Author(s), Title and Publication
Braun, S., Hernandez Bark, A., Kirchner, A., Stegmann, S., & Van Dick, R. (2015). Emails from the Boss—Curse or Blessing? Relations Between Communication Channels, Leader Evaluation, and Employees’ Attitudes. International Journal of Business Communication, 56(1), 50-81. doi: 10.1177/2329488415597516

Leadership communication is crucial to organizational success as leaders use communication to convey vision, clarify task meaning, and establish relationship with employees. The diversification of internal communication channels has greatly expanded the possibilities for simultaneous and convenient leader-employee talk. Therefore, the outlook of “e-leadership” seems promising with the rise of electronic communication channels. The researchers took an interest in uncovering how employees view the change to a more digitalized communication landscape at the workplace and whether they feel the change has met their needs and preferences. Specifically, through an online survey of 265 employees in Germany, the authors sought to answer (1) employees’ attitudes toward the quantity of various communication channels at their workplace and how it affects employees’ job satisfaction and perception of their supervisors; (2) employees’ evaluation of the perceived quality of the communication channels and how it affects the same set of employee outcomes.

Results showed that employees preferred to communicate with their leaders via face-to-face as compared to email or phone. Despite that 60% of leader-subordinate communication was through face-to-face, employees indicated that they wanted more than they currently have. Furthermore, both the quantity and quality of face-to-face communication mattered as they led to higher employee job satisfaction and more positive evaluation of leaders’ effectiveness. As far as for email and phone communication, employees stated that they currently had about 26% of communication with their leaders by email and 13% by phone while still demanding less phone and email communication. The amount of telephone communication showed no effect on increasing employee job satisfaction, perceived leader effectiveness, or perceived leader team identification. The more email communication was used, the less the leader appeared identified with employees. It should be noted, however, the low desire for email or phone communication could be attributed to the nature of work employees deal with. Highly equivocal tasks usually require rich and synchronous communication channels, such as face-to-face communication. Face-to-face communication also enables the transmission of nonverbal communication cues such as body language and tone of voice, which could be viewed as being valuable in communicating vision, motivating employees, and creating a positive work atmosphere. In comparison, while computer-mediated leadership communication is becoming more common and convenient in the workplace, it is likely to elicit a feeling among employees that their leaders are impersonal. Employees may interpret the excessive use of email as leaders’ unwillingness to spend time with them, which can result in low perceived identification of the leader with the team or the organization.

Implications for Practice
Leaders should (1) evaluate the fit between communication situation and channel and know when face-to-face communication is favored versus email or phone, (2) consider using video conferences or video chat when face-to-face communication is not feasible, and (3) prevent misunderstandings by enhancing clarity and precision in communicating via electronic channels. 

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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