The sharing block: how restricting employees from sharing ideas is holding back business

Idea sharing at work
kutubQ/iStock
Marcus Thornley
Founder and CEO
Totem
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Communication and collaboration have become much-used terms in the business world, highlighting the importance of interaction between colleagues and those outside of the business, including customers, partners and suppliers.

But new research strongly suggests that employee collaboration and engagement with the rest of the business is severely lacking. Although technology has created numerous ways to communicate, current employee engagement strategies are woefully inadequate and employees feel disconnected from the rest of the business.

The employee and business disconnect

The problem is that today’s CEOs and MDs are relying far too much on one-to-many, broadcast-style communication with employees, highlighted in a new Totem report, based on a survey of 1,000 employees in UK organisations of more than 500 people.

The majority of senior management (61%) uses all-company emails to disseminate news and updates, compared to only 31% of who use in-person company meetings. The result is that employees feel disconnected from the leadership team and the purpose of the business, and this is directly affecting motivation and job satisfaction levels.

Today’s businesses are relying on outdated and hierarchical communication methods that are leaving their teams unmotivated and dissatisfied.

While a large number of workers receive updates on company initiatives, high-level business news and even redundancies or profit losses, they are much less aware of the work of other colleagues.

Yet employees want to be part of wider conversations, actively contribute to the businesses they work for and engage in two-way conversations that see everyone actively sharing ideas and inspiring others.

The sharing block 

Today’s employees want to share ideas and interact more with colleagues at every level and believe they can make a valuable contribution. Around a quarter (23%) of UK workers think they have a lot to offer to their employers in terms of new ideas and input into ways of working, yet only 14% of employees feel comfortable enough to approach their MD/CEO directly to discuss ideas. 

A key issue is that businesses are restricting employee sharing of ideas and opinions to formal channels, at times the organisation enforces. The number one way that UK businesses currently allow ideas sharing is through formal appraisals (87%), followed by annual employee surveys (81%) and company meetings (71%).

These regimented processes are only encouraging a one-way interaction, in which senior management or line managers take responsibility for how and when to feed those views into the business.

It’s UK businesses that stand to lose if the employer-employee disconnect is not addressed.

Furthermore, by placing the emphasis on appraisals, surveys and company meetings, businesses are setting the agenda on how and when employees can share ideas and views, rather than allowing ‘in-the-moment’ ideas to flow from the workforce.

Employee input links to job satisfaction    

This inability to share ideas and receive feedback from these ideas openly has proven to result in a direct impact on satisfaction, with over half (53%) of employees believing satisfaction would be improved if they could be recognised for sharing new ideas.

Yet in order to be recognised, employees must be empowered to share ideas and opinions outside of formal channels and with more people than senior executives or their line manager.

However, it’s not only employees that see the value in greater ideas sharing. A quarter of HR professionals (25%) believe that staff satisfaction would increase if employees had the opportunity to share work and successes beyond immediate colleagues.

Today, only 10% of employees agree they are fully satisfied with their organisation, so it appears that facilitating greater interaction and ideas sharing could boost employee morale and engagement significantly.

Ideas sharing: a new perspective

Today’s businesses are relying on outdated and hierarchical communication methods that are leaving their teams unmotivated and dissatisfied. One-way communication is restricting a collaborative approach to engaging with the workforce at large and our research shows that employees are not comfortable approaching senior management with ideas.

There is a clear opportunity for HR professionals to bridge the gap between employee and management teams and reset the employer-employee relationship by creating a positive, two-way working environment.

The democratisation of the employee engagement process is key, ultimately giving every employee a voice and creating a real sense of community and shared purpose. Successfully breaking down the traditional hierarchy structure of communication encourages staff to offer new ideas continuously and take a fresh look at their career, rather than focusing on climbing the notorious corporate ladder to be seen and heard by those at the top.

An ‘open-to-all’ platform that allows every level of the workforce to share their opinions and ideas is enabling organisations in the UK to make big strides forward in instilling a greater sense of value, familiarity and personality. This could include sharing content such as photographs of the new office or information on updated company branding to build excitement and allow all to participate.

If employees are empowered to create and share content that brings work to life, to help their colleagues and recognise the efforts of others, this only serves to generate a greater understanding of the contribution every person in the company makes to the business.

The democratisation of the employee engagement process is key, ultimately giving every employee a voice and creating a real sense of community and shared purpose.

By creating more opportunities for employees to engage directly with all levels of staff, the barriers to idea sharing will start to collapse and staff will feel more empowered to add their thoughts in an open shared platform. The regularity of this is also crucial, in which ideas sharing is not limited to a certain time frame or circumstances throughout the year, instead encouraging ‘live’ sharing that is more spontaneous and “in the moment”.

It’s UK businesses that stand to lose if the employer-employee disconnect is not addressed - missing out on the passion, ideas and contributions from teams that are inspired to drive success for the organisation.

The companies that can navigate the transition to open sharing and unlock real emotional engagement with their workforces will be those that succeed.

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