The current job market is great — for applicants. The federal jobs report released in early February revealed that the U.S. economy added a whopping 517,000 jobs in January, bringing the unemployment rate down to a historic low of 3.4%.
Employers, on the other hand, face an uphill battle. Competition is fierce to not only draw optimal job candidates, but also retain employees who may be looking to jump ship to competitors or change careers to booming industries.
When it comes to employee retention, one often-overlooked difference maker is internal communications. When organizational leaders appear aloof or communicate unclearly, employees can fall prey to rumors, distrust and misinformation. It’s important to stay engaged with your workforce.
Less talk, more listening
Organizations that get caught off guard by workforce issues such as high turnover often find the problem is that leadership is doing all the talking and little of the listening. Sometimes, the easiest way to find out what it’ll take to keep your workers happy and productive is to ask.
Although it may sound old fashioned, putting a suggestion box in the break room can pay off. Also consider using an online tool that allows employees to provide feedback anonymously. Executives can reply to queries with the broadest implications, while managers can handle questions specific to a given department or position. Share answers through organizational emails or make them a feature of an internal newsletter or blog.
At least once a year, hold a town hall with staff members to answer questions and discuss issues face to face. Even if the meeting must be held virtually, let employees see and hear the straight truth from leadership.
Ways to raise your profile
Larger employers often engage PR consultants to help executives manage both their public images and the personas they convey to employees. If yours is a small to midsize organization, this expense may be unnecessary. But each of your leaders should think about their internal communications profiles and manage them like the critical assets that they are.
For example, be sure photographs and personal information used in internal communications and on your organization’s website are up to date. A profile pic of you from a decade or two ago may say, “I don’t care enough to share who I am today.”
Although you should avoid getting up in employees’ business too often, leadership needs to keep a high profile. Have upper management regularly visit each unit, department or facility, and give supervisors and employees a chance to speak candidly. Ask execs to periodically sit in on meetings, asking and answering questions as appropriate. Employees will likely get a morale boost from seeing leaders take an active interest in their corner of the organization.
In fact, for a potentially fun and insightful change of pace, execs might set aside a day to learn about a specific company position. They could shadow selected employees and let them explain what really goes on in their jobs. Again, the leaders may pose questions but should otherwise stay out of the way. If you do implement such a program, clarify upfront that you’re not playing “gotcha” but trying to better understand how things get done and what improvements could be made.
Good faith effort
Every employer wants to be fully staffed with a highly engaged workforce. To get one, you’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain by communicating clearly, regularly and as part of a good faith effort to support employees.