Getting everyone on the same page can sometimes feel like a herculean task. Here are the 10 biggest obstacles to good internal communications at work, faced by managers who just need to get their message through to staff, and some reasons why internal comms can be so challenging.
Internal communications should be so easy: you have important information to share with your department, you send it out, they read it, and you’re done, right? But it’s never that simple; employees ignore emails, collaborative work platforms are filled with social noise, and you never know who reads what.
Your job, as a manager, is to make sure people are reading the information that makes them better at their jobs; but are you loading them up with more information than they can handle? Your team gets a lot of email every day. How much? This year, according to the Radicati Group, workers are sending and receiving 124 emails a day. That’s much more than twice the amount of email that most workers can comfortably manage; too much email stresses your team out.
1. Your employees are victims of information overload.
2. Some team members just aren’t reading your email at all.
Does it feel like, no matter what you do, some people aren’t even looking at the messages you send? Some people aren’t. A study by APPrise shows that 30 percent of employers freely admit to ignoring emails from the boss. That might seem shocking, but consider the fact that your team only has a limited amount of time to spend on work email. Your employees have to prioritize the messages they’re going to read and respond to. Chances are, they’re looking at the most urgent messages first; emails about the projects they’re working on, or from clients. When they see a long boring message from IT, telling them about new system update, or a message from a manager about compliance training, they likely scroll past, thinking “I’ll deal with that later.” Unfortunately, later may never come.
3. Your employees would rather eat a jar of spiders than open an email.
Let’s face it — for most of your employees, email is not the preferred method of communication. Electronic mail hasn’t changed much since the ‘90s, when it became the business world’s communication method of choice. The world itself, however, has changed. Outside of work, we communicate via text, over social media, and through instant messaging apps, which are far more engaging than your standard email. Your employees — especially millennials, who grew up with AIM and Facebook — may only really use email for work, and they might not be thrilled about doing that. According to Gallup, Americans younger than 50 prefer to text over any other kind of communication. It may be time to change up the way you’re communicating to get a better response rate.
4. Your collaborative work platform (or intranet) is noisy.
Collaborative platforms like Workplace by Facebook are great, because they give everyone in the company a way to communicate with each other. Everyone gets a voice. There’s just one problem with that: a lot of voices talking at once means a lot of noise. If you have to get an important internal announcement through to employees on that platform, you may find yourself competing with social posts, memes, and gifs. And those are just the employees who are actually using the collaborative platform. You may have employees who haven’t logged in for days, weeks, or maybe ever. To reach everyone, you need a megaphone of some sort: something that lets you shout over the the noise and get the attention of even the people who haven’t adopted the platform.
5. Not everyone on your team is on the same page.
As a manager, it’s your job to make sure everyone on your team is aligned. It’s not an easy task; some employees are up to date on everything. They read every memo, every update, every email, and they respond to internal communications with a “Okay” or “Got it.” Then there’s everyone else: employees who might be reading updates, or might not. That’s a problem, because in some cases, if only one team member misses an important piece of information, the entire company might suffer. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enforcement date is a good example of this. If companies aren’t in compliance with the new GDPR security and reporting protocols, they could face a huge fine. That means that if even one employee in one department of a corporation misses an important piece of information and makes a mistake, the whole company will be punished. It’s important to know who is seeing what message.
6. You don’t know who is getting what message.
Who is reading the messages you send out? If managers don’t measure the open, read, and click-through rates on internal communication, they will have no way of knowing what messages are read, or by whom. It’s possible — even probable — that several unengaged employees in your company haven’t read a single message from the boss, and those employees, whoever they are, are a liability.. You can’t know who they are unless you measure read rates. That’s part of your job — you need to make sure that employees read and understand important information, and you can’t do that if you don’t have the tools to measure open, read, and click-through rates. Not knowing who needs a follow-up leads to the next problem...
7. You’re constantly nagging your whole team about reading messages.
No one likes to be a nag, but when you don’t know who is reading your messages, you don’t have any way of knowing who needs a follow-up message and who is already up to speed — at least not until it’s too late and someone on the team who hasn’t read an important internal communication makes a mistake that affects the whole company. Some managers may choose to address this by reminding the entire team to read their messages, and no one enjoys that. And how effective is nagging, really? You get angry because no one is reading your email, truly unengaged employees will become more resistant to reading your messages, and everyone wastes time on the reminders.
8. The most important messages are the most boring messages (no one’s reading them)
The IT department needs everyone off the system by a certain time. HR needs everyone to file a new tax form. A new policy has just been put in place, and everyone needs to read it. These are the sorts of urgent messages you need your team to read and remember, but not that many people read them, and almost no one remembers them. Often these sorts of important updates are delivered in long, boring emails and your staff either doesn’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to read and internalize them. As a manager, you may be wasting your own time writing long messages not many people read, and the messages may not be engaging enough to get employees through to the end of each message.
9. Employees are mad about being left out of the loop
Almost every manager has been there; an important email has gone out, you spent hours writing it, and no one reads it. Then, when a change goes into effect and people are unprepared for it, they’re upset they did not know. It’s a tricky paradox; employees may not always read messages but they really don’t like it when they don’t know what’s going on. CEB (now Gartner) found that poor internal communication makes employees angry to the point of acting out. “Why didn’t you tell us,” they may ask. That can be — justifiably — frustrating for the manager who may have put a lot of time into crafting a long, detailed email that staffers did not read. Before you lose your temper, or give up on trying to communicate with your staff, you may want to consider an approach to internal comms that causes less frustration for everyone.
10. Managers are bored by the messages they’re sending too.
You probably don’t like taking the time to write a long boring email any more than your staff enjoys reading it, you hate when it’s ignored, and you especially don’t love sending emails begging your team to read a previous email. Like your staff, you’re already juggling a lot of email messages that aren’t related to internal communications. Like your staff, you probably also don’t use email outside of work the way you use messenger apps or text.
So what do you do about it?
Except for perhaps the most disengaged employees, no one really wants to miss an important announcement at work. Employees are simply overloaded — with information, with work, and with email. It may be time to change the way you send messages at work. This will look different for everyone; shorter emails, for example, or a new communication platform that echoes the way we communicate when we’re not working.
No one should have to dread sending — or receiving — an announcement at work. Not management, not staff. Internal communications should be easy.