Good communication is one of the most important things to help a workplace run smoothly.
It encourages employees to perform well, eliminates inefficiency, and can assist in building a happier working environment. On the other hand, major workplace communication problems can arise across various fields if communication barriers are ignored.
There are numerous benefits to effective communication in the workplace, including exchanging important information more easily, promoting discussion between workers, encouraging feedback from employees, and boosting employee engagement. It also supports change, lessens employee turnover, and instills the company values and vision.
It is a core function in leadership that helps managers to cope better during times of crisis.
Keep reading to discover some of the most common workplace communication problems, some industry-specific communication challenges, and how to communicate more effectively in the workplace.
During times of crisis, change, acquisitions, or mergers, a need for proactive behavior may arise.
Reactivity implies that events are out of control and that there is a communication emergency that needs to be dealt with. When there is a lack of effective communication, it can lead to gossiping – an additional problem on top of existing challenges.
However, proactive behavior allows for planning and decision-making ahead of time. It also allows for adjustment of messages based on employee feedback.
Communication needs to happen before, during, and after situations of crisis or change in order to be effective. Simply updating staff members once the situation has already dissolved is not considered effective workplace communication.
It can be much more effective to anticipate when a crisis is on the way and behave proactively by planning and strategizing ahead of time.
While there is a place in business communication for private calls and messages, it can be a threat to use social media regularly for business communication.
When management regularly shares information via WhatsApp or Facebook chats, it sets an example for private conversations between employees. Management no longer has control over these conversations, and they are referred to as shadow communications.
Conversations between employees that happen “in the shadows”, or outside the control of management, can easily become a breeding ground for gossip and misinformation. It can also be extremely difficult to discredit these communications, as they are not accessible to communications staff and HR.
Another thing that can cause shadow communications, is unfit tools given out to employees.
To solve this, management can establish official channels of communication that cater to the needs of employees. This helps to ensure healthy workplace communication.
Using the right tools for internal and external communication can get the desired results in a timely manner. Some examples of using the wrong communication tools include:
A good rule of thumb is to use modern communication tools that make little noise, allow for detailed targeting, require little to no physical presence, enable two-way communication, and offer the option of anonymous feedback in order to protect the staff’s privacy and security. It is also a good idea to cater to the needs of staff members without computer access.
It is often the case that front-line managers are made solely responsible for conveying messages to team members. However, this means that their highly complicated role is not sufficiently supported by the company’s internal communication strategy.
One way to solve this problem is by providing staff members with a direct channel to post worries and questions or contact the necessary employee directly.
It can also be helpful to encourage employees to ask questions during team meetings, as opposed to contacting their manager privately. Doing so may prevent redundancy, as several employees could have the same question. It also encourages the solving of problems through teamwork.
Passive listening in and of itself is not a bad thing and is appropriate in certain settings – such as listening to a podcast while working out or enjoying the background music in a restaurant. However, passive listening in workplace conversations can cause problems.
Passive listening refers to hearing what someone is saying, without actually listening or understanding the meaning. When someone is listening actively, they provide feedback, mirror thoughts, and validate that the meaning of what was said is being understood fully. This requires awareness, communication skills, and being present in the conversation.
While listening passively can cause problems and misunderstandings in the workplace, active listening can increase efficiency and help to build better workplace relationships.
One of the often overlooked but common communication challenges that occur especially in first-line and frontline communication with employees, where there are big differences between individual employees, is some employees being excluded.
There are many reasons why some employees may be left out of the loop, including being remote employees, not having access to corporate devices or e-mails, or working under insufficient management.
In other cases, especially within companies with hundreds of staff members, it can be a waste of valuable time for internal communication managers to communicate with employees via phone calls.
One way to solve this problem is by choosing a communication tool that can be used across multiple devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers. This ensures that employees without access to computers can still make use of the communication tool via their smartphones or other devices they may use for work purposes. It is also important to ensure that employees can register for this communication tool via several different ways, such as e-mail, phone number, and QR or pin codes.
If you have employees from different areas across the globe, it is also important to ensure that the communication tool caters to several different languages.
Another way to solve the problem of employees being left out of the loop due to a lack of computer access is by providing access to company computers during work hours or setting up stands with tablets for work use.
In many companies, it is assumed that employees always understand the information given to them, without needing to ask questions. While that is not the case, some managers still opt for communication solutions that do not allow for things like feedback, questions, or comments. These types of one-way conversations can lead to a variety of communication issues in the workplace.
