Employee engagement: ‘informing’ or ‘communicating’?

For many of us, a job is no longer what allows us to earn a living. Take millennials, for example, who are often outed as the generation who wants their occupations to give them a sense of purpose beyond the material uses and gratifications. To make more time and energy for life fulfilling activities, many are ready to earn less money or accept a less secure role, giving up rigid employment in benefit of freelancing. In parallel to that, even the ones who have a secure tie to an employer are able to determine to a greater scale the scope of their work: they may not be able to determine what the deliverables are or push a deadline forward, but they are able to decide ‘how’ the work is done.

This gives a greater margin for freedom but is not exempt from its problems in setting boundaries on what is work and what is not.

In cultures where work hierarchies tend to be flat and consensus is a strong management tool (yes, Sweden is again a good example of both), the above trends bring about challenges when it comes to involving employees (communication) and effectively circulating information.

A meaningful dialogue with employees is essential to get them on board and take their knowledge, fears and aspirations into account when making strategic decisions. This exercise takes time – also from the employees. If not used wisely, it can create the impression that the workforce’s input has not informed the decisions, that the time employees invested in providing feedback was lost and that the consultation period was an alibi to make previously made decisions legitimate. This erodes employee enthusiasm and engagement.

Not all decisions are open for comments from employees. Trying to disguise such information as an iterative exercise is a disservice to all, who might be under the wrong impression. Information does not need to be dry and should explain the background and implications that led to certain decisions.

Clarity and specificity are, as always, an important asset in keeping employees well-informed and motivated and labelling each initiative the right way – ‘communication’ or ‘information’ spares time and avoids frustration.

Sergio Guimaraes – Speaking of PR