated surveys and pulse checks.  

Reviewing workforce insights provides a comprehensive overview of your workforce’s engagement, confidence, and satisfaction – all of which lead to better business outcomes. These employee metrics can also be used to identify warning signs, like disengagement, that can be addressed before they lead to productivity issues or turnover. 

Not sure how to harvest these metrics? Depending on what types of communication technology and tools you already have set up, these numbers can come from multiple areas, like email/newsletter readership, test results, survey completion rates, and more. But this is really where a digital employee communication platform becomes especially useful. Built-in workforce analytics make it easy to measure (and analyze!) all the crucial numbers you should be tracking. 

Streamlining deskless employee onboarding with Nudge

Streamlining deskless employee onboarding with Nudge

The first 30, 60, and 90 days are crucial to a new hire. It’s the organization’s first and most impactful chance to create a real connection with the employee and set them up to be highly productive ambassadors of your brand. An effective employee onboarding program means better CX, higher sales, more efficient processes and protocols. And, perhaps most importantly, it mitigates turnover, a huge issue right now as labor shortages are leaving organizations under-staffed and overworked. 

How onboarding reduces turnover

We’ve talked before about the cost of turnover. At the best of times, high turnover rates is a huge financial burden. But in a labor crisis, losing the talent you do attract can decimate an organization. 

Enter employee onboarding. 20% of employee turnover takes place in the first 45 days, and that number is even higher among Millennials and younger employees. “They define success differently than other generations. If a job isn’t meaningful to them, they aren’t afraid to leave,” explains Michelle Smith, VP of Marketing at O.C. Tanner. In other words: you need to engage new hires with your brand purpose the minute they get their foot in the door. In fact, research by Glassdoor found that a strong onboarding process boosts new hire retention by a staggering 82% (it also increased productivity by over 70%, by the way).

The challenges of onboarding frontline and deskless employees

There’s no arguing the importance of a quality employee onboarding program – but implementing a program in frontline and deskless organizations presents a unique set of challenges. 

For one thing, there’s the scale and speed of new hires. The high turnover rate of deskless industries means there’s a constant stream of new employees needing onboarding. And with some organizations employing tens or even hundreds of thousands of workers, onboarding at scale becomes a problem. 

There’s also the distributed nature of deskless workforces. In retail, foodservice, and hospitality organizations, employees are in small teams spread out in locations across the country or globe, making communication fractured. And in supply chain and logistics organizations, employees might be even more distributed and isolated, with even less connection to coworkers or teams. 

The final challenge of onboarding deskless and frontline workers is the technology. Traditionally, organizations leaned on the same communication tools used for deskbound employees – email, or an intranet site employees don’t even have access to at work. Or, employees receive communication through posters and bulletin boards, and verbally through floor managers. All of these communication channels don’t lend themselves to a robust onboarding program at scale. 

Nudge trigger-based onboarding makes the most of those first 90 days

As a digital communication platform for deskless and frontline workers, Nudge is all about giving employees the tools, knowledge, and support to do great work. And that starts with onboarding. 

Nudge Employee OnboardingBuilt on proven behavioral science and information retention best practices, Nudge makes it easy for organizations to implement a consistent onboarding program at scale. Our in-app triggers automatically send content on key milestones, such as start date, 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins, and other important dates. 

Using bite-sized, gamified content, organizations can use Nudge trigger-based onboarding to send the right information, at the right time. Educate new hires on brand values and mission. Ramp them up with product knowledge and best-practices. Test them on safety protocols, policies, and SOPs through knowledge quizzes – all sent right to their phone. 

Plus, Nudge Analytics makes it easy to track new hires through the onboarding process – and identify red flags for disengagement long before they become a serious problem.

Additional Nudge features to build connections

Nudge engagement pointsLeverage other features in Nudge’s two-way communication platform to build trust and engagement with new hires. Show them that feedback is a core value by inviting them to join Spark sessions and engage in employee surveys. Encourage community-building in Chat discussions. And showcase peer recognition right out of the gate with Cheers pins. 

Weaving these communication features into your onboarding program is a great way to engage new hires right from day one, and foster a connection that will keep them loyal for the long term. 

Interested in learning more about how Nudge makes employee onboarding easy and effective? Set up a demo today.

