Insights

HR Best Practices for Employee Communication and Engagement

August 26, 2019

Employee Benefits

Communicating with your employees has never been more critical. But the challenges of a diverse workforce, remote and onsite workers, and multiple communication channels, makes it significantly harder to keep your workforce informed and engaged. The good news is that employees want to be informed. They know that HR, employee benefits, and payroll news impacts their lives, and they’re ready to listen. 

Image of a man opening a letter

Employee engagement is a hot topic, primarily because workers are feeling less engaged in today’s workforce. HR has the responsibility and the opportunity to increase engagement by reaching employees with an ongoing stream of important topics through a variety of channels.

Whether it’s great news about a new employee benefit or challenging news about a significant cost change, knowing how to communicate effectively with your employees has never been more important.

Use More than One Communication Channel to Reach Employees 

Confused about which communication channels to use? If you’re dependent on just one, you may be missing out on an opportunity to stay connected with your employees. It takes time and resources to track these messages, so choose the channels that you will consistently use.

Email is by far the best means of communicating with employees. Whether it’s an email blast about the upcoming benefits enrollment or an announcement of an upcoming health fair, HR considers this the top way of reaching employees.

But email has two roadblocks. First, most employees inboxes are overflowing with everything from customer requests to Groupon deals and may overlook an important email. Secondly, less than 100% of your staff has internal email addresses. If you rely heavily on contractors, temp workers or have a population that works outside of a traditional office setting who don’t have a company email address, you won’t reach everybody. Make sure you have the email addresses of everyone you need to contact, or an alternative channel to reach them.

Town hall meetings are a great way to personally interact with your workforce. Live meetings connect a face and a voice and create a personal connection. Live meetings can also be broadcast to remote workers so they feel connected.

Collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer, and other platforms can connect your workforce. They let people interact quickly, seamlessly, and remotely. The downside? Make sure you have a way to distinguish important messages from casual conversations.

In-person one-to-one meetings are still the primary way employees want to communicate with HR, especially when they have a question. Whether it’s a phone call or arranged meeting, ensuring that your employees have live access to the HR team keeps them informed and engaged.

Printed materials like bulletin boards, newsletters, and handouts never go out of style. For onsite workers, they are a visual cue that keeps them connected throughout the day.

Electronic Communications like social media, instant messaging, and texting apps are also vital, especially for remote workers and distant locations. Texting and instant messaging are the top ways that employees keep in contact with each other, so taking advantage of these channels is vital.

To increase communication and engagement, establish channels that your workforce knows you will use and leverage consistently for company-wide information or one-to-one conversations.

Your Diverse Workforce has Unique Communication Needs

Today’s workforce is comprised of up to five generations, each with their own history of experiences, traditions, and beliefs. From the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers to Generations X, Y, and Z, your workforce prefers different styles, content, and modes of communication.

Best practice for interacting with a diverse workforce includes developing relationships, promoting cross-generational mentoring, and focusing on commonalities, not differences.

Whether you’re a multinational corporation or a small business with a few dozen employees, you probably have a diverse range of cultures, ethnicity, and genders. Bridging the gap between cultures requires more than traditional verbal or written communication. English-speaking countries are “low-content” and rely on words to communicate. Other ethnicities communicate in a larger context that may include body language (appropriate eye contact, gesticulating, bowing, and other traditions) as well as non-verbal cues.

Best practices for communicating in a multicultural environment include diversity training and personal interactions to understand the needs and communication styles of multiple groups.

Finally, you may have a growing number of employee classifications. In addition to traditional full-time, part-time, and temporary roles, the number of freelancers and contractors is growing, according to a Gallup poll. It is estimated that nearly 30% of workers have an alternative work arrangement (including remote working, freelancing, or flextime arrangements). Reaching each of these groups can be challenging, given that they may work onsite, offsite, or on different shifts. Regular live meetings and team messaging platforms are just a few of the ways to keep remote and non-traditional workers engaged.

Best Practices for Difficult Communications

HR and PR are closely linked. When a dramatic change happens that affects your staff, you need to put on your PR hat and get to work. According to top experts, below are recommendations for communicating important, difficult, or bad news to your workforce.

Be Transparent

Your workforce can tell if you’re withholding important information. In the case of a merger or acquisition or the loss of a senior staff member, it’s best to clearly explain what happened. Too little information will fuel gossip while too much information may lead to more questions. Be truthful about what the issue is and how you are going to address it.

Be Proactive

News travels instantaneously. Before you publish a single word, your employees may already be talking about it. Immediacy is important, especially if the news will hit Twitter within the next hour. It’s important to get in front of the issue and inform your workforce ASAP.

Stay Employee-Focused

Your employees have one question about your communication: WIIFM––What’s in it for me? You’ll need to explain how your news will affect everyone from senior executives to a newly hired admin. If there’s action required, be clear and spell it out. Tell them what happens next. Don’t leave them wondering if their livelihood is at risk.

Stay Positive and Future-Focused

If the news affects you personally, you don’t want it to show in your writing, so let someone else read your work before you press Send on that email. Use a professional tone and assure people that the future will be better, the company will stay aligned with their vision, and you’ll keep serving clients.

Inform Key Personnel in Advance

Frontline managers and directors are your first line of defense. If an employee has questions, they’ll often go to their managers first before going to HR. Give your managers a heads up about your announcement, let them know their role, and what to do with questions they can or cannot answer.

Allow for Feedback

Your workforce will have questions after your announcements. Better they come talk to their manager or HR before posting it to Facebook. Let them know who to contact and be prepared to repeat your news and answer difficult questions.

Use Multiple Communication Channels

Your workforce is multi-generational, remote and onsite, national and international, working or on leave, and may or may not have access to your preferred channel of communication. You’ll need to have a plan in place that uses email, text, town-hall meetings, video or conference calls, in addition to print and social media to make sure you reach your audience. If they don’t hear it from you, they’ll likely hear it from a co-worker, so be prepared for follow up calls and questions.

With an increasingly diverse and multi-generational workforce, employee experience is more important than ever when it comes to managing benefits and ensuring engagement. Listen to Woodruff Sawyer’s National Employee Benefits Practice Leader Kathy Prosser’s insight into the evolving expectations of your workforce:

 

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All views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.

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