How to improve employee engagement through better communication

Anja Bojic

Last updated on: January 20, 2022

The people-first approach has made it clear that successful businesses thrive on their competent workforce. Yet, besides being extraordinary at their jobs, employees have to practice a certain dose of energy and engagement to push a company forward. 

According to workplace communication statistics, 86% of employees and executives believe that ineffective communication is the primary culprit for most business failures. Also, a lack of effective communication can affect employees’ engagement with the company, increasing the chances for poor performance and higher turnover. 

In this piece, we will explain why communication is important for employee engagement and try to determine its role in engaging employees. 

We will move on to list some of the most common barriers and benefits of employee engagement. 

Finally, we will provide practical tips on how to improve employee engagement with efficient communication.

For this purpose, we have enlisted the help of 6 experts — they share their knowledge and experience in the field of communication and employee engagement.

So, sit tight and read on. 

How to communicate to improve employee engagement

Table of Contents

Why is communication important for employee engagement?

To better understand who an engaged employee is, we reached out to Jack W. Wiley, Ph.D., the President and CEO of Jack Wiley Consulting and Employee Centricity, and the author of “The Employee Centric Manager”. He says:

“An employee who is engaged is one who has a high level of satisfaction with their employer, sees their organization as a great place to work, is committed to stay, and serves as an advocate for the organization to others. 

Engaged employees are the ones who regularly display high levels of discretionary effort in getting their work done. They are the very best corporate citizens.”

But how would you know if your employees are devoted and engaged where they are? 

You would have to ask them, right? 

This leads to the conclusion that communication is essential for employee engagement — engaging employees at work wouldn’t be possible without effective day-to-day communication and collaboration

Now, thanks to constantly developing modern communication and collaboration tools such as Pumble, companies are becoming better at implementing adequate communication strategies and maintaining effective communication. 

Communicating in Pumble, a business messaging app
Communicating in Pumble, a business messaging app

While having an extraordinary internal communication plan to follow is a good start, company leaders also have to find better ways to engage and keep a talented workforce. 

We consulted Roberta Matuson, the President of Matuson Consulting and the author of “Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work” about this and she confirmed that communication is vital for all aspects of business, especially for employee engagement: 

The manner and frequency of how someone communicates a message determines how the message will be received. In today’s work environment, many employees are feeling disconnected. Some rarely hear from their bosses and wonder if they went away tomorrow if their boss would even notice! They quickly become disengaged. 

Sometimes, managers only communicate when they need to deliver bad news, which isn’t exactly a great communication strategy if you’re looking to engage people.”

What is the role of communication in employee engagement?

To understand better the role of effective communication in employee engagement, we sought out answers from a few other experts on the topic. Here’s what they said: 

💬 Communication is the very core of employee engagement 

According to Stephen Kohler, the CEO and Founder of Audira Labs and Executive Coach, communication is the very core of employee engagement. He says: 

“Without the proper channels to regularly communicate, company culture will suffer. Nix cross-departmental communication and inventive ideas will stall. Good communication keeps businesses moving forward and allows every member of the team to be heard, which is vital to an engaged workforce.”

Sharing Kohler’s view, Irene McConnell, a Career Coach, Hiring Manager, MD of Arielle Executive, and an Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council, also believes that effective communication is the foundation of an engaged workforce:

“An organization’s employees are its biggest assets and investment because it is their work that ultimately determines the success or failure of the company. Engaged employees tend to demonstrate the dedication and commitment needed for the long-term growth of a company.

Therefore, open, honest, and effective two-way communication is not only necessary at the lower levels of the organization but also at the managerial and other leadership positions.”

💬 Communication helps leaders understand better their employees’ needs 

While there are many other ways to keep employees engaged, Matuson believes that employers and managers should focus on using communication to better understand what their employees need and want:

“Communication can help you to better understand the wants and needs of your people so you can be more responsive. It can also help you gain a better grasp of an employee’s talents and skills, which at first glance may not be noticeable.” 

