Dr Michael Koch: How to communicate without damaging engagement

Dr Michael Koch

A growing body of research shows that internal communication plays a key role in stimulating employee engagement. However, for communication to be an effective engagement driver, several conditions need to be met.

The first concerns the quantity of communication: as a rule of thumb, the more management communicates, the better. Employees often complain about a lack of communication, whereas over-communication rarely seems to be an issue. Communication should convey an appropriate amount of information and should be on a frequent and regular basis.

Second, the quality of communication is vital, perhaps even more than quantity. In order to impact employee engagement positively, communication first needs to be as honest as possible. Employees need to believe that all cards are on the table, and they sense very well when this is not the case. A perceived lack of honesty and authenticity is likely to have negative consequences for employees’ trust and engagement levels.

Communication also needs to be timely, which means that important events or changes should be communicated as early as possible, not as a fait accompli. It should also be clear. Messages should not be phrased in overly ambiguous or technical terms, and should avoid corporate speak.

Good communication, which is comprehensive, frequent, honest, timely and clear, helps employees to better understand the organisation’s goals, and demonstrate that their employer cares about them. This, in turn, helps to build trust and makes employees more committed and enthusiastic about their organisation.

Ideally, communication is not just a top-down process, but works both ways. Employees need to be given formal opportunities to voice their concerns, suggestions or ideas. By providing employees with a voice, companies send a clear signal that they are seen as an integral part of the organisation’s success.

Dr Michael Koch is a lecturer in human resource management and organisational behaviour at Kent Business School, University of Kent.