6 things we learned at The Millennium Alliance’s virtual assemblies

6 things we learned at The Millennium Alliance’s virtual assemblies

We always love an opportunity to talk with industry leaders about the challenges and insights driving their organizations – and The Millennium Alliance’s virtual assemblies last week didn’t disappoint. We spoke to retail and marketing leaders across a wide range of organizations looking to prioritize and invest in the employee experience in the coming month – and a few key insights came up again and again. 

Here are six things we learned at The Millennium Alliance’s transformational retail and CMO virtual assemblies: 

1. The labor shortage is real…

As businesses reopen and The Great Return brings employees back to work, the war for talent is leaving even top employers understaffed. There are a number of issues organizations are pointing to as the cause of this crisis: return trepidation, burnout, subsidies competing with minimum wage, and an increased focus on finding meaningful work, to name a few. To address the labor shortage head-on, organizations need to shift their focus to engaging and retaining the employees they do have. 

2. …and status quo doesn’t cut it anymore

For many organizations, the past couple years have kept them in survival mode, with a skeleton staff and band aid solutions to rapidly-changing protocols. But as the new normal emerges, organizations are ready to address, improve, and standardize their employee experience – and their employee communication process. As part of this new focus, organizations (finally!) are seeing that a one-size-fits-all approach to communication doesn’t work – their deskless and deskbound workers need very different tools.  

3. Scaling culture can be a challenge

We’ve all seen the stats around employee engagement as a driver of retention, sales, and performance – but scaling that company culture can be a challenge for frontline organizations employing thousands or even hundreds of thousands of workers that are distributed across the country or globe. Finding ways to keep a strong culture and forge connections with the frontline will be make-or-break for organizations in the coming months. 

4. The goal of employee communication is clear: revenue

Once upon a time, employee communication was a nice-to-have for HR departments looking to share intel on new programs and protocols. But now, organizations are seeing a direct connection between a well-informed frontline and higher sales. Particularly in frontline and deskless organizations, where employees traditionally have less access to standardized intel direct from head office, there’s a huge opportunity to invest in a communication strategy to boost product knowledge and share best practices that will empower associates and boost sales. 

5. CX is driven by EX

We are screaming this until our throats are sore, so it was great to hear industry leaders saying the same thing: happy end engaged employees provide the customer and guest experience that organizations dream of. And – here’s the important part – a happy employee isn’t just a well-paid employee. Employees want clear information, a sense of purpose, and a feedback loop so their voices are heard.  

6. The power of loyalty

Ah, loyalty programs. We’re talking a lot about loyalty programs with retail and especially marketing leaders, because of how much value is in the data – not to mention the customer retention it fosters. The challenge we’re hearing is inconsistencies in program deployment and in-store execution that can negatively impact that valuable data and customer retention. That’s where the associate comes in. The role of the frontline in mobilizing a loyalty program can’t be overstated – and that requires a robust communication strategy to ensure consistent information is getting to the right employees, at the right time. 

4 ways to bring inclusion and diversity into your internal communications

4 ways to bring inclusion and diversity into your internal communications

Communicating with thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of deskless workers can be challenging. Fractured communications across locations, culture and language barriers, and an overall lack of belonging can leave organizations struggling to connect with your frontline. But you can increase engagement across all your deskless employees by championing diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

What diversity and inclusion is (and why organizations should prioritize it) 

The role that diversity and inclusion plays in business success is undeniable, but not all organizations have a clear sense of what D&I is. To understand it better, remember that diversity is about variety in representation, and inclusion is about engagement. Data suggests that teams focused on diversity and inclusion tend to deliver the highest levels of engagement and a strong sense of belonging. 

And that’s critical right now, because over time, and especially during the pandemic, a lack of prioritization of deskless workers has led to feelings of isolation and apathy. Despite efforts by employers, deskless employees struggle to feel valued, appreciated and motivated, with only 56% saying they feel “connected and engaged by their employers.” This highlights a diminished sense of trust, connection, and communication between employees and employers. 

Accelerating diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace can proactively combat these feelings of disconnect. Weaving D&I principles throughout your workplace can have resounding effects, including higher engagement and an increase in a sense of belonging. In other words: companies that create environments where employees’ differences are celebrated will reap great results. 

