The COVID-19 pandemic introduced significant uncertainty into the workplace and forced employers around the world into highly reactive short-term communication strategies to deal with the frequently changing circumstances impacting their people and workplace.
As per a survey by US-based global insurance brokerage and risk management services firm Gallagher, the three key priorities for employers in present times include the need to re-engage their teams around purpose, strategy and values (53%); the need to adapt communication channels to engage the workforce better as they move to newly implemented models of hybrid working (39%); and the need to enhance people manager communications (31%).
Managers are now the #1 communications channel to employees
As a result of the move to hybrid working, expectations of people managers have evolved and increased significantly, with 81% of respondents reporting an increase in the expectations of their people managers as communicators.
More than half (54%) expect people managers to reinforce key messages. Despite the rise in digital channels that should have made it much easier to better target employees effectively, people managers remain the primary communication channel for most employees -- among a third of respondents (35%); with this number rising to 45% in organizations where more than half of the workers are deskless.
People managers are clearly a powerful engagement channel, but with only a third of respondents (34%) offering tailored communication training and two-thirds (68%) equipping them with corporate messages, it's clear that support for people managers is low.
When combined with a reduction in face-to-face time with this group (60%, down from 66% in the previous year) and regular conference calls (49%, down from 57% in the previous year), it's clear there is a disconnect between increasing expectations and capabilities that needs to be addressed.
The expectations for people managers have increased materially in the last year, but support has not kept pace. Therefore, it's no surprise that for the first time since Gallagher started compiling this survey eight years ago, the need to enhance and equip people managers with better communication skills is now a top-three priority (31%).
Want better retention? Upgrade those channels
All the talk about hybrid working shows that organizations are very aware that they can't go back, with 39% of respondents stating that adapting their channels to hybrid working will be a priority in 2022.
One in five (19%) internal communication teams of the surveyed companies have completed an in-depth review of their channel and employee engagement strategy, and around one third (34%) have reviews currently underway. However, there haven't been significant shifts in channel use to date, although there are some expected changes in 2022. For example, 31% use mobile apps (up from 24% in the previous year), whereas 44% use posters, banners and noticeboards (down from 63% in the previous year).
"Organizations that reported above-industry levels of talent attraction and retention were more likely to have taken proactive steps toward such a review, suggesting that adjusting to the new world of work faster is paying off," says Ben Reynolds, Global Managing Director, Employee Communication Practice, Gallagher.
"However, this isn't really about communication anymore, it's about reinventing the way people share knowledge and information, rethinking how collaboration and innovation can thrive in an increasingly digital workplace, and reconsidering how best to make two-way communications happen in an engaging way," Reynolds added.
Internal communication barriers
In an unprecedented move, respondents saw employee disengagement as the biggest barrier to internal communication success, with nearly 4 in 10 citing it as a major challenge (37%).
So, as mental health suffered en masse, it wasn't surprising that these circumstances led to a career rethink for many, fueling the Great Resignation. Talent retention and attraction has therefore become a much more pressing issue this year, and it's encouraging to see that 59% of respondents are reporting that executives now see the employee experience and internal communication as a way to retain talent.
"Organizations that are investing in their employee experience are doing so by turning it into actionable and measurable plans, incorporating the key components that resonate with employees, the top three being: 'Purpose, culture and vision' (58%); 'Learning and development' (56%); and 'Wellbeing (mental, physical, financial) (55%). The latter has become increasingly important in the last year," says Reynolds.
"However, despite some organizations taking on the challenge of the employee experience, and an impressive 73% of organizations discussing it at C-suite level, the reality of the situation doesn't quite measure up. Sadly only 31% say that there is a clear mandate from the top to drive change, with a mere 19% of organizations having implemented cross-departmental task forces to make it happen."
The 2021/2022 State of the Sector report by the Benefits & Human Resources Consulting operation of Gallagher is based on data collected from more than 1,300 organizations of all sizes and more than 33 industries across the world from October to November 2021.