💬 Communication enhances employees’ sense of belonging 

According to Michael Moran, the Founder of Green Lion Search Group, a recruiting firm operating across Texas, “employees are most engaged in workplaces where they feel a high sense of belonging and their work is valued and appreciated.” 

He explains this in great detail: 

“Open communication with coworkers and managers enhances feelings of belonging because employees feel they’re “in the know” and are informed of workplace changes, professional development opportunities, or social outings before they happen. 

Effective two-way communication means employees can share ideas, give feedback, or report problems, and believe they’ll be listened to when they do so. This also enhances belonging by making them feel their voice is heard.”

💬 Communication gives employees direction and purpose 

Besides seeing it as the core of employee engagement, Kohler finds communication to be critical for the many aspects of a business to run together smoothly:

“Envision an orchestra filled with talented musicians, but with no sheet music or a conductor — this would likely lead to frustration and, potentially, an inability to perform. Communication provides direction and purpose, all vital to a happy, engaged employee.”

💬 Communication fosters stronger relationships among employees 

Matuson agrees that communication helps foster stronger relationships among employees. She says:  

“Another outcome of effective communication is improved relationships between team members, which can lead to a more positive and rewarding work environment.”

Kohler feels similarly about it: 

“The goal, of course, is to have as many engaged employees as possible, and a company where people are empowered, enthusiastic about their role, supportive of others, and encouraged to be creative. Communication is central to all the above — promoting camaraderie, collaboration, and even influencing productive change.”

Common barriers and benefits of employee engagement 

We hope you now realize how significant communication is in engaging employees. 

Before we reveal some handy tips to help you keep your people involved, let’s see what barriers might prevent them from doing so at work and remind you of the benefits you can enjoy with a more engaged and productive workforce.  

❌ Barriers to employee engagement 

There might be many obstacles to creating an engaged workforce, but these are some of the most frequent ones: 

🔖 Poor leadership 

When people in charge don’t know what to do and how to communicate clearly, employees become demotivated and lose trust in their organization.

🔖 Bad company culture 

According to a Hays survey, about 47% of active job seekers would leave their current job because of poor company culture. 

🔖 Lack of effective communication 

Ineffective workplace communication crushes employee engagement. According to a report by Think Talent, employees who work in organizations with effective communication plans are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.

🔖 Unclear company goals 

When employees don’t know what their company strives for, they will have a hard time identifying with the company’s mission and vision and working towards fulfilling its goals. 

🔖 Lack of recognition 

Employees thrive on various recognition practices. According to the Industry Report On Employee Engagement Strategies For 2021 by Vantage Circle, about 60% of respondents prefer a non-monetary stimulation way to improve job performance.

🔖 Poor work-life balance 

In their 2021 State of Remote Work report, Buffer has found that 27% of remote employees are struggling to unplug after work. Poor work-life balance together with putting in more hours can seriously affect employees’ engagement at work. 

✔️ Benefits of employee engagement 

Let’s now identify the most important benefits that successful and engaged organizations enjoy: 

🔖 Greater employee loyalty and satisfaction

According to the most recent job satisfaction statistics, companies with high employee satisfaction outperform companies with low employee satisfaction by 202%. High employee satisfaction comes hand in hand with increased loyalty and engagement. 

🔖 Greater employee productivity and efficiency

Nurturing work environments and collaborative leadership practices contribute greatly to better employee productivity and efficiency. Recent research shows that communicating effectively can increase employee productivity by 25%.

🔖 Increased employee retention 

According to the most recent employee engagement statistics, engaged employees are 87% less likely to quit their jobs and leave their current company. 

🔖 A happier and healthier workforce 

Highly successful organizations rely on employee recognition systems and regular feedback to keep their employees happy and healthy. According to Gallup, engaged employees are likely to exercise more and eat healthier than disengaged ones. 

