Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. What’s the most significant problem in the workplace that inhibits productivity, causes conflicts between workers and managers and creates the most risk for employees and the organization?
A. The answer is poor workplace communication. Because nothing happens without communication, and because every dimension of an organization’s mission depends on communication, it will always be the single most important influencer of productivity or lack of it. We are not talking about just sending and receiving messages. There is no end to getting communication right, but here’s a hint: think “barriers.” There are many types of barriers that affect every possible type of workplace communication. For an example of how veiled these barriers can be in one area alone, consider new hires. Upon hiring new workers, you should always provide a performance plan that describes the most important duties in detail and how they should be completed. It sounds simple, but EAP consultants commonly receive this complaint from employees: “I don’t know what they want me to do.” Or, “No one has given me a job description.” Imagine the conflict, misunderstanding, anger and productivity issues created by this communication barrier.
Q. Which one of these practices negatively impacts morale the most: failing to praise and reward employees, micromanaging or poor communication?
A. Any of these workforce management practices may contribute to morale problems, but poor communication consistently ranks #1 as the leading complaint affecting productivity in modern businesses around the world. Why is this? The answer is that managers either don’t know what to do about it or they don’t have systems in place to ensure better communication, or both. To improve communication, make sure employees and management are educated about the importance of communication, and teach employees how to communicate effectively. Literally teach them about how to give feedback, communicate in a timely way and share information properly, and create ways that employees can cross-dialogue with each other regularly. Consider rewarding good communication. Make communication part of the work unit or workplace culture with systems that keep communication moving. Internal memos, company news and special communications about corporate board decisions are “nice to haves,” but they will not fill the intimate communication void that often exists in the workplace. Investigate getting some consultative help from BJC EAP about communication education or even ideas on strategic goals to advance your initiatives in this area.
Q. I know poor communication is a key complaint according to employee survey results in most workplaces. What other common problems lead to employee dissatisfaction with organizations?
A. Other problems ranking up there but not as high as communication complaints (which are mostly related to information flow from the top of the organization down) are lack of recognition and praise, lack of training and educational opportunities, lack of flexibility in work schedules and lack of authority given to employees. Having “more authority” is associated with a human need to want more control of one’s work in some fashion or form. The key is avoiding feeling like a cog in a wheel. Target this sensation and you’ll be on the right track. Consider how to improve communication, feedback and recognition, and offer ways to insert training and educational opportunities into your employees’ experiences at work. Stumped when it comes to how to so? Create a peer advisory or brainstorming group to discuss the issues. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that will emerge from such an approach. Also, BJC EAP is always here to help.