In fact, one Deloitte study found that focusing on workplace belonging can lead to a 56% increase in overall employee job performance and can be attributed to a reduction in employee turnover risk by 50%. When it comes to profits, companies that report high levels of internal diversity tend to bring in 15 times more sales revenue than companies with lower levels of diversity. 

The advantages that come from infusing diversity and inclusion initiatives into your internal communications plan go beyond anything that numbers and metrics can see. The benefits of an inclusive workforce can be attributed to a myriad of things, including better team problem solving and an increase in a sense of belonging and overall workforce engagement

To encourage belonging, organizations should aim to create an environment where all employees from all different walks of life feel valued, respected and safe. They should approach inclusion and diversity in the workplace authentically and transparently, and avoid being performative. With that in mind, the role that internal communications plays in engaging your teams and frontline workers in diversity and inclusion initiatives is vital. Beyond effectively sharing important information, it helps push through important agendas and campaigns to underpin the company’s values and overall mission, which can extend and amplify D&I efforts. 

Not sure where to start? Here are four ways to use inclusion and diversity initiatives to shape your communications, to engage and celebrate your employees, no matter who (or where!) they are. 

1. Create D&I-based communication standards

An essential part of communication is just that: communicating. And successful communications rely on inclusive language. The language you use should be free from tones, words, or phrases that promote discriminatory, prejudiced or stereotyped perceptions of specific people or groups.  

For example, the term “guys” is a catchall phrase to refer to a group no matter their gender. Yet, for many, including non-binary, non-conforming, transgendered women and men, this term can reinforce a lack of belonging. Simply replacing this term with something like everyone or team can be more inclusive. 

As times change and our collective understanding of diversity in the workplace continues to evolve, so too does our language. It’s up to us to be thoughtful about how we express ourselves and work to avoid excluding others from being seen as part of a group. When in doubt, always lead with empathy.

Setting guidelines around language use and offering support can go a long way. Our words hold power, and in this case, they can have the power of making or breaking your relationships with or between employees. 

What you can do today: Be proactive. Set a standard for inclusive language that is neutral, intersectional and includes everyone in the organization, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and more. Maintain consistency with a conscious style guide, which will help answer questions around spelling, phrasing, and more.

Make sure you include your employees! Engage your D&I team or create a committee to encourage better language usage and weed out problematic or outdated phrasing. Revisit quarterly and keep adjusting. 

2. Celebrate differences through storytelling 

One of the most effective ways to grow your inclusion efforts is to share positive stories of the diverse group of employees within the organization. This helps your workforce see that the company gives fair opportunities to people from various backgrounds. Find ways to celebrate your employees’ different opinions and ideas while giving credit where it’s due. Highlight their successes by attributing to an individual an idea they put forward or celebrate their wins with an expression of gratitude. Find ways to sponsor underrepresented individuals.

Sharing successes not only promotes a stronger company culture, but it lends itself to a company’s ability to story-tell. As storytelling expert Michael Kass explains, this can help a company “divest from exploitative ways of being and relationships with the communities and people we purport to serve while fostering more equitable, inclusive, and human relationships.” 

For example, HSBC brought together their global workforce with a photo competition. This company-wide initiative was focused on showing off the unique perspectives of their employees – afterward, a compilation on YouTube helped HSBC’s workforce to see the magnitude of their submissions.

What you can do today: Organizations can begin by building strong relationships with a diverse group of employees. Be a listener and amplify those voices; make an effort to get an objective review on all communications. Speak with your company’s BIPOC and underrepresented groups. Listen to understand, not to defend. 

Make space in a company newsletter for features like “a day in the life of” highlighting unique team members and their journeys, aspirations or goals. Set up contests or events where employees can showcase their unique perspectives. 

3. Facilitate psychological safety 

Being a good listener is vital, but for larger organizational change, leaders must facilitate a space where everyone is encouraged to have vulnerable and honest conversations. This means fostering a sense of psychological safety, the process of providing safe spaces for employees to challenge and ask for help without fear of repercussion. Managers who actively create psychological safety workplaces are less likely to experience turnover on their teams. 

In organizations with high psychological safety, employees are empowered to give honest, valuable feedback. By speaking up to and sharing with those in positions of power, employees can help challenge the status quo, creating a cascade effect of identifying problems and finding opportunities for improvement. And so, part of encouraging psychological safety means being prepared to respond to and facilitate discussions around tougher conversations

By eschewing the concept of staying apolitical and encouraging dialogue around your employees’ differences, you can promote healthy conflict and curiosity. Through sharing constructively and safely, your employees can be sure that their differences are respected and valued. 