🔖 Lower absenteeism rates 

When employees relate to their company’s mission, vision, and values, they are more likely to be engaged and work harder to achieve mutual goals. Happy and engaged employees are more motivated to show up for work in the long run. 

🔖 Higher profitability 

Companies that put an effort into keeping employees engaged are more likely to increase their profits. Another Gallup report revealed that companies with a highly engaged workforce have 21% higher profitability. 

— 

Being aware of all the barriers and benefits of employee engagement isn’t enough for managers and team leads to keep their employees happy and motivated. You need to put theory into practice and take the necessary steps to make it happen. 

Dr. Wiley tells us what team leads and managers should do to improve employee engagement. 👇

👥 What can managers and team leads do to enhance employee engagement? 

Dr. Wiley believes that employee engagement is driven by four key factors. He suggests that three of these four are directly under the control of managers and team leads

First, they need to ensure a good job-person match for employees. Employees must like what they do, feel the job is a good match to their skills and abilities, and derive a sense of accomplishment from their work. 

Secondly, managers and team leads need to praise the good work of employees, to recognize their accomplishments. This is not about the financial reward but rather psychological appreciation. 

Thirdly, they need to help employees develop skills that lead to advancement and higher pay. Employees get excited about career development and look forward to new challenges that help build out their skill and experience sets. 

The fourth driver of employee engagement is most heavily influenced by senior executives and has to do with generating trust and confidence about the ongoing success of the enterprise. Everyone wants to be on a winning team, and it is the role of top leaders to set a strategy and keep employees informed about the organization’s progress. Managers and team leads who help reinforce this communication transparency are also essential to keeping engagement levels high.”

In line with Dr. Wiley’s observations, let’s see how managers and employers should communicate to keep their employees involved and motivated.

💡 Pumble Pro Tip 

If you’re eager to learn what it takes to be an effective communicator, check out the piece in our Team Communication Hub: 

15 tips on how to communicate to improve employee engagement 

Here’s a list of 15 tips to help you communicate better to improve employee engagement:

📍 Start with a clear internal communication strategy 

Beginnings are hard, but they are also leading stars you can always refer to further down the road. An internal communication plan is like a safety net — you can always go back to it when things start to fall apart and start all over again.  

McConnell believes that a clear internal communication strategy helps keep employees engaged and allows them to communicate effectively: 

“Managers need to have a clear and strategic internal communication strategy to enhance employee engagement. Additionally, there needs to be transparency within the company and its departments. This creates a level of trust and employees feel they can communicate with their managers effectively.”

📍 Enforce transparent two-way communication early on 

What all experts on the topic agree is that transparent communication is key to employee engagement. Here’s what Moran says: 

“More transparency from leadership almost always translates to more engagement. At the most basic level, transparency ensures they have the resources and information they need to do their job. Beyond this, it makes employees feel included when they’re given a voice in decision making, or at least able to see how leaders make decisions.”

Similarly, McConnell emphasizes the importance of smooth communication: 

“Leaders should also establish a two-way flow of information for a smooth communication from the top to the bottom levels and vice versa. As a result, there will be a reduction in the ambiguity of messages. It also eliminates inaccuracies that are present in the corporate world.”

One of our own, Andjela Vlaskalic, an HR Generalist at COING, shares the views of her colleagues:  

“Transparency remains a key ingredient for effective communication and employee engagement. Sharing information clearly and having everyone understand what the goal is brings meaning and acknowledgment to employees. 

When employees know why they are doing their jobs, they are more likely to feel engaged and perform better in the long run.”

📍 Communicate expectations clearly 

When employees know what they are expected to do and how to behave, they tend to stay productive and motivated to do their best at work later on. This is only possible if managers communicate expectations clearly, Moran suggests:

“Frequent communication from management means employees know their expectations and where they stand—they’re acknowledged and congratulated when they do good work and are given constructive criticism and feedback when they struggle. 

This gives them more incentive to put in their full effort since they’ll be rewarded for doing so, and encourages them to learn new things and improve their skills, continuing that engagement in the future.”

📍 Promote the use of communication tools 

Relying on proper communication tools to maintain regular communication can do wonders for employee engagement, too. For example, Pumble is a great enabler of asynchronous communication and it will make your life and work easier, especially in hybrid, remote, and distributed work environments. 

Here are some points to consider when choosing the best communication tool:

🔖 The communication channel must meet the needs of those receiving the message 

Matuson believes that the proper communication channel should “best meet the needs of the person on the receiving end of the conversation.” To understand better what she meant by this, she gave an elaborate explanation through a real-life example: 

“A leader who is uncomfortable letting an employee go may find it easier to simply send a text informing an employee that their services are no longer needed. Terminating an employee this way comes across as inhumane.

Rest assured, this person will immediately tell everyone they know how they were just fired over text, which could result in a whole team of disengaged workers. 

Instead, if possible, have this conversation face to face or over Zoom, so that the person on the receiving end has the opportunity to process what’s going on and to ask any questions they may have.”

🔖 Pick just one communication channel and stick to it

According to Maron, lower employee engagement can be associated with using multiple communication channels: 

“I actually don’t think having multiple communication channels is a smart move for a business. This is more likely to lead to missed communications and confusion, both of which lower engagement. In my mind, communication tools and similar collaboration platforms are ideal for facilitating smooth, open communication, especially in hybrid and remote workplaces. 

Whichever way you go, though, my advice is to pick one and stick to it. The less an employee has to think about the method of communication, the more likely they are to do it regularly and effectively.”

🔖 Encourage the use of informal communication

As Vlaskalic sees it, focusing only on strict business communication isn’t the right way to go. Instead, she supports informal communication between employees to create a balance and foster a positive atmosphere:

“It’s great for employees to communicate with others informally, through “random” channels in Pumble, for example. This creates a relaxed and positive atmosphere, allowing employees to form better relationships.”

Thanks to Pumble, you can create public and private channels to talk about daily life with others:

A list of Pumble channels
A list of Pumble channels

💡 Pumble Pro Tip 

Find out how to properly use channels in team communication apps here: 

📍 Embrace overcommunication in the workplace 

From the perspective of employee engagement, overcommunicating is good, says Matuson. She highlights how important it is to communicate regularly and get input from employees: 

“In terms of communication and employee engagement, there is no such thing as overcommunicating. Make it a point to regularly communicate with your people and encourage them to do the same with you. Demonstrate to your employees that you value their input by listening deeply and giving credit where credit is due.”

Vlaskalic also believes that employees feel valued and appreciated when they can express their opinions and simply have a say: 

“It’s important to ask each employee how satisfied they are with their job, workload, relationships with other team members, and their team lead. When we ask employees about these things, we show them we care about their opinion and make sure they feel comfortable working in the organization. 

Moreover, they get to realize that their opinion matters and this allows them to make better decisions together with others. This is our ultimate goal because the company culture and climate are constructed around the employees’ needs.”  

📍 Encourage frequent video meetings to increase workplace visibility

With the spread of remote, hybrid, and distributed work models, workplace visibility became a major issue for all employees choosing or having to work remotely. This problem, Vlaskalic believes, can be minimized with frequent video meetings and communication: 

“Besides being a great way to find out how employees are feeling and seeing if they need something, group meetings are great for introducing employees to “the rest of the team”, preferably employees from other teams. 

The goal of this is to get them to know each other better, share information, and connect. I find it easier to collaborate and communicate with people I have met in person and outside the “workplace” context.”  

📍 Provide quick answers to maintain the information flow 

According to Vlaskalic, creating an environment where information-sharing isn’t a privilege and where employees feel comfortable asking questions is the basic requirement for employee engagement:

“We find it essential that employees know we are always there for them, no matter what. If employees come to us for help, they have to be sure their questions and requests will be answered. We support the “there-are-no-stupid-questions” policy.

