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Employee disengagement within organizations of all sizes, locations and industries affords many costly yet preventable organizational problems. Communication, namely the inefficacy or lack thereof, contributes to most (if not all) organizational problems, especially employee disengagement. Even so, frequent, effective communication is a matchless ingredient in the recipe for problem resolution in any setting and can ward off organizational failures resulting from employee disengagement.

The problem: Employee disengagement due to ineffective leadership communication

Shortcomings in leadership communication effectiveness can adversely affect employee engagement and make the difference between optimal and suboptimal individual and organizational performance. Disengaged employees cost organizations roughly $7 trillion in lost productivity, observable in several areas including, but not limited to, lower customer metrics, lower sales revenue and lower profitability, often manifested as increased absenteeism, lower individual performance and diminished quality output.

Studies reveal that a mere 33 percent of the more than 100 million full-time American employees are actively engaged at work. This means that only a third of U.S. full-time employees love their jobs and work hard to better their organizations. Of the remaining two-thirds, 51 percent are just there (i.e., apathetic disengagement), and 16 percent are miserable at work, continually wreaking havoc on what the engaged employees build, and they eventually end up leaving the company (i.e., active disengagement). 

A staggering 87 percent of employees perceive ineffective leadership communication strategies in practice within their organizations. Additionally, 7 of every 10 U.S. employees perceive that their workplace concerns are regarded as irrelevant or undervalued, and thus, it is safe to assume that the majority of the disengaged 67 percent of U.S. employees also stand within the vast majority experiencing ineffective organizational leadership communication.

Accordingly, shockingly high percentages of workforce members acknowledge disengagement and reservation of concerns and often enlist strategic behaviors designed to conceal their true thoughts, thus resulting in missed organizational improvement opportunities by leadership teams. 

Transformational effects of effective leadership communication

In a healthy organization, employees at all levels are fully engaged, and therefore, motivated and intentional about putting forth their best efforts and best ideas to contribute effectively toward improving the organizations in which they work. Engaged employees contribute to organizational success through critical thinking to help their organizations to mitigate risks, solve problems and resolve conflict. With this in mind, organization leaders must invest in communication strategies that address the causes and effects of employee disengagement and must maintain consistent intentionality around putting those strategies into practice and keeping them there.

Choosing to focus on building and maintaining connections with your people through effective communication will yield insurmountable benefits for the organization, for all people within it and for consumers of its products and services. 

Implementing a plan to improve leadership communications will prove worthwhile for its own sake, considering the highly probable turnover rates associated with employee disengagement. Regardless of the cause, employee turnover can cost an organization 50 percent to 200 percent of an individual's annual salary, including administrative activities surrounding termination, recruiting, onboarding and training. In other words, through effective communication and the resulting enhancements to employee engagement and retention, an organization consisting of 100 people with average annual salaries of $50K can recoup $660K to $2.6M per year in turnover and replacement costs, based on the 2017 American turnover rate of over 26 percent. 

With that stated, there are no distinguishable disadvantages to improving leadership communications to build strong connections with organization members. Not only will the company reap significant financial savings due to increasing engagement and productivity (consequentially decreasing turnover), but the people within the organization will flourish as well due to newfound growth and development opportunities. The organization will retain more of its best people the constant innovators and most adept problem solvers.

More than half of the employees who voluntarily depart from their organizations agree that their manager could have done something to prevent them from leaving; during the three months before their exit, not one organizational leader had spoken with them about their job satisfaction or their future with the organization. When leaders are attuned and attentive to the interests and concerns of constituents, endless opportunities are revealed and can be acted upon early and often, affording the organization a greater capacity to retain more of its best people the constant innovators and most adept problem solvers.

So how do we get there?

Talk to your people. A key factor in improving employee engagement through improved leadership communications is simple talk to your people. As a leader, you must spend time having meaningful conversations with constituents about their work, their lives outside of work, their inherent strengths and how all these tie together. Invest time and attention in conversations like this to get your organization on the path to gaining a clearer understanding of the underlying reasoning for members' behaviors and methods; you will gain insight into which small tweaks to make in order to achieve optimal results.

Manage performance and recognition with care. Take care to use performance measurements positively so that you avoid demotivating your people. Use performance measurements as a tool to develop your people, establish and communicate accountability, and provide specific recognition for notable achievements. An ineffective performance measurement strategy can be counterproductive, for it can cause employees to question your trustworthiness and your qualification to judge their performance, rather than motivating them to do outstanding work.

Coaching your people toward excellence requires frequent, focused and future-oriented performance discussions. Focus on individual strengths rather than weaknesses, and on successes (large and small) rather than failures or shortcomings. When discussing failures, focus your communications on what can be done to improve. Be sure to consider the whole person, not just the numbers or the output, and be open to the idea of finding different roles into which low performers in their current role might fit better.

Learn what is important to your people and provide adequate, timely recognition for accomplishments based on individual values. Recognition or rewards that do not align with the values of the individual will not carry much weight.

Involve individuals in setting goals that will help them learn and grow based on their unique capabilities, rather than deciding what the goals are and giving them as orders; your people will likely become three times more engaged and motivated to achieve the goals.

Provide a safe place for honesty and candor. Encourage honesty and candor and endow your people with an atmosphere of safety and security. Doing so will create a setting in which you can ensure that your people have what they need to succeed in their roles and ensure that they have the materials, partnerships, opportunities and support to do it. Furthermore, this will contribute to the alleviation of employee communication apprehension, which can hinder individuals' levels of engagement, professional development potential and workplace effectiveness, therefore hindering organizational success.

Foster a sense of purpose. Provide opportunities for your people to do meaningful work, preferably aligned with individual values. Create visibility of "the big picture." When employees have a sense of purpose in their work and realize how their contribution makes a difference, they are typically more satisfied and fulfilled with their work.

In summary, structure your communication strategy around caring more about your people than tasks and take extra care to ensure that your behavior and decisions align with your words and intentions. Doing so will increase your employees' job satisfaction and their commitment to the organization.



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