Businesses ignore communication during times of change: report

Poorly handled communication during times of change affects engagement, retention, creativity and innovation.

TORONTO – Investors would be wise to look at how well an organization handles employee communications during times of change as a key indicator for success, according to the Build a Better Workplace research report from Ipsos Reid.

The report concluded that poorly handled communication affects employee engagement, retention of high performers, creativity and innovation, which takes a heavy toll on a company’s bottom line.

Among key findings, the research shows only 42% of Canadian employees agree that change is communicated well in their workplace. Of the majority of Canadian employees who don’t feel change is communicated well (58%), only 17% support the direction the organization is going during times of change and only 26% would recommend the organization to others.

This is in stark contrast with those employees who say change is communicated well in their workplace: 79% support the direction the organization is going in and 86% will recommend the employer, helping to attract top talent in today’s competitive business environment.

When the communication of major workplace initiatives is conducted in a timely manner, job satisfaction jumps dramatically to 88%, from an average of 68%. However, when internal communications is not perceived as timely by employees, their job satisfaction drops to 45%.

“These numbers clearly show the effect that both good and bad internal communication during times of change can have on organizational results.  Leadership, both executive and front-line, is the single most important factor impacting employee engagement, especially during organizational transition,” said John Wright, president and managing director, Canadian Management Centre.  “It’s imperative that organizational leaders understand how to adapt their approach to align, involve and satisfy their employees to not only manage the scope of the change, but to have a positive impact on engagement and performance.”

Among the generations, Gen X is the most critical demographic segment to judge how well managers handle rumours and messaging: 41% say they do a poor job, as compared to the Canadian average of 34%. They also have a lower opinion of how well managers involve employees in solving business problems: 51% compared to the average of 55%.

Interestingly, millennials are the most satisfied with how their managers encourage new ideas and promote a culture of creativity and innovation, at 61%, above the Canadian average of 58%.

Leaders today are faced with an increased urgency to deal with change brought on by economic instability, demographic shifts in the workforce, evolving customer demands and a heightened focus on innovation, according to Wright. These factors are all in turn driving organizations to be more agile, with a recognition that building an engaged workforce relies heavily on leadership behaviour and communication.

Based on these findings, Wright says the top three suggestions for leaders during times of change are to:

  • Get in front of it. Effective change leadership is about being proactive.  Leaders need to anticipate employee response(s) to the change and consider what (if any) resistance they may face.  From there, leaders can proactively plan strategies to build commitment and buy-in for the change, while maintaining employee engagement.
  • Help employees understand. Naturally, when change occurs, an employee is going to be asking ‘how is this going to impact me?’  It is the role of the leader to help employees understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of change.  Leaders need to align on key messages to keep employees informed of what (exactly) is changing, why it’s important and/or necessary to the business, and what the impact will be on them.
  • Encourage employee involvement. While we need to answer the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the change, it is important to encourage input from employees on the ‘how’.  People want to be asked to provide feedback and they want their ideas to be considered.  Involvement is a key component of employee engagement.  When it comes to change, involving employees early in the process can reduce anxiety, will help facilitate their understanding of the change (so they buy-in faster), and can often lead to new and creative ideas for how to achieve desired results.

“Engaging employees will guarantee success in implementing change.  But doing it early will increase employee readiness to embrace it,” said Wright.

The Build a Better Workplace survey was completed by 1,200 Canadian employees. Questions explored employee perceptions of their work environment, their relationship with their boss, whether social media has impacted how companies need to communicate, and how well leaders inspire innovation and creativity.