Can over-communication damage employee engagement?


Need to know:

  • Overloading employees with information can cause them to disengage, but the answer is not necessarily to decrease the organisation’s level of communication.
  • Avoiding over-reliance on emails, implementing a multi-channel approach, and segmenting and targeting messages are all ways to avoid over-communication.
  • Employers should find a way to cut through the everyday noise employees are subject to, which might mean using an older method such as paper memos.

In an age where employees are bombarded with messages throughout the day, organisations run the risk of adding to the noise, and overloading them with yet more information.

According to Gatehouse’s State of the sector report, published in March 2018, 45% of respondents believe that the volume of communications being too high is a key barrier to the success of an organisation’s strategy.

However, being conscious of the potential for over-communication does not mean being hands-off. Instead, employers should be aware of the pitfalls and use these to shape an effective, consistent strategy, without decreasing the volume of communications they put out to employees.

Being smart with emails

Employers should consider whether they are over-using certain media, and how this might impact engagement. Emails are integral for reaching employees, for example, but are often seen as dull, impersonal and disengaging.

Jo Moffatt, managing director of Woodreed and core team member of Engage for Success, says: “It’s very easy to say ‘emails are a bugbear, so let’s get rid of them’, but that’s not necessarily the right answer. When it’s done well it can be a tremendously valuable thing.”

Johanna Nelson, associate director, communications at Punter Southall Aspire, adds: “People are all different, engage with things differently and learn differently. So, if [employers] take a multi-channel approach, then [they] are maximising [their] opportunities to engage with as many people as possible.”

Segment and target

Targeting and streamlining will help avoid the fatigue and irritation that might result from an employee receiving too many messages they do not feel are relevant to their own experiences. 

“[Organisations] might want to send one email to [employees] who are maximising their [pension] contributions, and then a different one to [employees] who aren’t, because there’s no point sending the message to [employees] where it’s not relevant,” Nelson explains.

Similarly, sending reminders to staff members who have already taken the action asked of them may cause them to see communications from their employer as irrelevant and impersonal.

Timing is everything

On a day-to-day level, poor timing might be as simple as having communications grouped at the end of the week, leading to key messages getting lost in the fray. “We call it the ‘Friday afternoon flurry’,” says Moffatt. “There’s a flurry of internal communications, because so many people have been told they have to get it out by the end of the week.

“The objective should be the result of the communication, the level of response, not to get it out by end of play on Friday.”

On a larger scale, employers might fall into the trap of bombarding employees at one point in the year, during the benefits window, and failing to keep a steady connection with them at other times, leading to a cycle of under and over-communication.

More is more in some cases

When it comes from the top, there is no such thing as over-communication, says Simon Wright, director at Gatehouse.

“The more communication [employees] get from leaders, the higher the levels of engagement will be,” he explains. “There’s very few examples I’ve seen where leaders are over-communicating; others will be, but not leaders.”

It is still important, however, that leaders have the right tone, brand and message. “A good internal communications function will be helping them craft messages and shape what they need to say, but all using the words and momentum from the actual leaders themselves,” says Wright.

Below leadership level, the old adage that ‘less is more’ increasingly comes into play, Wright notes. Nevertheless, adding communications can still make them more effective, rather than overloading employees, if planned correctly.

“Don’t jump straight into the action, build awareness and momentum first,” explains Nelson. “Connect with people emotionally first, and then get into the facts. Any marketing campaign you see on the TV, they’re always connecting with you in terms of emotions, it’s never about all the ins and outs of the product.”

Be selective with information

“It’s very, very easy for people to push out too much information, thinking ‘I know all about this topic, so I’d better make sure I tell them all about it’,” says Moffatt.

Having a clear sense of the audience, objective and key messages is important when ensuring that employees are not over-loaded with information, which might cause them to lose interest or take away an unclear sense of the core facts.

Cut through the noise

“The sheer weight of information that people are trying to absorb on a daily basis is now huge,” says Wright. “How do you get through that and get your message heard if you’re not the [chief executive officer] of an organisation? That’s where [employers have] got to become a lot more tactical and be hugely more creative in the way [they] communicate.”

Organisations should explore modern, technological advancements, but should also consider lesser-used, more traditional methods of catching employees’ attention.

“Reinventing doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with something new, just something people aren’t used to,” says Wright. “When was the last time someone received a paper memo on their desk? [They] would stop and read it, because [the employer is] cutting through the noise in a way that’s not the day-to-day.”