WORKFORCE ENGAGEMENT 11
Significance of Communication in Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is a concept that is of great significance in the field of human resource management. It refers to the extent to which employees are individually and collectively satisfied with their jobs, experience collaboration and feel valued in the workplace. Employee engagement is a product of thought, attitudes and behaviors resulting from employee’s commitment, satisfaction and responsibility. Engaged employees tend to be enthusiastic and fully absorbed into their jobs, and can take positive initiatives to further the organization’s interests and reputation. They are also more likely to stay with an employer longer and find creative and more effective ways to add value. The result is a flourishing workplace with committed employees and sustained productivity (Deb 2006, p. 14-17).
There is substantial evidence in research to support the proposition that employee engagement results in increased organizational performance. For example, a study by Black et al (2000, p. 423-434)found that companies with satisfied employees recorded high revenues and more satisfied customers. This finding has been replicated in several other studies such as Leonard (2004 p. 85-90) and Walsham (2001, p. 599-608). In all these findings, it was shown that improving employee engagement produces better performance indicators in terms of not only financial results but also human results in terms of reduced stress, low employee turnover and high safety. Accordingly, bolstering employee engagement should be at the forefront of human resource management initiatives.
A study by Walsham (2001, p. 599-608) showed that in an attempt to reap maximum benefits from employee engagement, organizations implement different strategies and tactics, the most common of which is communication. This involves speaking with employees regularly, keeping them informed of what is expected of them and being ready to listen to them. As a tool for improving employee engagement, communication helps in ensuring that employees understand the company’s business objectives and their roles in achieving them. The purpose of this paper is to explain how communication can result in improved employee engagement. The paper is divided into three main sections. The first section explores the centrality of communication in engagement. The second section highlights strategies for enhancing positive communication in the workplace. The last part explains why the art of listening is important in communication.
The Centrality of Communication’s Role in Employee Engagement
Effective communication is vital for improved employee engagement. According to Marchington, and (Wilkinson, 2006, p. 47-48), effective communication involves two-way flow of information between employees and the organization. This is facilitated through speaking, listening and acting, which help in improving trust between an organization and its employees. As noted by Koprowska (2010, p. 36) in his book, communication is not just an act of exchanging information. Rather, it is about understanding the intentions and emotions behind the information. It is about not only how the information is communicated that matters but also willingness by both parties to listen to each other and establish a state of emotional connection that makes communication meaningful. In places of work, effective communication is the glue that deepens connections to improve decision-making, teamwork and problem solving capabilities. Effective communication enables employers to relay even negative messages without eroding mutual trust or causing conflicts.
Although words are the most common thing associated with communication, effective communication involves a set of different skills such as non-verbal communication, stress management and active listening. In order to develop an engaged workforce, it is the responsibility of employers to nurture strategies for positive communication to keep their employees motivated and engaged. Understanding the gains of communication is a proven approach for increasing chances of business success and contributing to employee’s productivity (Marchington & Wilkinson, 2006, p. 48).
According to Shang and Seddon (2000), not any communication can result in improved employee engagement. Communications for boosting employee engagement must meet certain requirements. These include the ability to deliver clear and consistent messages to the right people using appropriate channels. Another requirement is honesty and openness with an authentic tone. Similarly, clarity, accountability and purpose must be taken into account when communicating for engagement. The communication should also be able to solicit passion and connection from employees.
Effective listening, acting and speaking helps in forming highly efficient work teams, which is crucial for meaningful employee engagement. Where teamwork is strong, employees are more likely to trust each other and work together towards achieving common goals. It reduces unnecessary competition among employees and helps them to focus on working in harmony. The results of employees working together is high feelings of job satisfaction, enhanced productivity and an improved sense of responsibility. Because employees are more engaged, they know their respective roles in the workplace and where their contributions are valued most. Through constant communication, managers can foster stronger relationships in the team to benefit the organization as a whole (Shang & Seddon, 2000).
According to Black, Akintoye and Fitzgerald, constant and frequent communication between the employer and employees increases employees’ engagement by boosting morale. Positive morale is especially important in settings such as health care and medical services as employees are more likely to suffer from stress and exhaustion due to working long hours. Positive morale creates a healthy work environment where employees are not only satisfied with their roles but are also able to perform them with a positive attitude. Conversely, failure to communicate effectively as required causes employees to be frustrated and confused, which can lead to poor performance and reduced productivity (2000, p. 423-434).
In a study by Walsham (2001, p. 599-608) communication was found to be a necessary condition for improving engagement in organizations with diverse workforces. Diversity can cause communication barriers and hinder realization of an organization’s goals and objectives. These barriers can result from cultural and language misunderstandings and differences. Constant communication helps in reducing barriers and costs associated with cultural differences among employees. This is especially important for multinational companies because they hire employees from different cultural backgrounds. For such employees, communication reduces risks of cultural confusion and keeps employees focussed on the company’s objectives regardless of their cultural differences.
