This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
Internal communication comprises many forms of interactions in the workplace. While formal communication within organizations has been largely examined, little is known about informal communication concerning its actual relevance for employees and its functions and effects.
Researchers zeroed in on informal communication and defined it as any communication in an organization between two or more people who are not interacting in their professional roles but rather in their private roles and who do not intend to solve a work-related task by communicating with each other. Informal communication has multiple functions in an organization. In addition to allowing for the exchange of information beyond specific teams and working groups, informal communication can also facilitate collaboration, enhance effectiveness in problem-solving, contribute to relationship building, and improve employee well-being and the team-building process by allowing them to vent negative feelings. Finally, the authors proposed that informal communication may improve employee productivity by making them more informed and by increasing their job satisfaction and organizational affective commitment.
An online survey of 841 different types of employees in Germany (regardless of the scope and duration of their work) was conducted in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sample was obtained with the help of a scientific online panel. Participants included 58% females, and the average age of participants was 43 years. Employees in managerial positions accounted for 16% of the participants.
1.) The amount of informal communication is correlated with age, education, and whether a person worked remotely, such that younger age, less education, and remote work condition corresponded to more informal communication.
2.) Participants were divided into five categories: the chatterer, the focuser, the strategist, the small-talker, and the networker. The chatterer reported the highest amount of informal communication. The focuser and the strategist hardly engage in informal communication. The focuser does not see much use in informal communication, whereas the strategist and the networker engage in informal communication only for strategic reasons. The small-talker uses informal communication mainly as a distraction from work.
3.) The amount of informal communication increased employees’ perception of being informed, which in turn, led to job satisfaction and employees’ productivity. Similarly, information communication enhanced employees’ affective commitment, which also resulted in increased job satisfaction and productivity.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should understand that 1.) the amount of informal communication is not explained by employees’ sociodemographic factors, 2.) employees have different motivations for why they engage in informal communication, and 3.) informal communication helps employees perform their roles more effectively by increasing perceived information received, job satisfaction, and affective commitment.
Koch, T., & Denner, N. (2022). Informal communication in organizations: work time wasted at the water cooler or crucial exchange among co-workers? Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 494-508. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-08-2021-0087
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