What you can do today: To empower employees to share more, consult your team during the decision-making process and ask them for their input. Don’t stop there; once the decision has been made, keep engaging your employees and including them in the conversation.

Also, be authentic and transparent. Encourage the management team to arrive to each conversation willing to share successes and failures. Provide opportunities for your employees to get to know who their leaders are. This could be in the form of monthly AMAs, dedicated office hours, or monthly leadership fireside chats – all of which can be done virtually to connect globally dispersed teams. 

4. Keep testing and improving

As you build out your roadmap to add more diversity and inclusion initiatives to your communications plans, you’ll want to find ways to keep improving your efforts and check in on the impacts of your programs. Here are some ways to check in on your diversity and inclusion initiatives:

  • Create feedback loops: This can be done via weekly polls, continuous feedback and pulse surveys, as well as specific outreach to underrepresented groups.
  • Ask for help: Work with the D&I department and ERGs to gain feedback on messaging to make sure you’re hitting the mark. 
  • Dive into data: There is a direct correlation between diversity in the workplace and critical HR metrics such as employee retention and engagement. To review the success of your diversity and inclusion initiatives, pair anecdotal feedback with these analytics. 

By prioritizing and championing diversity and inclusion initiatives, you set your entire team up for success. The benefits of making this investment will return tenfold in the form of employee engagement, retention, and increased innovation. What more could you ask for? 

Q&A: The psychology of employee communication

Q&A: The psychology of employee communication

As a digital employee communication platform, our mission is to ensure that all employees have knowledge to be inspired to do great work every day. But why, exactly is access to information so important? Today, we’re talking to Dr. Wendi Adair, Professor of Organizational Psychology at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Adair is also the director of the Culture at Work Lab at the University of Waterloo, and is the co-founder of icEdge, a communication assessment and empowerment tool for organizational development.

We sat down with Dr. Adair to learn about the psychology of employee communication, what uncertainty does to deskless and frontline employee well-being, how we can boost retention, and why more information makes employees do better. 

What does information – or a lack of information – do to a person’s mental and emotional well-being? 

Wendi Adair: Information is power. If you have information, it makes you feel capable and able to do what you need to do. It makes you feel able to help other employees. And that gives you a sense of well-being. We talk about it as power, but it’s really feelings of capability and competence and confidence. 

And then on the flip side is when you don’t have enough information. So maybe there’s something about your role that’s ambiguous. You don’t know exactly how you’re supposed to go about doing a certain procedure or task. Or maybe you have role conflicts – you have different supervisors asking you to attend to different things and you haven’t been given clear instructions on how to prioritize. That lack of information leads to feelings of uncertainty. Which leads to stress, and would decrease employees’ psychological well-being.

There are a lot of theories on this – like the AUM Anxiety and Uncertainty Management theory – that explore how we are motivated as humans to feel like we have a good sense of what’s going on. A lot of what our brain is doing is trying to figure out what’s going on around us and find ways to feel like we have a sense of control. Not that we can necessarily control everything around us, but we want to know what to expect. So when there are feelings of uncertainty or ambiguity, we’re motivated to reduce those feelings.

When we’re not getting enough information, when that uncertainty kicks in, what exactly is happening to our brains? 

If you’re experiencing uncertainty, that is going to create a stress response. That can be anything from minor impacts, like your heart’s beating a little bit faster, or your palms are getting a little sweaty, to a more serious sort of panicky, fight-flight kind of stress response. And employees who are chronically feeling uncertainty at work could be experiencing chronic stress, and we know that chronic stress over a long time has massive impacts on psychological as well as physical health.

In unprecedented times like these, should organizations share what little information they have, or should they wait until they have more info?

It’s always better to give more information. Which, you know, if it’s a big corporation, definitely makes people nervous because they don’t want to put anything into writing until they know for sure. 

But I would say that any kind of a message is valuable. Even just noting awareness of the instabilities we’re currently facing, and that the organization is committed to figuring out the best way that they can manage and maintain their employees’ well-being. It doesn’t have to be really specific. Just reaching out and making that connection actually can go a long way.