Marchington and Wilkinson (2006, p.60-62) report that communication plays a key role in employee engagement by reducing absenteeism and turnover rates. Through communication, employees feel valued by their employer and develop positive work attitudes. As information flows constantly, they feel secure that the employer values their presence and contribution in the organization. Communication also facilitates the ability by employees to share concerns, thoughts and ideas about ways of improving the workplace. Even after layoffs, communication helps employees to diffuse fears of job insecurity. This way, the rates of absentees and turnovers reduce drastically.
Strategies for Developing Good Communication Skills in the Workplace
It is apparent from the foregoing discussion that the nature of communication in a company can have a profound and dramatic impact on the ability to achieve positive employee engagement. As such, it is imperative for organizations to foster a culture of effective communication in the workplace. One of the most effective strategies for creating an atmosphere of engaging communication in the workplace is by ensuring that the right channels and mediums are utilised when communicating with employees. According to Cameron (2000, p. 62-63), communication for engagement is sensitive to the context of the communication process, which involves both the medium and channels. Direct, face-to-face communication is by far the most effective means of communicating with employees. Although technological advances have significantly reduced the cost of communicating, an actual face-to-face conversation with employees can have a great impact in demonstrating commitment on the part of the employer to nurture engagement among employees.
Another strategy for developing communication skills in the workplace is to implement a communication policy and include it it employee training programs. Through these trainings, employees can be taught the benefits of effective communication and how it can influence their relationships in the workplace. In order for this strategy to work, the top management in an organization should model good communication skills that can be emulated by employees. According to Doak, Doak, Fischhoff, Brewer and Downs (2011, p. 32-34), the personality traits of managers and supervisors can have a fundamental impact on the kind of culture that develops in the workplace as employees are more likely to adopt the communication styles of their seniors in the workplace. Therefore, managers should provide a model of respectful and professional communication to develop engaged employees.
An equally important strategy for stimulating communication skills in the workplace is by promoting good communicators into supervisory and leadership positions. This strategy can help in setting standards for employee performance with regard to communication. Another strategy is to test for communication skills during performance appraisals. This can be a good way for motivating employees to enhance individual communication skills for improved engagement. If, during the appraisal, a large number of employees are found to have major communication problems, then setting personal goals for improved communication can be a good strategy. Lastly, holding team-building exercises regularly can also improve communication among employees especially between departments and offices. These exercises encourage team cohesion and enables employees to communicate with each other freely (Koprowska 2010, p. 37).
The Art of Listening and its Significance when Communicating for Engagement
The art of listening is one of the most important skills in any aspect of communication. It refers to the ability to interpret messages accurately during the communication process. A core component of the art of listening is active listening. This refers to the practice of fully concentrating on the message being communicated rather than hearing the message passively. The goal of active listening, according to McIntosh, Luecke and Davis (2008, p. 32), is not only to understand the message correctly but also to connect emotionally with the speaker. Although the ability to listen in an engaged way comes naturally, it can be enhanced. This can be by focusing keenly on the speaker’s words and actions, avoiding interruptions, and not redirecting the conversations to achieve personal goals. Providing feedback promptly is also another strategy for improving active listening. Additionally, asking questions and seeking clarification cultivates high levels of active listening.
A study by Leonard (2004, p. 85-90) revealed that active listening in the workplace is important in three major situations: during team settings; when emotions are high and when sharing decision-making ideas. In situations of extreme emotions such as excitement and anger, active listening and attention enable communication to proceed freely. During such emotional situations, active listening indicates acknowledgment of the speaker’s feelings. Ignoring feelings can create destructive distances and damage relationships in the workplace. In team situations, active listening is important because competing agendas and multiple personalities are involved. Listening carefully in team situations helps in speedy resolutions of conflicts and facilitates mutually benefiting working relationships. When sharing ideas for decision making, active listening fosters creativity and this increases chances of making good decisions quickly.
Successful companies have made the art of listening part of their culture. This makes it clear to the employees and work teams from the beginning of careers that listening is expected and that they should embrace it. It has been shown that employees’ willingness to listen and to be open in their communications is a direct reflection of their senior’s willingness to do the same. Therefore, managers and supervisors can entrench a culture of active listening skills in the workplace by setting good examples such as by listening actively to their staff and by having open door policies. In addition, they should positively reinforce good listening skills by rewarding and honoring active listeners (Cameron 2000, p. 58).
Employee engagement is an area of major concern in human resource management. As explained above, engaged employees are functionally and emotionally committed to their organizations. Such employees understand the business strategy and how their involvement contributes to organizational bottom-line. They are optimistic, less likely to quit, and feel satisfied with their work. Communication is a key driver for employee engagement. Communication is essential in facilitating team building, shared problem-solving and bonding, all of which are important aspects of meaningful employee engagement. A critical aspect of communication is active listening. This enables the recipient of information to connect emotionally with the speaker and understand the intention of the communication.
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