5 common yet surmountable barriers to engagement

Communicators must find the right mix of messaging and channels to motivate an increasingly dispersed workforce.


Why has it become so difficult to get employee attention for important matters?

As multiple reports highlight, much of today’s internal communication is missing the mark. Employee engagement continues to fall. This is bad news for staff, and it’s bad news for the bottom line.

What’s fueling this staff detachment and apathy? How can organizations reverse this negative trend and foster a vibrant culture of engagement? Here are five obstacles to contend with:

1. A dispersed workforce makes connection difficult.

According to a report by Global Workplace Analytics, 3.7 million U.S. employees work from home at least half of the time. The number of remote workers worldwide is expected to skyrocket in coming years.

More flexibility is great, but the tradeoff is the loss of valuable watercooler chats and spontaneous team moments. It’s harder for relationships to flourish. Understandably, an employee’s psychological investment in an organization—which is the foundation for engagement—is more tenuous if he or she works from home.

Managers are struggling to establish substantive connections and camaraderie for such a dispersed workforce. Communicators can fill the gaps here, but it’s crucial to find channels and platforms that resonate with workers.

2. Email is a failing channel.

Email has been the default corporate channel of choice for almost three decades now.

Think how we’ve evolved in the way we consume information in our personal lives. Why should it be different in our professional lives?

Staffers today expect (and deserve) better than impersonal, irrelevant mass emails.

From a company perspective, one major drawback of email is lack of measurement. The reporting options on how employees interact with email content is almost zero.

Email’s “read receipt” function is a misnomer; it simply means the recipient opened the email for at least one second. It offers no indication of whether the content was read, which is far more relevant.

Most email-based platforms use a transparent pixel—known as a “beacon”—to measure open rates. Even if the recipient opened and immediately closed the email, the embedded beacon is activated. The report will show this as a successful email open.

That delivers misleading metrics. Most internal emails will be classified as being from a “trusted source,” therefore all images (including the beacon) download automatically, even if the email has been viewed in a preview window.

Organizations can improve their internal communications strategy if they know when an employee opened and read a message, whether they engaged with the content and, if so, when.

3. We are skimmers and scanners.

The newest generation entering the workforce has grown up using social media, instant messaging and texting. Their content consumption habits don’t stop once they’re at work.

Bite-size content delivered via attention-grabbing formats drives engagement in younger workers. Gamification—a modern twist on old-fashioned competitive rivalry—is another engagement technique with high appeal for millennials and Generation Z.

4. Companies struggle to find the right messaging and medium mix.

There are many ways for organizations to build engagement with employees beyond email and the intranet. Desktop alerts, chat platforms, screensavers, digital signage and social media offer boundless opportunities for substantive connectivity.

The trick is determining which channel is right for the task. Building engagement is a slow burn that requires a curated mix of channels and messaging across the communication spectrum.

There’s no silver bullet here, but keep in mind that visual content tends to outperform text. It’s just how our brains work.

Seek out communication tools that offer a richer, more engaging and interactive experience. Try to bring your stories to life.

5. Organizations have been slow to embrace a new approach to internal communication.

Nobody likes change, but it’s time for communicators to pivot toward more-effective channels. If email, the intranet, newsletters, Slack and Workplace by Facebook are just creating additional noise, experiment with other platforms to see what your people will use.

Also, the inertia linked with communication change stems from blurred lines of control. Who owns it—human resources, IT, internal communications or marketing? This is where communicators can exert influence.

As executives feel the fallout from a disengaged workforce, employee engagement has become a priority. A company’s financial performance often correlates to the quality of its employee communication and engagement, so the directive to improve engagement is coming from the top. Who will be bold enough to challenge the status quo?

Communicators who look beyond email to motivate and engage workers—and those who implement a robust measurement program to monitor communication effectiveness—will win the day.

A version of this post first appeared on the SnapComms blog.

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