I hate to start this article with a negative, but employee engagement is currently at an all-time low. Of course, I don’t have to tell you that. You see it and live it every day, either as an employee who isn’t as engaged as you used to be or as a well-intentioned leader charged with improving your communication skills and inspiring your people. 

As a high-performing employee, you desperately want to be engaged. And as the leader, you are constantly searching for ways to do things better. But let’s be honest: the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have flipped your workplace experience on its head.

More people are working in remote or hybrid settings than ever before, and as a result:

  • Formal communication channels previously always open (water cooler talk with co-workers, bumping into the boss in the elevator or break room, grapevine-oriented chatter, etc.) are nonexistent in some settings and less frequent in others.
  • There are fewer opportunities to interact face-to-face with the people who can provide the best information.
  • Workplace communications feel more structured and time-bound.
  • Pulling your manager or employee aside in person to discuss work issues, feedback, tips, strategizing, etc., has vanished.
  • Employees aren’t mentored like before.
  • Problems aren’t being addressed effectively or efficiently. 
  • Employee morale and dissatisfaction can fester and spread faster than ever before.
  • You can’t react to or see things as they happen in real time. 
  • And don’t get me started on new employee onboarding practices in a remote environment.

When you look at the meta-studies on employee engagement (I like to call them the studies of the studies), only 10-15% of people across organizations are highly engaged, and practically the same percentage of people are barely engaged. So, there’s this even larger group in the middle who are only somewhat engaged, and the challenge among leaders is to move all of them in the direction of being fully engaged — not some of the time or part of the time, but all of the time.

An Increased Focus on Improving Communication Skills 

The stakes have never been higher to attract and retain top talent, and the responsibility falls squarely on leaders. Research tells us how favorably an employee views the organization they’re working for, where they fall on the employee engagement scale, and how long they see themselves staying with that organization depends on their relationship with their direct manager. When the manager or leader says and does all the right things and addresses the employee’s needs, the employee will stay longer and engage to the highest degree. Employees are less engaged and more likely to leave when leaders don't do these things.

So, I ask you — what are you doing as a leader to change that? 

  • How often are you taking advantage of your opportunities to engage with your teams?
  • Are you communicating goals effectively, praising and acknowledging your people, and demonstrating empathy?
  • Are you stepping up in situations where people feel detached, unrecognized, and under-appreciated?
  • How well are you explaining and giving background and context on internal decisions?
  • Are you communicating with vulnerability?
  • Are you helping employees make sense of what’s being asked of them?
  • How well do you understand your limitations or blind spots as a communicator?

To summarize, I believe it’s more important than ever in today’s world of lackluster employee engagement for leaders to be intentional about improving their communication skills. Take advantage of every opportunity to communicate with your people — even at the risk of over-communicating (trust me — they’ll appreciate it) — and recognize that everyone has different communication needs. If you stop long enough to view your people as individuals and endeavor to meet them where they are, everyone will be better in the long run.

The Business World Demands Improved Communication

How well you communicate as employees and leaders is paramount to your organization’s success and internal morale. This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is an innovative, one-of-a-kind software that profoundly addresses these needs and related communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. Like an advisory committee, it gives you the feedback you need to understand how you communicate — all in real time. 

And as we practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who we are. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you begin to see changes in how you communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see you as a more inclusive leader.

Interested in a deeper dive on how leaders communicate to drive higher employee engagement? Register for our webinar “Fostering Employee Engagement Through Better Leadership Communication” which I’m hosting on February 29, at 12pm Eastern.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning & Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.