Challenges to effective communication in the workplace

30 September, 2018
The challenges to effective communication in the workplace are proving to be a major cause of the decision to leave. What are they, and how can you overcome them?

Effective communication is needed to tackle staff retention issues

One of the greatest challenges facing organisations today is retaining staff – and the challenges to effective communication in the workplace is a primary cause of employee turnover.


What is the cost of poor staff retention?

Whenever a member of staff leaves, it’s going to cost a small fortune to replace them. How much depends upon the type and level of employee, though estimates from one largescale study puts the costs at between £3,000 for a minimum wage employee and up to 213% of remuneration to replace a £100k+ salaried CEO (Centre for American Progress study).

Talented millennials are proving especially difficult to retain, with a study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) showing that:

  • 16% of graduates leave their first job within two years
  • 46% of graduates leave within five years


Why do your employees want to leave?

It’s often cited that poor relations with the boss is the main reason for a person leaving their job. However, as more research is conducted, it is becoming clear that “I hate my boss” is too simplistic in nature as the overriding reason to leave an organisation. Rather, recent studies have shown that organisations suffer higher levels of staff turnover when they fail to address the challenges to effective communication in the workplace. For example:

  • After many years of research, employee engagement expert Marcel Schwantes concludes that three of the top five mistakes that managers make are issues of communication
  • A 2014 survey by About.com found that the top three reasons for leaving an organisation were communication related: a lack of direction from management; poor communication overall; poorly communicated constant change


Challenges to effective communication in the workplace – where could you be failing?

The concept that poor communication strategy is a root cause of high staff turnover isn’t new to us at The Big Picture People. People look for new opportunities elsewhere when they are not engaged with the vision and mission of their current employer. Conversely, the positive impact of good communications at work includes better business performance, higher productivity and improved customer service, as well as higher staff retention numbers and lower costs of staff turnover.

In the organisations with whom we have worked, we have quickly discovered that poor communication strategy is damaging the ability to retain staff, improve business performance, and leapfrog competitors.

The following are six of the most common challenges to effective communication in the workplace that disengage employees today.

1.   Inconsistency of communication

While communication starts at the top, it is often a case of relying on grapevines to spread the word as the message is filtered down. Lack of clarity creates inconsistencies, and people begin to assume meaning and relay incorrect information.

2.   Relying on technology to disseminate messages

Email and intranet are faceless communication channels. Especially when having a difficult message to share, one of the biggest challenges to effective communication in the workplace is stepping out and speaking to people face-to-face.

3.   Assuming your audience understands the jargon

This is especially the case when you are investing in new technologies and systems, but crosses over into less technical areas, too. It’s easy for people to fall into the habit of communicating with all as if they are communicating with someone equally as knowledgeable. When this happens, listeners lack understanding and soon stop listening.

4.   Not listening to your employees

In periods of change, managers can become fixated on the goal of the change project and cease listening to their people. Instead of fostering a partnership approach and encouraging collaboration and engagement, people’s fears and needs are ‘dismissed’. When people feel ignored, they tend to switch off.

5.   Not making communication a leadership function

When you don’t make communication a function of leadership – from C-level executives to team leaders and supervisors – employees will have the impression that your organisational culture does not encourage conversation, exchange of ideas, and innovative thinking.

6.   Thinking that everyone is an excellent communicator

As challenges to effective communication in the workplace go, the notion that everyone can communicate effectively is, perhaps, most damaging. Some managers lack capability when it comes to communicating and are not able to help others to express themselves. Many employees feel awkward when they are asked to express opinions, especially in front of more senior staff and facilitating their involvement sensitively is a skill not all leaders have.


6 ways to overcome challenges to effective communication in the workplace

When constructing a strategy to overcome the challenges to effective communication in the workplace, you should put the following methods into action:

  1. Communicate clearly and concisely. The message must be simplified and presented in terms that all can understand without being patronising.
  2. Be consistent in your communication approach, encouraging people to explore and learn your vision in an environment that helps them to understand how they play a part in delivering it.
  3. Challenge your leaders and managers to communicate verbally and face to face, especially when it becomes necessary to communicate your brand strategy through storytelling to deliver change.
  4. Ensure that jargon is eliminated from your in-house conversations. Make plain language a policy to be upheld in meetings, emails and other communications.
  5. Make time to listen to employees and learn from them but also be honest about the process you will use to act on their feedback and ideas.
  6. Help your leaders to communicate by initiating and maintaining a communication strategy which encourages openness and honesty, exchange of ideas and healthy conflict. Be precise on what is communicated, when and how.


Welcome to the Learning Map

We’ve used the Learning Map to cover a diverse range of needs and employed it in a diverse range of sectors across many internal functions. This system allows you to overcome the challenges to effective communication in the workplace by its strategic and focused approach. A facilitator enables conversations to flow, and discussions and activities encourage participation by all as your employees get the same message.

Delivered to encourage exploration of core messages in language that all employees understand, the interactive nature of the Learning Map brings your story to life when and where it needs to be communicated. It helps overcome all six communication challenges to effective communication in the workplace.

Get in touch with The Big Picture People today, to find out how our Learning Map could help redefine your communication strategy and engage your employees with your vision of their future.

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