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We recently sat down with Johnna Major, KMA HR Consultant, to discuss the importance of high quality communications in retaining talent – especially in today’s chaotic employment environment. She offers thoughtful insights for creating an effective internal communications strategy.

Q: We’re seeing a lot of turnover in companies. What can employers do to retain their most valued employees?

JM: There’s been a lot of talk about the Great Resignation lately and the impact it’s having on businesses. With nearly 4 million people leaving their jobs in June alone, you can understand why. There is a perception that there is a mass exodus underway, and while we are seeing many employees leaving their jobs to go to other companies, start their own business or leave the workforce entirely, a recent Gallup survey showed that levels of employee engagement are actually higher now, at 36% compared with 26%, in 2000. That still leaves a significant segment of the workforce that is disengaged and actively looking for (or open to) new opportunities. And while higher pay is a motivator, it’s usually not the driver for an employee to make a change. Gallup cites growth/mentorship, connection to your company’s mission and values, and strong friendships at work as effective ways to retain employees.

There is one tool that can support all these elements of engagement: high quality internal communications.

If you’ve ever worked at a company with weak internal communications, you know the frustration and disengagement it can create. Today’s employees want to feel allied to the mission and purpose of the company, and if that’s not communicated on a regular basis, they will feel like a cog in the wheel.

Q: What do companies need to think about for their internal communications strategy?

JM: There is no one size fits all approach. Companies need to understand their employees and the best way to reach them. This will depend on the type of work that is being done, where employees are located (a single office or a multi-state or multi-national operation), and how much of their work is done remotely.

Any communications strategy should focus on keeping employees up to date about what’s going on in the company. As for frequency, a weekly gathering – in person or over Zoom – can help keep everyone apprised of customer news, company initiatives, or policy changes. A daily meeting may be needed for a manufacturing operation to ensure that all employees are clear about the day’s priorities, customer needs, and changes to processes.

Leadership should personalize communications as much as possible and invite questions or give employees the opportunity to weigh in. Finding ways to do group calls or meetings is the best way for you to communicate to your team, and it has the added benefit of letting them get to know you as a person and leader as well.

Some other options are a weekly or bi-weekly email or internal newsletter. This is another good way to share key updates and is an opportunity to spotlight employees, recognizing their professional contributions, and also share personal updates (vacations, milestones, photos, etc.). Especially in large, spread out organizations, this kind of personal content can foster a stronger sense of community.

Remember too that any communication strategy needs to be a two-way strategy. It’s not only letting employees know what’s going on at the company, but it’s listening to their ideas and concerns and ensuring that they feel heard. It doesn’t mean that management has to implement what employees are suggesting (and employees will not always like management decisions), but the transparency of explaining decisions helps employees learn and grow and it often generates respect for some of the hard decisions business owners have to make. It’s also important for managers to spend time with their employees to get to know them, their career goals, and what their frustrations are so that you can address them in real time, not when they are giving you their notice.

Q: Why do you think it’s so hard for companies to do internal communications well?

JM: I think a lot of leaders and managers are overwhelmed and feel like there’s not enough time, or that it takes away from productivity. But good communications doesn’t require a lot of time and, when done well, can actually improve productivity. Consider the time and energy employees might expend trying to get to an answer or correcting mistakes due to a lack of communication.

Some CEOs feel the need to manage and control all the communications. And while there are certain things that should be communicated by the top executive (major company announcements, policy changes, etc.), many communications can be handled by managers if they are given good direction and talking points to use with their staff.

Keep in mind the main goals with internal communications are to: provide essential information on a consistent frequency; create community and a sense of belonging; and foster employee engagement and retention through transparency and authenticity. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Thanks for the great insights, Johnna!