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The How and What to Communicate for Employee Engagement

What is employee engagement?

It’s not uncommon for organizational leaders to feel a sense of dread, panic, or even fear in approaching conversations about “employee engagement.”  The term itself is prone to a number of definitions and comprises so many elements including, but not limited to absenteeism, presenteeism, retention, productivity, attitude, and accuracy.  It all sounds so overwhelming – where does a leader even start?  More critically, how can a leader achieve lasting positive impact on such important elements of a healthy organization, including those which don’t always lend themselves to empirical measurement?


The answer may be simpler than you think.


In survey after survey since the onset of the COVID pandemic, corporate employee engagement scores have dropped to near-record lows[i].  This correlates with survey scores which also consistently indicate that employee trust in organizational leadership has fallen significantly.[ii]  Further, the downward trends in trust are often tied to organizations’ failure to meet employee demand for clear, consistent, and transparent communication.


Communication.  An item that usually costs us nothing to deliver, and usually requires no more than a modest investment of time and thought.  So, if a key fix can be implemented at no increased operating cost for relatively low effort, why do so many leaders and organizations continue to struggle with it?


Where does a leader even start?

The answer may be twofold:  First, good communication practices require thoughtful planning and successful outputs aren’t always easy to measure.  So, it’s much easier to reschedule a 1:1 meeting with a direct report, or postpone the scheduling of a team town hall, or avoid answering a tough question from a team member, in favor of completing a tangible task that gives us a more immediate sense of accomplishment.  Secondly, good communication practices are generally tied to a leader’s willingness to demonstrate aspects of vulnerability.  This can be very intimidating, indeed!  As leaders, we often shoulder the expectation burden of having all the answers to all the questions all the time and never appearing uncertain or tentative to our superiors, our colleagues, or our teams.  Admitting that we don’t know how to answer a question; or that we may also be struggling to understand a new concept; or that we would really like the input of our team members “from the ground floor up” before we make a major decision can be terrifying.  After all, we reason – What will people think?  If we don’t have all the answers all the time, won’t our teams lose even more confidence in me?


Well, good news – for those willing to take the leap, expect a tangible return on investment for your organization (not to mention a feeling of personal reward for the leader).  You can read more in the recent White Paper by X5 Management team member, Leanne Burrows, “What is Employee Engagement and why does it matter?”   As Leanne explores, disengaged employees cost US businesses up to half a trillion dollars annually, and internal communications is often overlooked – or completely neglected – as a key mitigating strategy.


How then, can we break down large concepts like thoughtful planning and vulnerability into digestible and actionable tips which can improve your communication practices – and by extension, your employee engagement?


Let’s start by considering the concept of thoughtful planning.  Communications are most effective when you consider the audience you need to reach.  The following factors are among those you may want to think about before you decide how often by what which channels you will communicate:


  • Is your workforce relatively new or seasoned? For example – could most staff recite the company mission or vision statement from memory or are you in the middle of mass onboarding?  This will help you determine both the language and level of detail you may need to be mindful of, at least at the start.
  • Are most of your team members back at the office or still working remotely/within hybrid arrangements? If they are back at the office, are they all in one spot?  This could impact whether in-person site visits, video town halls, emails, or an intranet blog will be most effective in getting your message out.
  • What, if any, existing corporate communications might you need to keep in mind? Do certain divisions produce a regular staff newsletter?  Does the CEO send out quarterly reports to all staff?  Being aware of the frequency and nature of existing products will help you understand the expectations staff already have for basic information-sharing so that your messages aren’t perceived as redundant or otherwise not adding value.


So now that you know how to communicate, you need to figure out what to communicate.


Demonstrating vulnerability isn’t about oversharing personal information with your staff – but it is about demonstrating self-awareness, a sound understanding of your organizational culture, and empathy for the challenges your teams may be facing.  Equally important is authenticity and consistency – even if you ask one of your supporting staff to draft your communications, always review and edit them yourself so that they truly come from your voice.  Staff can tell when “Anna’s personal thank you to Division X” was written by the company’s legal team!  As you create your messages, consider:


  • What is your current visibility index with your staff? Are staff used to seeing you/hearing from you regularly or does your presence generate fear that something has gone wrong and needs to be fixed?  It’s never too late to start – but if you are new to this, make sure you give staff the time and space they need to adjust to the “new and improved” you.  Particularly if you are using your communication channel to ask for feedback, be prepared for a few months of silence.  Trust in the process will come once staff believe that your intentions are true.
  • How would you describe your current workplace culture? Are things going well or are you reeling from the latest results of your own staff survey?  Understanding your organization’s current mood will help you to inform the tone of your communications, at least initially.  If the company has just been through a big round of layoffs or an equally difficult quarter, for example, address it head on in a professional way and without trying to be overly casual or humorous.  Staff need to feel that you have a sense of their stresses as well as successes; don’t let your good intentions be perceived as tone-deaf.
  • What do your staff want to know? Are there rumors of a proposed merger or take-over?  Is the new product still under development and still on track for its scheduled launch date?  Are staff frustrated that their inputs to the virtual suggestion box are being ignored?  Talk to your team leaders to get a pulse of what’s happening on the ground floor, and then use those hot topics as guides to provide open and honest updates for staff – including telling them when you are unable to share further details.  Confronting uncomfortable situations head on and with honesty are keys to building trust with your staff.
  • Do staff feel you are truly there for them? Do your team members see you as someone like them or are you just the title on your door?  Leaders often underestimate the applicability of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[iii] within their workplaces.  Staff want to feel safe at work; and all of us want to feel like we belong.  Once you have built some trust with your staff, perhaps consider sharing the path that helped you become the accomplished leader you are today.  No one starts their career at the top of the corporate ladder – the more your staff can relate to you as a fellow human being, the more they will feel like they are part of the corporate journey with you; and the more grace they will be likely to afford you when you make a mistake.


To reiterate a point from above – it’s never too late to start communicating!  And in fact, effective communications can be a key mitigating strategy in managing staff disengagement and an excellent way to build trust in leadership.  X5 Management offers several leadership coaching and training solutions which can help your organization improve its internal communications for the benefit of staff engagement scores as well as overall company effectiveness and profitability.


[i] Source: “Disengagement Persists Among US Employees:”

[ii] Sources:

[iii] Source: Maslow’s hirerachy of needs:

X5 Management offers an extensive list of communication, team development, leadership, sales, and service-related programs that can support any businesses training and coaching needs in any industry.

If your business wants to take advantage of the Canada-Alberta Job Grant so that you can expand on your sales and service-related training for your employees, let’s discuss your organization’s training needs in a complimentary Discovery Meeting.

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