This blog is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Resource Center.
A lot is written about the value of supervisors in informing, engaging, and managing staff for productivity and organizational success. The importance of involving managers to get messages delivered to staff is also given significant attention. However, strengthening how firms can enlist, empower and coach this group to be more effective has been given limited attention.
The role of managers has evolved from just sharing information with their team to owning the experience at the workplace. With organizational structures changing and newer generations at the workplace, expectations have shifted dramatically. Furthermore, the pandemic has raised concerns and challenges for managers and staff alike on their approach to engaging each other. With this in mind, how can organizations consider engaging line managers differently? What can internal communicators do to empower supervisors to be more effective while communicating?
Globally, reports have indicated the strong influence managers have on engaging the workforce. Unfortunately, the state of manager communications and engagement is concerning. Dwindling engagement in the group and employees’ complaints of poor line manager communication are key reasons for unsuccessful internal communications.
Employers’ communication with staff is also insufficient. A study by Weber Shandwick discovered that fewer than three-out-of-10 employees felt their supervisors communicated effectively. In a recent study, 47% of internal communicators believe poor line manager communication gets in the way of successful practice. Worse, a significant majority of managers are known to be wary of communicating, while admitting they weren’t equipped sufficiently to communicate with their own teams – especially bad news. On the other hand, managers are less trusting of their teams. They don’t believe remote workers are productive enough and trust issues with staff are eroding already weak engagement between the two entities.
According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, the gap between what employees expect from employers in terms of involvement, information, voice, trust, and accountability falls short by 20 points. Just 38% of employees who experienced workplace change felt their employer communicated effectively and a smaller percent believed they were made aware of the extent of the change.
Lastly, it is widely known that employees’ job satisfaction and well-being are linked to the relationship they have with their supervisors. Unfortunately, employees don’t believe their experiences are healthy, with 75% indicating that their immediate supervisor is the most stressful aspect of their job.
Given these issues, what can be done to bridge the gap and address concerns with supervisor communications?
Although multiple issues come in the way of managers doing their job well, they need to engage employees and managers alike is a key priority among organizations. For example, chief communications officers have witnessed a rise in employee satisfaction over the years; from 61% in 2007 to 79% in 2012, further reinforcing the importance of engaging staff through communication. Employee advocacy/engagement also ranked third among the top priorities for chief communication officers, after digital communications and reputation management.
To begin, a large number of supervisors aren’t familiar with their company strategy. This can get in the way of proper communication with team members on the frontlines. While managers expect honest and transparent communication from leaders, just 37% agree that their leadership team is transparent in their decisions and actions. Likewise, when managers passively support or resist change, it can hinder active participation from team members. A 2016 UK study of 1400 professionals found that just 31% felt equipped to communicate with their teams, stifling organizational success. This has resulted in line managers not trusting leadership enough and therefore, creating a ripple effect impacting how their teams perceived the organizations they work for.
There are opportunities for internal communicators to build robust engagement plans to improve supervisors’ line of sight and reduce trust concerns. Likewise, working alongside the human resources team, communicators can create safe places for managers to hone their communication skills.
A study among European communication leaders indicated that just 49% believed internal communications supported executives or senior managers with insights for decision making. In another study by ISS on employee engagement at the workplace, the findings revealed that communication played a key role and served as an antecedent to how staff perceived leaders and the organization. Also, the communication needed to be considered from the perspective of staff, not managers.
By focusing on two-way communication, manager education, engagement training, implementing worker involvement initiatives, and auditing communications often, more employees can be included in impacting the company’s bottom line.
The pandemic has created increased expectations for managers. According to studies conducted by Microsoft, remote working has become the norm across the globe, and meeting partners have shifted to shorter engagements with more interactions on instant chat. An increase in online meetings has stretched regular work hours and both task-based and informal interactions have moved online. Furthermore, the choice of channel and not knowing when to use ‘which’ platform has created angst among staff.
Internal communicators can work with their technology counterparts to understand ways to make technology less intimidating, simpler to access, and easier to use. There are also behavioral nudges that can play a part to reduce anxiety while engaging with teams – from having a ‘safe space’ to speak up, allowing staff to share experiences, and personalizing messages.
The role of line managers in making or marring employees’ experiences is more powerful than ever. It starts at the top and senior leaders have a role to play in getting line managers on the same page. Among the preferred behaviors expected of leaders, managers believe transparency, accepting mistakes, encouraging voice, and staying consistent with the company’s values are important. Employers, through supervisors, are expected to partner, communicate effectively, and take staff along the journey of change. According to the Arthur W. Page Society report – The Authentic Enterprise, organizations need to work alongside stakeholders including employees to shape the corporate narrative. The narrative isn’t the sole responsibility of the communications team anymore.
Demonstrating supportive behaviors and helping staff make meaning at work requires personal and periodic communications. According to McKinsey, empathy behaviors and providing direction have the most influence on employees’ work. Organizations need to create an environment where managers are supported and able to be their best selves and in turn help their teams strive more. It will mean self-reflection, role-modeling, building skills and confidence, and encouraging continuous learning and development.
Aniisu K Verghese, Ph.D., is an award-winning internal communications leader, author, speaker, trainer and blogger with over 22 years of experience. His mission is to help individuals and organizations discover and develop their sweet-spot through effective communications. He is the author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices and Models and is passionate about engaging communicators and students through workshops, speaking engagements, teaching assignments and blogging. He can be contacted on LinkedIn and via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal