5 Things Employees Want from Communication

I’ve worked in employee communications, both on the inside and as an independent consultant to Fortune 500 companies, for 23 years. Throughout that time, I’ve done my share of employee surveys and communication audits, so I have a pretty good idea by now of what employees want when it comes to communications from their employers.

It’s interesting how the same issues come up now that came up 10, 15, even 20 years ago. Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here are 5 things employees want from their companies’ communications, gleaned from the surveys and audits I’ve done as well as from simply talking with people in offices, manufacturing floors, call centers and elsewhere:

  1. Employees want to be treated like adults. This is perhaps the most consistent theme, but one that is largely ignored by business leaders. Employees are not naive, not easily swayed by trinket giveaways and audience-participation games, and they are able to think for themselves. Business leaders sometimes complain that employees behave as childen, but perhaps that’s because they’re often treated that way. Deliver truthful information with honest analysis and a clear call to action and see what most employees do with it.
  2. Employees want a variety of communication vehicles. Not everyone likes to read online. Some people would rather work than attend a face-to-face meeting. The best communication programs are those that serve up information in a variety of ways. This doesn’t mean you have to provide every possible medium. Conduct a communication audit and find out what works best in your organization. And please: giveaway items are not effective communication vehicles. Most employees see them as a waste of money and would rather have that money spent on bonuses.
  3. Employees want corporate communications tactics that mirror the real world. This means they want intranets that look like the best news/information websites out there, publications that look more like People magazine than the high school newspaper, and they expect their employers to know how to use social media to reach employees who are into it. After all, the greatest competition for your employees’ time and attention are those external media.
  4. Employees want access to executives. There simply is no excuse for not having face-to-face events. Yes, they can be difficult to pull off in some organizations, but business leaders should at least make an attempt at regular face-to-face contact with employees, even if it is informal. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from employees is “We never see those guys. It’s like they’re trying to hide from us.”
  5. Employees want to get information from their direct supervisors. It’s one of the tenets of effective employee communication. People want to hear news from their bosses. A good employee communication program includes processes and systems for arming supervisors with information and training in how to deliver it. Communication, after all, is a human event. There is power in personal interaction and storytelling.

Of course, every organization is unique. Your results may vary. But after all these years of hearing so many of the same comments from employees, I believe they’re trying to tell us something.

UPDATE 4/6/11: Veteran communicator and Writing Boots blogger David Murray links to this post today and asks the next logical question: Assuming these are the things employees want from communication, what do they want to know? His response is worth reading and contemplating if you’re a corporate communicator.


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