Are your internal communications bad for business?

Are your internal communications bad for business?

No matter the size or complexity of the organisation, effective internal communications are a crucial component of its operations.

Communicating and collaborating reportedly takes up 54% of employees’ time (Mitel, 2019) and a study undertaken by SIS International (2008) suggests that small/medium businesses and large enterprises experience similar communication pains surrounding barriers and latency.

Though smaller businesses may be more ideally placed for effective internal communication than their larger counterparts, they are not immune to communication barriers and breakdowns that can have a measurable and quantifiable negative impact on the workplace, and potentially beyond it. 

Is it really that much of a problem?

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Not only does poor internal communication waste time and lead to suboptimal results, but it’s also making employees ill.

Research undertaken by Microsoft (2019) uncovered a “worrying disconnect” between SME leaders and their workforce. Eighty-five per cent of leaders agreed that their employees perform better when they are empowered with information and 79% said they share as much information as possible. However, whilst 49% think there is “clear communication across job levels” at their organisation, only 15% of employees agreed with them.

Poor communication with other internal teams and a lack of organisation-wide communication/transparency was cited as the two leading causes of workplace stress and 45% of employees claimed they have to make decisions without the information they needed as a consequence.

Poor internal communication also costs 71% of employees at least two hours of their average workweek (16% report it costs them a full day, or more!) and has resulted in failures to complete projects (44%), low morale (31%) and missed performance goals (25%) (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2018).

It is also negatively impacting on the wellbeing and emotional state of workers, with those who rate the internal communications at their company as “poor”, or “very poor” more likely to experience burnout emotions than those who rated it “good” or “very good”. The outcome is that employees at these underperforming companies are three times more likely to feel exhausted, six times more likely to feel depressed, and eight times more likely to feel empty (h&h, 2019).

Communication Overload

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The sheer volume of incoming noise from multiple communication channels poses a number of challenges for businesses and employees alike. In the most recent State of the Sector report (Gallagher, 2021) global internal communications teams cite the biggest barrier to their success is the volume of excessive communications they have to compete with.

The number of business emails sent and received in a single day in 2015 was 122 per user; 88 of those were received, and 12 of those 88 were spam emails that had failed to be caught by filters (The Radicati Group, 2015). According to SaneBox’s (2016) internal data, only 38% of the average inbox is made up of “important” communications, so it is evident why 51% of employees have missed an important message due to a full inbox (651 unread emails, on average) and 17% admit to deleting emails they have never read (Pure Property Finance, 2020). Lost time spent on irrelevant emails amounts to 6,000 minutes for middle-management, 5,250 minutes for supervisors, and 4,250 minutes for employees (The Jane Group, undated) and 61% of UK workers blame excessive emails for getting in the way of their work (Microsoft, 2019).

This communication overload is resulting in distracted, unproductive, and burnt-out workers and unclear and/or infrequent (or totally absent) communication of strategic company goals is leading to employees who do not feel valued or fully understand how their work is contributing to achieving those goals. The consequence is a misaligned and disengaged workforce. 

Instant Messaging Isn’t Helping

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Slack has become widespread as a business communication tool, used by over 600,000 different organisations globally (TechCrunch, 2019). A neuroscientist is quoted as saying that Slack has “doubled the pain” for workers by failing to supplant the problems of email technology and that it has just added a new demand on their time (Wired, 2020). 

Employees discussing using Slack at start-up companies describe the platform as “addictive” and “distracting” with the volume of messages and notifications having a negative impact on their concentration (Sifted, 2019). Research backs up their experience: the average knowledge worker checks communication tools every 6 minutes, with 35.5% checking email and IM every 3 minutes or less. Only 18.6% can go more than 20 minutes without being pulled into a communication. For Slack, specifically, workers switch to communications more often; on average, every 5 minutes, compared to 8 minutes for non-Slack users (RescueTime, 2018). 

The move to remote working has only made this worse, with work communications cited as the biggest distraction for workers when trying to complete a task, so much so that 64% agree, to some degree, that they would rather commute to work again than keep sorting through email, Slack/Teams and other notifications (Superhuman, 2021).

You Manage What You Measure

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Generally, organisations do not seem to report having a well-developed approach to tracking or measuring their communication and internal communications teams at companies (if there is one at all) are struggling to deliver results. If we consider the response bias commonly found in self-report surveys, it is likely the true picture is worse than it is painted to be.

