From 60 years of accumulated scholarship about employee communication and engagement, we can safely reach two conclusions: First, organizations that effectively engage their workforces have better business results than those which do not. Second, most organizations do not effectively engage their workforces.
Attempting to document why organizational leaders who know what to do don’t do it, we’ve hypothesized a list of 17 possible reasons and invite practitioner and academic advice.
Organizational reasons why employee communication/engagement is under-deployed:
- Top executives place a higher priority on outside constituencies
- Top executives know the arguments about employee engagement leading to better business results, but do not believe them.
- The evidence of the link between engagement and business results is perceived as correlative but not causative. Those who engage their employees also do other things right.
- Top executives believe their organizations are doing a good job, using conventional media channels (though the literature strongly favors other means, such as empowered and trained supervisors).
- The organization’s culture is closed to engagement of any voices outside the dominant coalition, including employees.
- Communicators who may know better are locked into the subsystems of another department, such as law, marketing, human resources or finance.
- Communication managers have a professional bias in favor of conventional media channels.
- Advocates for employee engagement, both in human resources and communication, are not part of the dominant coalition.
- Advocates for employee communication are unskilled in selling the need for and results of an engaged workforce.
- Advocates lack the skills to measure results.
- Advocates lack the political savvy to know how things get done in their organizations.
- Communicators are unwilling to change their own practices to carry out the needed programs for engagement.
- The data demonstrating the relationship of an engaged workforce to business results is not known to top executives.
- Employee communication is not recognized in MBA and other management training programs.
- Public relations educational programs focus on hard skill development and do not train practitioners to sell their ideas to management or understand organizational politics.
- People change jobs much more often, so there is no perceived payoff from investment in employee communications; the feeling is employees, engaged or otherwise, will leave anyway.
- There is a belief that employee communication isn’t really necessary. The feeling is employees should be glad to have a job, and if they “do what they’re told to do” benefits such as productivity and good customer relations will follow.
Which of these reasons seem most evident to you? Can some be dismissed out of hand? Are some reasons missing? Please offer your comments over the next couple of weeks. My colleagues and I will take them into account as we prepare a publication on the topic, and as we think through the design of future “why not” research.
David Therkelsen, MBA, APR, Fellow PRSA
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.