Employee Communication: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Effective messaging is crucial to employee communication, but listening is just as important — if not more so.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
Employee Communication: What It Is and Why It’s Important
Image: Shutterstock / Built in
Matthew Urwin | Jun 22, 2023

Employee communication is the back-and-forth dialogue or information sharing between management and employees, whether it’s via email, instant messaging, voice or video chat, or in-person conversations. This communication works best when it’s a two-way street of open and honest dialogue.

What Is Employee Communication?  

Employee communication refers to the exchange of information between management and employees. It works best when managers and employees talk openly about what’s going well and what isn’t.

Two-way communication involves regular check-ins where managers listen to the other party, ask questions and request employee feedback, even if it may be difficult to hear. This can help lay the groundwork for employees to feel comfortable openly exchanging ideas, sharing their concerns and freely discussing observations with management.

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Why Employee Communication Is Important

Listening to employees and understanding where they are coming from is a crucial skill for all leaders, but especially for people in management roles, said Chris Westfall, business coach and author of Leadership Language: Using Authentic Communication to Drive Results.

By listening, management can connect with employees, which in turn can build trust and open communication. And by providing a safe place to have conversations, employees may feel more comfortable talking about the challenges they face, allowing managers to address them faster.

Open communication can engage and motivate employees, but it requires managers to be authentic and genuine in their discussions, Beth Walter, assistant teaching professor of business communications at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, told Built In. For example, many managers have heard the advice to balance constructive criticism with positive feedback, but that doesn’t work if the manager is clearly going through the motions when giving positive feedback.

“The way that talent often rises to the top is because of their communication skills and the ability to share a vision and create collaboration and connection.”

A failure to establish an open and honest dialogue with employees can be costly too. 

Without active listening, managers and executives won’t be able to connect with employees and coach them through the challenges preventing them from reaching their full potential. Creating a safe environment for employees to communicate and share ideas is also important for identifying emerging leaders.

“The way that talent often rises to the top is because of their communication skills and the ability to share a vision and create collaboration and connection,” Westfall said.

Open and honest communication is also important to minimizing the chances of misunderstandings from employees relying on leaders’ nonverbal cues. Employees pick up on leaders’ nonverbal signals that go along with their verbal communication, Walter said. A leader who inadvertently rolls their eyes every time a team member raises a concern could eventually lead to team members remaining silent. And silence can prove fatal for some companies.

And lastly, employees who feel management could care less about their input, regardless of the topic, are likely to withhold it and are more apt to become disengaged, Westfall said, noting employee engagement scores are a reflection of a company’s culture and communication. 


Benefits of Employee Communication

Higher Employee Engagement

Regular communication between management and teams allows employees to feel more connected to the company and like they’re seen and valued as team members. As a result, employees may become more motivated to perform their roles to the best of their abilities, boosting their productivity and engagement levels.


Greater Innovation

Fostering employee communication makes it easier for employees to collaborate with members on other teams and departments. This process facilitates the sharing of ideas and resources, bringing interdisciplinary perspectives to each project. Teams can then develop fresh products and strategies, spurring innovation within a company.  


More Inclusive Workplace

Maintaining frequent communication is especially important for a company with a diverse workforce. By providing company updates and recognizing accomplishments, leaders can unite employees of different backgrounds under a common goal or mission. A culture of open communication also encourages employees to bring new ideas and perspectives to the workplace, turning a company’s diversity into one of its biggest strengths.   


Stronger Team Mentality

When employees communicate with each other on a daily basis, this practice cultivates transparency and trust. Employees feel like they can be upfront about any issues, and they expect the same from their leaders and coworkers. Everyone then feels like they’re all on the same team working toward common goals, forging more powerful bonds among employees. 


Reduced Workplace Conflicts

Keeping employees on the same page avoids scenarios where conflicts occur due to a lack of communication. A culture based on employee communication enables leaders and employees to discuss any concerns or questions out in the open, making misunderstandings less likely and ensuring employees feel like they’re being treated as valuable contributors at a company. 


Enhanced Productivity

When employees are left in the dark and don’t have clear directions for completing tasks, this interrupts their workday and brings workflows to a halt. Workplace conflicts also create unnecessary drama that distracts coworkers from performing their roles. By investing in employee communication channels and techniques, leaders can remove these roadblocks and help employees maintain steady production levels.    


Healthier Workplace Culture

Embracing employee communication leads to an environment where employees feel comfortable talking through issues with leaders and coworkers. Fewer workplace conflicts and increased levels of trust and understanding also allow employees to settle in at a company. They can then spend more time performing their jobs and building relationships with others.  


Improved Retention and Churn Rates

A workplace where all employees treat each other with respect leads to higher employee satisfaction levels, which make it easier to retain top talent and lower churn rates over the long haul. This process forms a circle where employees decide to stay at the company, continuity leads to a more vibrant company culture and employees stick around even longer to be a part of this thriving environment.  


Better Customer Service

When employees are kept abreast of things like product updates, team strategies and new company tools, they can use the latest techniques and technologies to enhance the customer service experience. A healthy, communicative culture that retains employees also enables companies with clients to avoid shuffling accounts between different personnel when employees come and go.     