When deciding on which communication tools to implement in the workplace, it can be better to opt for solutions that encourage and increase employee engagement. Implementing things like leaving time for questions at the end of meetings, suggestion boxes, feedback forms, group discussions, comments sections, report forms, post creation, or pulse surveys can be a great way to make employees feel like they have a say, fix communication issues, and improve communication skills.
A great rule of thumb to improve workplace communication is to make sure that the main communicators in the company are familiar with the basic rules of communication and interaction. This includes things like eye contact during conversations, the signals of body language, and non-verbal communication etiquette. For example, it can be much more effective to send a workplace communication that includes appropriate images, as opposed to a big block of text.
If a team member suffers from poor communication skills, it can benefit them and the company as a whole to provide them with resources to help them improve.
Sometimes, positive customer feedback never reaches employees. While there is a variety of reasons why this may happen, it is often the case that there simply isn’t an easy way for first-line workers to get the message to other employees in a timely manner. In other cases, the feedback may get lost in a stream of emails from one department to another. As a result, the positive feedback never reaches the employee it was meant for.
A great way to combat this is by adding a channel to internal communications specifically and exclusively meant for good feedback and praise. There are many benefits to this, including that the positive message reaches who it was intended for, the morale and energy of the team get boosted, and business values get highlighted.
Irregular communication or a lack thereof can send equally strong messages as communicating often and consistently. However, the message is often negative and can give the impression that management doesn’t consider employees a priority.
Inconsistent communication can happen for many reasons, such as work schedules getting too full. In cases like those, it can be very helpful to take a strategic approach. Internal communications can be planned ahead of time using scheduled posts and an Excel planner.
You can also look into analytics to see how communication in the company may be affecting employees. Good employee relationships are often just as valuable to a company.
One of the workplace communication challenges often faced is not following up on feedback from employees.
As mentioned, implementing weekly pulse surveys for employees to report their satisfaction and general well-being can be an excellent way to encourage two-way conversations and boost effective internal communication. However, it is important to also follow up on employee input and show employees how their feedback has made a difference. Doing this ensures that employees are motivated to keep providing feedback and are not left confused.
A great way to do this can be by implementing a monthly overview of all the pulse survey results and issues raised by employees, and how they have impacted decisions in the company. This can boost engagement and enhance business transparency.
Many of the internal communication challenges faced by an organization depend on the specific industry it’s in. For example, the poor communication found in the retail industry will be different from the poor communication found in logistics. Similarly, different industries may require different communication tools for communicating effectively.
Companies in the logistics industry tend to face many communication challenges because some employees spend most of their time on the road for deliveries. As a result, face-to-face communication is not always an option. In this case, it can be helpful for companies to provide their employees with mobile-first communication solutions.
On the other hand, workers who spend most of their time in the warehouse itself may need internal communication channels specifically for reporting urgent safety concerns and receiving feedback.
Manufacturing companies typically have many locations with several factories. For some of these companies, workplace communication is sometimes distributed to employees via front-line managers or leaflets, which can lead to different employees receiving the information at drastically different times. This can hinder productivity in the workplace.
Another thing that can affect productivity and employee engagement negatively, is being uninformed about the end-users of the company’s products. In cases like these, it can also be the case that positive customer feedback gets lost instead of reaching the original product creator.
Employees working in the construction industry are often scattered across several different construction sites, and only have contact with direct colleagues. This can lead to them lacking a proper view of the organization in its entirety.
It can be helpful to provide such employees with mobile-first internal communication channels, as opposed to printed leaflets or e-mails that could increase the gap between the company and employees even further.
The hospitality industry faces communication problems in the workplace that encompass day-to-day messages, specific units, and company-wide challenges.
For example, things can get unorganized in restaurants or hotels when housekeepers and reception staff are not synchronized. In other cases, issues are brought up but never reach senior management or headquarters.
Customer service is the area where workplace communication mistakes can become the most evident. Examples include missing information on products or sales or missing price tags.
Another problem that companies in the retail industry may face is a delay in issues reaching management or headquarters, due to things like a static mobile intranet or forgotten e-mails.
Developing working relationships in the energy and utilities industry can be difficult due to a scattered workforce. Such employees may be difficult to reach, have never visited your office, or are difficult to hear back from. You may also have a difficult time getting to know staff members and briefing them on tasks.
Information is typically delivered to employees through one-on-one conversations.
Using the right communication tools is one of the best ways to ensure effective workplace communication. For companies with frontline workers, tools that are inclusive, affordable, and mobile-first can be very helpful in overcoming challenges like language barriers or information overload. The right tools can also boost employee productivity and lift company morale.
Other ways to ensure effective organizational communication are by improving your listening skills, ensuring employees understand instructions by encouraging questions and feedback, and building healthy relationships in the workplace with things like group initiatives.