Companies with fewer than 500 employees have, on average, two dedicated internal communications professionals (Gallagher, 2021) and companies with up to 100 tend to have just one (VMA Group, 2018). It is no wonder that 73% cite a lack of time and resources as the main challenge to measuring their impact, which is followed by a lack of metrics (51%) and benchmarking data (46%) (Gallagher, 2021). They also feel that they lack a process to identify and replicate best practices with ~40% rating their organisation’s ability to implement such a process as only “adequate” and ~30%  rating it “poor”. Likely to be compounding the barriers to effective communication with an entire workforce is that only 17% of internal communications functions have developed audience profiles or personas, meaning that communications are not being tailored for maximum impact for different departments or teams who will likely have vastly different needs.

VMA Group (2018) have additionally reported 31% of surveyed communication professionals at UK organisations did not have a formal communication strategy and only 54% strongly agreed/agreed that progress towards objectives were researched, measured and evaluated with metrics and KPIs. More recently, Gallagher (2021) found that only 40% of organisations have an overarching internal communication strategy that covers more than one year, and their report from 2020 showed 20% don’t, or very rarely, track and measure their internal communications. The majority (58%) still only occasionally use data/metrics but struggle to keep up. 

It is, however, encouraging to find that the output of this measurement (when it happens) is predominantly used within the internal communications function to improve effectiveness (72%) (Gallagher, 2020). Where businesses do track and measure communication, reach is the most commonly tracked with ~50% of organisations systemically tracking this metric and a further ~30% measuring it “sometimes”.  Understanding is systemically measured by ~30% and “sometimes” measured by ~45%. Less common is measuring employee satisfaction with internal communications (~25% systemically, ~35% “sometimes”) and, even less common, is measuring behaviour change and business outcomes (~15% “never”, ~30% “rarely”) (Gallagher, 2021). 

The Cost of Poor Communication

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According to David Grossman (2011), CEO of The Grossman Group, the total estimated cost of employee misunderstandings calculated from a survey of large organisations (400 with ~100,000 employees) in the US and UK was $37 billion, working out at an average cost of $62.4 million per year, per company. Communication barriers also had a cumulative cost per worker of $26,041 due to productivity losses. He additionally claimed that companies that have leaders who are highly effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the five previous years, compared with firms that have leaders who were the least effective. 

In smaller companies of even 100 employees, Debra Hamilton (2009), estimates that “email blunders” result in 15,000 lost hours and carry a price tag of $420,000 per year. SIS International’s (2008) investigation into the hidden costs of communication barriers in SMEs also revealed businesses as small as 100 employees spend, on average, 17 hours a week clarifying previous communication, which can translate to an annual cost of around $525,000.

More recent figures put the “cost” of email and Slack usage, on average, at $28,209 per employee, per year (RescueTime, 2018) and that communication inefficiencies cost employers $10,200 per business professional annually (Mitel, 2019).

How can I stop this from happening at my company?

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Purposeful is a platform that helps everyone get everyone to inbox zero. By streamlining internal communication into simple messages with set responses it creates auditable data summarised on a user’s dashboard that can be easily exported to a PDF. 

Customisable groups facilitate tailored messaging to different audiences, helping to get the right information to the right people in a way that will have the maximum impact. By using the responses to gather feedback you can more effectively develop the right tone of voice and message structure to increase alignment with strategic goals and enhance engagement and well-being in the entire workforce

Benefits to the sender include being able to view who has opened the communication and who has responded, making it easy to know the reach and outcome of your communications without digging through email or instant messaging chains and extracting responses manually. Delayed sending by default and scheduling features create a stress-free experience where you can always plan ahead. A file upload option also lets you disseminate more long-form content to support your communications.

Benefits to the receiver include being able to choose where to be notified of an incoming message, giving the power back to the user by utilising the channels that work best for them. Responding is also a simple process made up of a few clicks, so you don’t need to dedicate time to composing a reply or agonising over the content, but a handy comment feature allows more verbose responses if an extra level of detail is required. 

Purposeful does not gamify or attempt to keep users engaged with the platform, the aim is to facilitate a quick transfer of information and get users out of their inbox. Modern “social” intranets and enterprise social networks are designed to entice increased use which may result in increased collaboration, but also encourages misuse, leading to lower productivity and achievement. 

Contact our team today to see how we can help you realise your internal communication goals and effectively measure whatever you wish to manage.