The Vital Role of Employee Communications in Building Employee Engagement

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Did you know that only one in five U. S. workers actively engages with his or her job?

You read right: Only 19% of American workers go farther than the strict minimum performance of their job duties. These workers give more at work because they can’t help themselves. They want to go the extra mile, these “Actively Engaged” stars.  

They feel an irresistible urge to put forth a supreme effort to please the customer, their colleague, or the vendor.

Next, “Unengaged” employees. They comprise 62% of the global workforce. This huge mob of inert place-holders takes its character from—nothing. It has no character. Its members aren’t motivated to give extra effort. They’re checked out. They show no passion, no enthusiasm for doing a better job. They’re sleepwalkers.

Finally, the “Actively Disengaged,” an astounding 24% of the world’s workers. These unfortunates are significantly un-productive; they cause real on-the-job harm to co-workers, to their company, and to themselves.

You already know CEOs wrestle with business problems that keep them up at night. What problems? Well, “Unengaged” and “Actively Disengaged” workers, for one.

But corporate communicators don’t know the worries that rob The Leader of her or his full eight hours, because senior execs don’t like to talk about “negatives.” In fact, they don’t like to talk about business publicly, except bigger profits and market share.

In the early days when “engagement” was nothing more than a chic academic coinage, the CEO would order HR to hair up “employee engagement” the way he would order a memo written explaining a new benefit.

Then companies discovered that engagement took more than a day of team-building exercises in the middle of a three-day retreat. Engagement required sincere, smart, sophisticated communication, lots of it, more than the corporation had ever done.

HR was like a fish out of water here. Communicating benefits and warnings was one thing. Asking employees to take a passionate new intellectual interest in their jobs was another.  Only communicators stood a chance of doing this complex literary job right.

HR had nurtured a close relationship with middle managers, the foot soldiers vital for success in employee engagement. Communicators hadn’t, and still haven’t, says Holtz.

Holtz argues that you must:

  • identify the business issues that give your CEO insomnia,
  • supply your organization’s employees with convincing, detailed, context for every one of these issues, and
  • write dramatic narratives of employees engaging with their work in new ways

And that 3-tiered, top-down explanation of what leaders want from engaged employees is just the first step, Holtz says. After that, communicators must show, not tell, employees what satisfactions are in the requested changes of behavior for them.

Engagement is a huge job, Holtz argues. He seriously compares it to waging war. It is a campaign of months and years, requiring great generalship, skill in creating an unshakeable esprit de corps, tremendous communication, and a never-say-die attitude.

Holtz gives you

  • The 3 employee groups communicators must engage first
  • Why communicators must quantify the engagement they create
  • The 4 kinds of employee engagement
  • The 4 communications drivers of employee engagement
  • Why “organization engagement” is more crucial than employee engagement
  • The 7 characteristics of good engagement communications
  • The 7 questions engagement communicators must ask themselves and write down the answers to
  • The 7 non-communication drivers of engagement
  • Why line supervisors kill engagement more than any other group

Above all, Holtz wants you to memorize the Internal Communications Imperative:

Employee communication has the most important effect on engagement.

Poor communications causes engagement to drop. Your leaders do not understand this.

There is a proven correlation between good communications and high engagement: A  study by Watson Wyatt showed that firms communicating effectively with workers were four times more likely to have high levels of employee engagement. Four times!

Companies with good internal communication:

  • Are more efficient
  • See improved interactions among employees at all organizational levels
  • Realize greater levels of trust of senior leadership
  • Show greater understanding of business goals by all employees
  • Get better performance from their workforce
  • Score higher on job satisfaction surveys

If your organization is planning an engagement campaign, or if engagement went bust before, or you’re deciding whether to go all in on a campaign that could go either way, you need to listen to what Shel Holtz has to say about employee engagement.

Your decision could make an infinite difference to your company’s future.

Updated: 
May 2014
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Presenter bio: 

Shel Holtz, ABC, (@shelholtz) is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, consulting with organizations on content and communication strategies. He has written or co-written six communication books, and is a regular speaker on social media and other communication topics. He is co-host of the first and longest-running PR podcast, “For Immediate Release.” He is an IABC Fellow and a founding fellow of the Society for New Communication Research. Follow his blog.