This also transfers to remote and hybrid teams, Vlaskalic notices, saying “it’s paramount to maintain regular communication to foster that feeling of belonging to the team and the company.”

To make it easier for employees to ask questions, you can create an “ask-questions” channel in Pumble
To make it easier for employees to ask questions, you can create an “ask-questions” channel in Pumble

📍 Don’t disregard the power of active listening 

Kohler reminds us of the two equally important aspects of communication — the speaking aspect and the listening aspect. He believes that there’s no room for effective communication without active listening: 

“When people think of communication, their minds often flash to someone speaking, writing, presenting, etc. I always like to remind teams that there’s another part of the communication cycle that’s equally (if not more) important — listening. After all, there’s no point in communicating a message if there’s no one listening. 

And, while listening may seem simple, it’s complex and gets more and more difficult to hone given today’s distractions. Encourage active listening (distraction-free) during meetings or sprinkle in exercises for the team.”

📍 Create opportunities for constructive feedback 

Constructive feedback is the backbone of any successful business — it’s amazing how far constructive criticism can go in pushing people to do their best and contribute to the company’s overall success. 

Giving constructive feedback in Pumble
Giving constructive feedback in Pumble

🔖 Provide feedback regularly 

Moran focuses on regularity:

“Take regular pulse surveys and collect feedback at the end of major projects. Schedule more frequent one-on-ones and make them two-way conversations, where the employee and the manager both get feedback about their performance.”

🔖 Pick the right time for feedback 

On the other hand, Vlaskalic highlights the importance of timing for feedback: 

“Aim for one-on-one meetings at least once in six months. Why six months? We believe six months is enough time to see what has changed from the employee’s perspective.“

📍 Foster a healthy team structure   

According to Kohler, managers and leaders should focus on creating a proper team structure and enabling communication between different departments and teams: 

“It can start with the team structure, which influences communication more than you’d think. For more free-flowing communication between departments, teams, team leads, and even the leadership team, it’s important to build a culture that empowers everyone to be a leader. 

When you trust your team to make important decisions, voice their opinion or take the lead on special projects, you’re breaking down communication barriers by encouraging higher thought, collaboration, and communication between each team member – no matter their experience level.

This structure fosters leaders, creates a healthy team culture, and drives businesses forward. Ample communication channels and an open-door policy are also crucial to building strong employee engagement.”

📍 Account for each employee’s expectations and goals

There’s no better way to engage employees than to meet individually with them — you show them you respect them, appreciate them, and care about them. Matuson believes that besides learning more about what employees’ expectations and goals are, taking action to help them fulfill those is far more important:

“To enhance employee engagement, meet individually with your employees and ask them the following questions:

  • What were your hopes and dreams when you took this job? 
  • Are you on track to meet these goals?
  • What can I do to help you achieve your hopes and dreams?

Then, take action. Communicate back what you are willing and able to do to help them move closer to their goals.”

However, Dr. Wiley believes that most companies struggle to walk all the way through the end and act on whatever it is their employees said needs improvement: 

“Employees don’t expect the organization to take action on each and every issue that may surface, but they do expect the organization to treat their input as valuable and to take action on at least a few of the areas needing improvement. 

Organizations that select a shortlist of priorities for improvement, discuss the results with employees to clarify why they feel the way they do, and ask employees for their recommendations for improvement are the ones that develop and implement the most impactful and responsive actions.”

You can use Pumble to ask your employees about what they expect at work:

Communicating goals and expectations in Pumble
Communicating goals and expectations in Pumble

📍 Keep employees aligned with the company mission and vision 

Making sure that all employees understand and align with their company’s mission, vision, and values is a way to keep them motivated and loyal in the long run, Vlaskalic suggests. When they know they are on the same page goal-wise, they find it easier to commit and engage: 

“Making sure that employees understand and identify themselves with the company’s mission, vision, and values is paramount from the very start. For example, if an employee isn’t okay with diversity in the workplace, which is what we strive for, it’s only a matter of time when they will come in conflict with employees who are different in any way.”  

