Employee Communication in the '90S: Great(er) Expectations

By Foehrenbach, Julie; Goldfarb, Steve | Communication World, May-June 1990 | Go to article overview

Employee Communication in the '90S: Great(er) Expectations


Foehrenbach, Julie, Goldfarb, Steve, Communication World


EMPLOYERS are becoming more aware that employee loyalty, commitment, and concern for quality depend on effective employee communication. Yet most corporate communication efforts are still missing the mark. And as workers grow more demanding in the nineties, management will be chasing a moving target as it tries to meet even greater expectations.

Employees Better Informed Today

Our research shows that employees are significantly better informed today, that communication is more complete, more direct, more honest and more relevant. Yet employees are dissatisfied on many levels. The "up" of two-way communication is still missing, resulting in a failure to build shared understanding between employees and management of what needs to be done to move the organization forward. Programs are in good shape, but the process needs attention.

Prompted by requests for updated results of the IABC/-Fowers, Perrin, Forster and Crosby survey on employee communication effectiveness-jointly conducted in 1980, 1982, and 1984-we examined TPF&C's own comparative database. The database reflects the opinions of employees in nearly 300 organizations and reflects employee opinions gathered in 1987 - 1989. This is what we found:

* Although employees are more satisfied than ever with the information they're getting, communication efforts are still not meeting their needs. The majority of employees want face-to-face communication.

* The company-wide publication scores high marks from employees in many respects, yet it rates low as a preferred source of information.

* The "trust gap" is real. A majority of employees believe that management is out of touch and doesn't understand the problems they face in their jobs.

* Employees remain intensely critical of management's willingness to listen to them and to act on their ideas.

* First-line supervisors, although overwhelmingly the preferred source of information, are still not communicating at satisfactory levels.

* Senior management remains invisible and out of touch.

Employee Needs Different Today

Before examining the data, we need to look briefly at why certain trends are emerging. Not long ago, most organizations hired people for their brawn, not their brains. Manufacturing operations dominated the business economy after World War II, and organizations looked for employees who would be order-followers, not problem-solvers. That worked well when job security, not personal fulfillment, was an employee's primary concern. Questioning the way things were done wasn't part of the program. Building employee involvement was not an issue for either side.

But times have changed. More and more we see signs that paternalism is on the way out. "Empowering employees"-to make decisions, to get involved, to use their judgment-is a commonly encountered organizational value" or goal. For example, in the benefits area, many organizations no longer have a uniform benefit program for everyone. Instead, employees are being given a set amount of benefit dollars to spend as they choose.

In short, businesses' needs and employees' needs are Slowly, but gradually, coming together. The fusion hasn't happened yet, but at least companies are recognizing that it has to. And employee communication programs must keep pace.

In the context of this background, let's take a more in-depth look at what the data reveals.

The Communication Climate: The Good News

Employees say that the quality of corporate communication, which was eroding during the 80s, is showing signs of improvement. Overall, employees are more satisfied with the information they receive now than they were nine years ago. (See Table 1.) Particularly strong gains have been made when it comes to whether employees believe what they're told. At the start of the decade, employees were divided evenly on this question. …

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