More Positive Brand Perception

A company that is known for communicating with employees and treating team members well is bound to see its brand’s status rise in the eyes of consumers. Not only does this lift a company’s standing within its sector, but it also makes a business a more attractive landing spot for industry-leading professionals who want to join a vibrant workplace.  


Employee Communication Styles in the Workplace

Employee communication is complicated by the fact that two individuals may have very different ways of interacting with others. To effectively navigate the nuances of employee communication, it’s crucial to understand the main communication styles in the workplace. 


Passive Communication Style

Employees with a passive communication style are often quiet and have a tendency to avoid tension and conflict. Because they sometimes have trouble expressing themselves and taking a strong stance, passive communicators can be difficult to read.

Managers and leaders may benefit from speaking with passive communicators in one-on-one meetings and asking them direct questions in group settings, as passive communicators may be less likely to make space for themselves in the conversation.


Aggressive Communication Style

Employees with an aggressive communication style tend to take over conversations, leaving little room for others to chime in. They may also act before thinking.

The best way to engage with aggressive communicators is to remain calm but firm. Center conversations around workplace issues and avoid accusatory language and more personal subjects. If being professional has no effect and an aggressive communicator becomes threatening, feel free to walk away and submit a report to HR if needed.


Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

Employees with a passive-aggressive communication style may put on a friendly appearance while hiding more negative emotions. These kinds of communicators may try to be agreeable, but there’s often an edge to their words and actions.

When interacting with passive-aggressive communicators, be upfront as possible. Use clear and concise language when explaining or requesting something. Managers can also schedule one-on-ones with passive-aggressive communicators to bring up any issues, soliciting feedback and encouraging an employee to share anything that’s been bothering them. 


Assertive Communication Style

Employees with an assertive communication style often share their thoughts and feelings while remaining respectful of others and seeking coworkers’ input. Assertive communicators balance challenging themselves and setting healthy boundaries at work. In addition, they use open body language, eye contact and active listening to connect with their coworkers. 

Leaders and employees can encourage assertive communicators to speak up during team meetings and even ask them to intervene when dealing with people of other communication styles.

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Tips for Effective Employee Communication

Leaders can take a number of steps to elevate their employee communication, from zeroing in on purpose to instituting a virtual water cooler. 


1. Think About What You Need to Say, and Why

The most important step to take — and one that is surprisingly overlooked with great frequency — is considering communication purpose, said Ajit Kambil, former global CFO Program research director for Deloitte.

Knowing the purpose of your communication, you can then move on to considering the best way to deliver it. For example, you could deliver the message yourself or have it delivered by an influential player in the organization, Kambil said. 

After communicating, get feedback. Did employees emerge with the takeaways you intended or could you have improved your message delivery? 


2. Know Your Audience

It’s also important to know your audience, said Insiya Hussain, assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. 

“You need to understand the needs, desires and motivations of the people you’re engaging with. This can help you adjust your delivery, word choice and even the message itself, so your message lands well and you can create win-win situations,” she added.

Active listening is also key to elevating your communication skills with the workforce, showing you heard what they are saying and validating their feelings, Hussain said. 


3. Model Transparency and Vulnerability

Transparency and vulnerability are key to effective communication, Westfall told Built In: “Openness and honesty is always the best way to build trust when relaying news or initiatives that are hard to hear,” he said, noting a lack of trust can lead to disengagement and difficulty with retention.


4. Think About How Employees Are Impacted

It’s also important to take into account the impact of the communicated message on the employee, as well as the people who surround that employee, such as family members and colleagues. For example, when announcing layoffs, acknowledge the impact to not only the employees affected but also their families, he added. 

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5. Offer Encouragement

Encouragement is another important skill to master. “As leaders, we so rarely look in the direction of encouragement,” Westfall said. “We’re always correcting and tamping things down. But when it comes to helping people to be more efficient, encouragement is key.”


6. Create Informal Spaces for Bonding

A leader could spend 20 minutes with a small group of three or four randomly selected employees to have an informal, unstructured chat, said Prithwiraj “Raj” Choudhury, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Senior leaders could show up once a week at this virtual water cooler and ultimately speak to anyone and everyone at the organization, he said, adding it would greatly benefit new and young employees who often do not have as much opportunity to communicate with senior leaders.


7. Ask Open-Ended, Specific Questions

One way to help encourage an environment where people feel they can speak freely is to ask open-ended questions rather than ones that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” Walter said. For example, rather than ask whether a project will meet its deadline, ask what specific challenges an employee is facing with the project and the various scenarios of how it could affect meeting the deadline. 

“By asking a specific, open-ended question, you’ve invited people into the conversation and, at that point, they’ll know you care about what they are thinking,” Walter said.


8. Avoid Accusatory Comments

Accusatory communication can set a leader up for conflict and spark the employee’s defensiveness. Instead, adopt a more neutral language and focus on your own thoughts and feelings, Hussain advised. For instance, instead of saying something along the lines of the employee is so inconsiderate of everyone’s time for being late, try taking the approach that you are worried the work won’t be completed for the day if the meetings don’t start on time.​

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