📍 Improve overall employee experience 

Happy employees are more engaged, more productive, and more motivated — that can all be achieved by ensuring your employees feel great where they are. If you’re dealing with a remote or hybrid workforce, it might be harder to provide unique experiences as your employees are scattered across different countries or time zones, but it’s not impossible.

Don’t avoid feedback sessions or in-person communication — most employees will appreciate your engagement and effort. Plus, organizing team-building and team-bonding activities from time to time won’t hurt. View these as rare opportunities to foster stronger relationships and improve the overall experience employees have working with your company. 

📍 Use employee engagement surveys to gather information

Employee engagement surveys can be a powerful tool for improving employee engagement. As he’s the author of “Strategic Employee Surveys: Evidence-Based Guidelines for Driving Organizational Success”, we asked Dr. Wiley to share his view of using surveys to improve employee engagement. 

His key points to consider when crafting an employee engagement survey are: 

🔖 Learn what employee engagement entails 

Dr. Wiley’s advice is to begin by understanding the concept of employee engagement:

“Employee engagement is most typically measured by an organization-wide survey. One problem is that the construct of employee engagement has expanded beyond its original definition to include virtually any topic that can be measured by an employee survey. 

In fact, employee engagement is essentially a motivational-commitment construct. It is about understanding and enhancing those elements of the workplace that most contribute to an employee’s motivation to perform at the highest level and their intent to stay with the organization.”

🔖 Understand what drives employee engagement

Once you learn what employee engagement is, the second step is to find out what common drivers stand behind it and measure them:

“Once we understand the common drivers of engagement, then so-called engagement surveys should focus on measuring those factors as well as provide some overall measure of engagement, as in an employee engagement index.”

🔖 Use survey results to improve problematic areas

Finally, you should focus on fixing issues that need tending to:

“Another major problem with employee engagement surveys is the lack of taking action based on survey results. With all the technology we have at our fingertips, conducting an employee engagement survey has become operationally fairly easy for most organizations. 

Employee participation rates in surveys are typically quite acceptable for drawing reliable conclusions about how employees experience the organization. The problem is that far too many organizations seem satisfied to communicate participation rates and overall survey results to employees without taking action on areas needing attention.”

🔖 Employee Engagement Survey 

To make this process easier for you, we’ve created an Employee Engagement Survey. This survey can help you gather information about your employees and take the steps to address the issues and improve their engagement at work. 

Employee Engagement Survey Template

⏬ Download: Employee Engagement Survey

📍 Embody the practices you want to implement 

While all these tips might be effective in keeping your workforce engaged, they might also fail if you don’t practice what you preach. Every step you take as a leader will affect your employees’ engagement and motivation to contribute to the company’s success. 

Vlaskalic believes the key is in being consistent from the very beginning: 

“Consistency in communication begins with the initial contact, the first interview, and should be maintained through welcome meetings and later on to keep everyone on the same page.“

Final thoughts: Communication is the backbone of employee engagement

It’s not a cliché when we say that communication indeed is the key ingredient to all successful business activities. Without open communication, employees will feel misled and more inclined to leave, especially if they know they aren’t getting all the information. 

Avoiding miscommunication in the workplace is important as much as choosing the proper communication tools — each aspect is equally relevant for maintaining positive communication in the workplace and keeping everyone involved.

The next time you’re struggling with employee engagement and communication at work, think of solving a puzzle — the quicker you find the missing pieces, the sooner you’ll get to enjoy the beauty of the whole picture.

Author: AnjaBojic

Anja Bojic is a communication and collaboration researcher and writer. She is constantly looking for new ways to broaden her knowledge and experience on topics like team collaboration, remote work, and life-work balance. As an experienced remote worker, she aims to share practical advice on topics related to the hybrid workplace and effective team communication.

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