16 November 2018

Communication - the key to minimising employee workplace issues

Communication – such a simple word. We all know how to communicate. We do it every day. We are all experts at communication in our own way but are we as effective at communicating as we would like to think?

In the workplace, e­ffective communication is essential. It is the key to unlocking an organisation's most valuable resource – its workforce.

Guernsey employers have a number of legal obligations which must be communicated to their employees. These range from giving employees a written statement of terms and conditions of employment, itemised payslips and details of the personal data that the employer uses in relation to the employee, to name but a few. However, these specific communication obligations represent the bare minimum that an employer should communicate to its employees.

To unlock effective communication in the workplace, the information that should be communicated to employees consists of much more than the legal bare minimum; employers need to communicate the information that their employees need to work efficiently. There is limited value in having a handbook and a suite of policies which sit on a shelf or are hidden on the intranet; employers need to ensure that employees actually understand what is in those policies, how the policies help them to do their job and what is expected of them in doing that job. For example, where there is a gap in an employee's skillset, providing effective training is only possible when the employer understands the employee's skills. In turn, these will only be known if the employer has an e­ffective communication regime in place which encompasses appropriate job descriptions, appraisals, KPIs, evaluations and feedback systems as part of the workplace structure, in which managers and employees are empowered and trained to engage in that process.

It is human nature for people to have an interest in what is happening around them – whether or not those activities directly a­ffect them. Engaging with staff­ about broader organisational issues makes them feel like they are a valued part of the organisation and instinctively want to perform better for the wider organisation.

One of the biggest motivators for individuals is to feel that they are a part of something. Transparent, involving, engaging and honest communication can create that sense of belonging. The key to unlocking that dynamic is communicating information that will motivate and inspire employees to want to do their best and to bring out the best in them. This can start with steps as basic as publicly recognising achievements (organisational, team or individual) or by managers personally recognising team or individual achievements or work done.

"It is the little things that count" when it comes to communicating wins and losses, good and poor performance or acceptable and unacceptable conduct. Tackle the issue straight away – do not let it fester. Stale problems are usually unnecessary problems and, if not dealt with promptly, will either cause relationships to break down irretrievably or at the very least have had a detrimental impact on the team or certain members within it. 'Reactive' communication to situations like this is never effective. As with many things in life, being proactive is critical and this holds true with communication in the workplace.

E­ffective communication is a two-way process. It involves active listening and responding. It will never be e­ffective if it is undertaken exclusively by email or memos, although these do play a vital role in recording decisions or making notes. The power of face-to-face communication should never be underestimated. Managers need to be trained to have the courage to undertake difficult conversations, to confront and manage small issues before they become big ones and to spot the signs of an employee under stress or otherwise not functioning as they should be. Employee engagement at all levels of an organisation can help an employer to know when to push and when to pull.

The good news? As an employer, if you get communication right, you will have fewer employee issues to deal with and have a more motivated and engaged workforce. You will then be well placed to offer appropriate support and training opportunities to develop your retained talent for the benefit of the organisation long-term. You will also be able to identify performance and conduct issues before they become a drain on the organisation. Easy, right?


An original version of this article was published in En Voyage (Issue 13), November 2018.

© Carey Olsen 2018.