One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to engagement

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Everybody’s aware of how recent advances in technology have greatly impacted the way we communicate with each other in our personal lives, but it’s also important to acknowledge the role technology has had on our work communication.

Old faithfuls for internal communications, such as intranets, e-mails and the staff newsletter, are no longer enough to truly resonate with employees. But the need for organisations to effectively engage with staff and stakeholders is greater than ever.

In fact, a recent Deloitte survey looking into employee experience as part of wider global human capital trends, found that 77 per cent of people inside organisations believe that email is no longer a viable tool for effective communications.

Increasing evidence suggests that the more technology we use in our lives the quicker our attention span erodes. Research conducted in 2015 found that the average attention span has decreased to 8.25 seconds, comparable to that of a goldfish's attention span of 9 seconds.

Whether this is down to a societal shift to more instant communication tools, or just a result of employees becoming overwhelmed by information within an organisation, it’s clear that L&D, HR and internal communications professionals need to fully understand how people are now digesting information to effectively communicate with employees.   

This trend is becoming increasingly important as a greater proportion of our workforce comprises millennials and members of Gen Z, who are often labelled the most attention deficient. Consequently, organisations need to change the face of their internal communications — or risk serious damage to their productivity and competitiveness.

Tailored communication is essential

The modern workforce is not as constrained as its predecessors were by the old ideas of company loyalty. Over a quarter of millennials surveyed by PwC anticipate that they will have six employers or more in their lifetime.  This reinforces the need for companies to keep employees engaged to retain their key staff and to communicate ever more effectively to create employee loyalty, or risk their top talent going elsewhere.

As a society we have been accustomed to receiving information that is tailored to us for one reason or another, whether it is dining promotions based on our personal preferences, discount vouchers for outings, or travel discounts.  This expectation for tailored communication is now overflowing into our work life as well.  The workforce is increasingly made up of people who do not respond well, if at all, to being treated as 'just another worker'.

That approach is actually the fastest route to disengagement. The delivery of information needs to be targeted, relevant and contextualised at the point of delivery to ensure that employees are only receiving content that affects them and that they can action personally.

Simply awarding electronic points, badges and levels to workers who behave in a certain way, or putting an electronic 'scoreboard' on the office wall, is not going to drive meaningful change.

Employers also need to be prepared to listen to and take feedback from their staff and integrate this practice into their communications strategies. Employees now expect a two-way conversation, rather than being talked at, as they work better in a collaborative manner.

Today's workers are used to generating content and many are adept at using technology to create their own to quite a sophisticated level. Again, they appreciate something that speaks to them as an individual and prize customisation. They make better use of visual information than print, and frequently access communications of all types through smartphones and other (mobile) electronic devices.

While this provides a massive opportunity for internal communications professionals to engage with employees, it’s important to strike the balance between bombarding them across multiple platforms and communicating rarely.

Think of the wider strategy and monitor results

The good news is that there is a new way of communicating that is particularly effective when it comes to engaging modern audiences in the workplace. Using a highly visual approach, with user-generated as well as organisation-led content, elements of social media and gamification, running on multiple platforms including mobile, it is possible to engage employees very effectively.

While video content is complex and daunting for most organisations, it cannot be ignored as an effective corporate communications strategy. Thankfully there are organisations out there who can help develop this content and integrate it into internal communications platforms so it should be an important consideration.

Truly effective change comes when employees feel a certain level of emotion and accountability for their actions within an organisation.

But creating all this content is only possible if these elements are strategised and systemised in a way that generates the results, behaviour and information that the organisation needs. The only way you are going to know if your internal communications strategy is generating these results is by using analytics that capture who is reading, watching or acting upon the information delivered.  

Gamification is a valuable tool when it comes to capturing employee attention in a new way, but if there is no wider strategy behind it then you risk wasting time and resource. Simply awarding electronic points, badges and levels to workers who behave in a certain way, or putting an electronic 'scoreboard' on the office wall, is not going to drive meaningful change.

Create a holistic internal communications strategy

Truly effective change comes when employees feel a certain level of emotion and accountability for their actions within an organisation. Engaging employees in games where they can see their progress mapped out, in relation to a sales target for example, will encourage team members to become more accountable for how their actions impact the company as a whole, as well as their own performance.

Managing the balance between integrating new technology and still engaging employees with targeted messaging can be a challenge. But specialist companies have now mastered it to the extent that business professionals can use turnkey solutions – holistic, smart internal communications solutions that can be integrated into, and power, modern internal communications strategies.

Organisations can now quickly and easily incorporate modern techniques to bring about truly effective, agile and productive engagement. There is a clear business case for doing this, along with plenty of reasons why failing to engage your workforce and speaking to them in a manner they understand can only have a negative impact on your organisation.


About Martyn Barnett


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