How can organizations improve the overall effectiveness of their employee communication? 

So what we say when we’re teaching effective communication in the workplace is that clarity is really important. Try to keep it as concise as possible. 

And then respect – there’s got to be that interpersonal element to it. So whatever the message is, start with some kind of little greeting. Those are the little things that in corporate communication people aren’t going to do naturally because it’s all about the message, it’s about the task, it’s not about the socio-emotional connection. But the socio-emotional connection is what helps employees connect with an organization and foster loyalty and commitment.

We’ve known for decades that it’s not just about, you know, how many widgets you make. It’s about creating a good work experience; it is about humanizing it. So there’s got to be attention to that interpersonal respect. We call it socio-emotional communication. 

What can organizations do to boost retention on some of the information they’re sharing? 

From the cognitive side, there really is no such thing as multitasking. Unless it’s a totally automatic cognitive process like walking, anything else that demands our attention, we can only attend to one thing at a time. So what that says for organizations is that it’s important to make time for employees to have opportunities to communicate and get information and ask questions and get feedback. It’s not going to be as effective if they’re getting a massive update that they’re supposed to read while they’re doing their job. It’s going to be more effective if they are allowed, permitted, encouraged to take time to read and absorb. 

What about feedback? How can it mitigate – or compound – these feelings of uncertainty for deskless and frontline workers? 

Everyone wants to feel heard, and feel like they are connected to others. So in a grocery store or restaurant, people are going to be interacting regularly. But in, say, a car factory where the distance between people on the line can be half a block long, you might not have that sort of interpersonal connection as part of your daily work routine. And people need that. People need that and want that. They want to feel heard and they want to know that they’ve not only been heard but they were understood.  

In industrial organizational psychology, we talk about psychological safety. That is when employees feel that they are secure enough in their job, their work environment, and with their colleagues at work that they can speak up if they think something could be done differently or if they have dissatisfaction about something. That sense of psychological safety, that their voice is valued and they’re not going to be punished for saying something…that is something that all organizations should foster. And that has a lot to do with leadership, organizational culture and, of course, communication.

It’s also really important to make sure employees know what the norms are for both receiving feedback and giving feedback. What is appropriate if they get a message and they want to give some feedback? Do they just send a message to their direct supervisor? Do they reply to all 100,000 employees that got the message?

If the channels – if the processes and the channels are made clear, then the communication can happen. But when people don’t know, that’s just feeding more into the uncertainty, and then they’re not going to ask questions and they’re not going to give or seek feedback. And that’s when there’s going to be a disconnect.

Why does more information make employees do better? 

There’s this thing in psychology that we call the common knowledge effect. Basically anytime you get people together, and a communication has been sent out, people start talking about it. And what they do is they share information that others have already shared. 

So the example that often comes up in research is solving a murder mystery. You have a group of people, and everyone gets a different set of information, and then they come together and they have to solve a case. And what happens is someone will share some information. Well I heard that John was not even near the scene of the crime on Saturday night. And then, Oh yeah, I have that information too. John was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Then, Oh yeah. I have information that John was with his children that night or whatever. People tend to narrow their conversation to focus on information that they have in common – even though we know that in terms of making good decisions, solving problems, coming up with creative solutions or innovations, it’s the unique information that is key. 

There are lots of reasons that people don’t share unique information. One is that everyone is rushing and you don’t want to be the person who raises your hand. There’s also pressure for conformity. You want to agree with what everyone else is saying. You don’t want to be the person who stands out or thinks differently. And then we have, especially in a group setting, trying to reach a course of action. We know it’s going to be hard to reach consensus so we want to just kind of move towards that. We don’t want to keep bringing up pieces of information that might derail the path to the decision.

And so what the common knowledge effect means in a workplace setting is that if there’s a piece of information that one employee has that could lead to some sort of a better way of doing something, or could alert someone to something bad that’s going to happen down the road…that information is unlikely to be shared, unless there are procedures in place to encourage it. Town halls, forums, discussion boards, surveys – places where the organization overtly encourages employees to share. Then you might get that information. It’s related to psychological safety, too – people speaking up. But you need to kind of have that channel in place, otherwise it just won’t happen.

Thanks to Dr. Adair for her insights on employee communication! For more on her work, check out the Culture at Work Lab at the University of Waterloo and icEdge.