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5 Communication Mistakes Managers Make – and How to Fix Them

Luke Reimer

February 20, 2020 · 4 min read

Communicating at the right time, to the right people, in the right way is everything in the workplace. Unfortunately, communication between managers and employees often goes wrong, which can have a serious and lasting impact on the success of the whole organization.

It’s a common problem: one poll of 1,000 U.S. employees found 91 percent felt their leaders lacked effective communication skills. And while it takes many things to be a great manager, being a good communicator is essential, according to extensive research by Google.

But with the right strategies and tools, managers can improve their communication with employees – while also improving the bottom line.

Why manager-employee communication is so critical today

Given the current war for talent, creating a positive employee experience is top of mind for most organizations. That experience largely hinges on interactions with managers. In fact, Gallup research shows managers account for an astounding 70 percent of the variance in their team’s engagement.

By fostering high engagement, managers that communicate well with employees build cultures founded on trust. Harvard research shows that employees in high-trust organizations are more energetic and more productive. It’s simple: great managers are business-critical, and you can’t be a great manager without communication know-how.

What happens when manager-employee communication breaks down

Without good communication, everything falls apart in the workplace. Confusion and frustration reign, while productivity and engagement suffer.

In a survey of 400 U.S. executives, managers and employees, 52 percent of respondents said communication barriers lead to added stress, 44% said they result in a failure to complete projects, 31 percent said they cause low morale, and 25 percent said they contribute to missed performance goals.

Managers’ top communication mistakes

Many managers struggle with how to communicate with employees, and it can show up in countless ways. But these mistakes will be familiar to many employees:

Sharing vital information too late

Nobody likes to be out of the loop. Employees at every level want and need to know what’s happening with the organization, whether it’s good or bad. Managers who announce important company news at the last minute lose trust and fuel disengagement.

Withholding feedback

Whether it’s positive or negative, feedback is essential for employees to feel valued. In a study on the leading employee complaints about their leaders, 63 percent of employees said it was not recognizing their achievements, and 39 percent it was not offering constructive criticism.

Using the wrong communication methods

Face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful than email requests, according to Harvard research. Yet many managers continue to rely heavily on email in their communication with employees. They also fail to adapt their communication method to the situation and the recipients’ preferences.

Being aloof

Employees don’t want to be best friends with their managers, but they need some genuine connection. When managers cancel or avoid one-on-one meetings, never ask about employees’ lives outside work, and – this is a bad one – don’t know employees’ names, it sends the message that they don’t care.

Excluding remote employees

It’s hard enough working off-site without feeling like your manager doesn’t recognize your unique communication needs. A recent survey found nearly 57 percent of remote workers have missed out on important information and 55 percent have been excluded from meetings, which adds up to wasted time and lost revenue.

Tips for better manager-employee communications

So how can managers improve their formal and informal communications with employees? By recognizing it as a priority with wide-ranging benefits and applying these best practices.

Connect often

Employees whose manager meets with them regularly are almost three times as likely to be engaged as those whose managers do not, according to Gallup research. Frequent team meetings and one-on-one chats are the easiest and most effective ways to break down communication barriers.

Ask for and provide feedback

Give employees a say by creating a dedicated feedback center where they can offer their ideas and opinions, and show them you’re listening by making it interactive. On the flip side, go beyond the annual performance review and “nice job” note. Be specific and go public with your praise by centralizing it in a recognition center.

Be transparent

Share company news in real-time whenever possible (a centralized newsroom helps), and be open and honest about what it means for the organization. Give employees a window on what’s happening at the executive level with a leadership center that invites direct input.

Include everyone

Gallup research recommends that managers have frequent conversations with remote employees to address their potential isolation and determine what they need to feel connected. Digital tools such as team rooms and personal profiles can help ease communication and collaboration challenges.

Be approachable

A recent study found 55 percent of employees who strongly agree that they can talk with their manager about non-work related issues are engaged in their work, while only 10 percent of those who strongly disagree are engaged. It’s as simple as knowing employees’ names, asking about their lives’ outside the office, and really listening.

Use the right tools

First, send fewer emails – there are more efficient ways to communicate with employees. Choose your vehicle based on the message and the recipients’ needs and preferences. Deliver emotional news in person, for example, but make company-wide announcements on the intranet.

Does your intranet enable effective manager communication? If not, it’s time to think about new tools that can help you get the job done. You simply can’t afford to ignore this issue.

Our digital workplace solutions are built for communication

Poor manager communication with employees is widespread but fixable. It’s all about sharing, connecting, and listening more, and leaning on the right tools.

Learn more about how digital workplace solutions can help managers communicate at the right time, in the right place.