Internal Communication

11 Major Communication Problems in the Workplace

Communication is a core leadership function. Besides giving and receiving information it also creates a culture, allows employees to discuss and give feedback, boosts engagement, lessens turnover, helps your employees to get an idea of the company vision and values, supports change, manages crisis, and much more. Leave the communications without your attention – and major problems in various fields are likely to arise.

This article will guide you through a the 11 key characteristics of poor communication, and give you an alternative for each problem. In addition to describing those serious communication concerns, we will be going through some industry specific communication issues in this article, too.

Let’s have a look at eleven major internal communication concerns and why they matter so much.

11 Communication Problems in the Workplace

Manufacturing workers and an internal communication problem quote that says "Lack of information leads to gossip, which could add another crisis on top of the challenges you are already dealing with".

1. Reactivity Instead of Proactivity

The need for proactive behavior usually rises during the times of changes, such as mergers, acquisitions or crises. The word “reactive” in itself implies that the control of the events are in someone else’s hands and you are already dealing with a communication emergency.

On the other hand, being proactive allows you to plan and make choices beforehand and adjust your next messages based on the employee feedback. Lack of information leads to gossip, which could add another crisis on top of the challenges you are already dealing with.

Effective communication means communicating before, during and after change, not just updating staff members after everything has already happened. When you expect a change to happen or see a crisis coming, ask your communication team to participate in the strategy or project planning from the very first meeting.

Female worker in safety clothing using a smart phone and an internal communication quote saying "Information that is not accessible to HR or IC staff is extremely difficult to discredit."

2. Shadow Communications

Private messages and calls do have their time and place in business communication, however the regular use of social media for business communication is a possible threat. If the company’s management sets an example by sharing information via Facebook or WhatsApp chats, private conversations between employees arise that are no longer controlled by the management. This creates something called shadow communications.

However, conversations that happen in the shadow are ideal for the emergence of misinformation and gossip. Sadly, information that is not accessible to HR or communications staff is also extremely difficult to discredit.

Shadow communications can also rise when the tools given out to employees are unfit for the job. Therefore, the solution here is very straightforward: establish official communication channels and give out tools that actually cater for your employees’ needs.

3. Using the Wrong Tool

A large group email with no option for targeting, a notice board in the other side of the town that needs to be manually updated, information screens with no option for two-way communication and a non-anonymous suggestion box are just a few painful examples.

Right tools get you the result you want and do it in a timely manner. Use communication tools that allow detailed targeting and create as little noise as possible. Choose modern solutions that do not require physical presence. Enable two-way communication and guarantee everyone’s privacy and security by providing anonymous ways to let you know of important problems. Cater to the needs of those with no computer access, too.

4. Leaving Everything on Front Line Managers

Front line managers shouldn’t be responsible for being the sole messengers for their team members, however, they often are. Rather, the company’s internal communication strategy should support their already highly complicated role.

Instead of encouraging staff members to post their questions and worries through their direct manager, provide them with a direct channel to reach the employee they need. Asking important questions out in the public can help other employees, too, who might have had the same questions, and will enable teamwork to get problems solved.

Healthcare workers using smart phones and an internal communication problem quote that says "Passive listening means hearing someone, not listening to them."

5. Not Listening Actively = Listening Passively

Some of put on background music for our workout sessions or play Netflix on the background when hanging with friends. That’s passive listening, and it ain’t all bad in itself. But there is little room for being passive in workplace communications.

Simply put: passive listening means hearing someone, not listening to them. Active listening encompasses providing feedback on what you just heard and mirroring each other’s thoughts to validate that you understood the other person correctly. It takes much more awareness of one’s behavior and some actual listening skills.

Instead of preparing your argument in your head while the other person is talking, develop your listening skills by being completely present and mirroring back. This way, you’ll remember the content better, too.

6. Leaving Someone Out of the Loop

This often happens in front line and first line employee communication, where differences between individual employees are huge, but are frequently looked past. Team members who have no corporate emails or devices, who are situated in a remote location or happen to have a toxic or passive manager become simply left out.

Although such employees might be just a phone call away, no internal communication manager in a 500-strong company should ever waste their the time to inform the employees in such a time-consuming manner.

How to invite every employee to the loop and avoid workplace communication problems? Choose a mobile-first communication tool that provides access via both computers as well as smartphones and tablets. Make sure that registering is possible via multiple ways: email, phone number, QR code or PIN code. Only choose a provider that caters for all of your company languages. Set up a few public tablet stands or allow people computer access. “Everyone” goes further than “everyone in the office”.

7. Communicating One-Way Only

Workplace communication problems start with a naive assumption that employees understand every piece of the information they are given and never have anything to ask. Nothing could be further from the truth, and yet, some managers still go for a communication solution that offers no option for questions, comments or feedback.

When choosing the right tools for communication in the workplace, go for solutions that boost employee engagement. Give them a voice: via comments section, report form, suggestion box, group discussions, post creation, feedback form, chat or pulse surveys. And leave some time for questions at the end of the meetings, too.

8. Lacking Communication Standards

It’s okay not to have perfectly designed visuals with your communication. But try to avoid sending out a big chunk of text and disregarding all the formatting options available. Same goes for body language and eye contact: the main communicators in your work team should be familiarized with the basics “Dos and Don’ts” at least.

If you notice that your CEO or another person might need some help with their email, written communication skills or communication ideas, gently nudge them to the right direction – it’s your unique skills that they have hired you for. Creating a standard for people in your business to follow might be a good idea, but make it simple so it doesn’t kill someone’s initiative or put them in a strict box.

Courier delivering a big parcel and an internal communication problem quote saying "If there ain't an easy way for the first line workers to share the positive customer feedback, they aren't gonna do it."

9. Letting Positive Feedback Go Missing

Imagine a pastry factory worker who never receives the excellent feedback for the special order he made. If there ain’t an easy way for the first line workers to share the positive customer feedback with other employees ASAP, they won’t do it. Or the feedback will get lost in the many emails between the multiple departments between those two people.

Create a channel in your internal communication channel that is meant for praise and good feedback only. The benefits of that are threefold: the message will actually reach the person it is intended to reach, all members in the team will get a boost of energy, and your business values will clearly stand out.

10. Irregular or Seldom Communication

There is no such thing as not communicating. Staying silent or being inconsistent is communication too, and it sends your people two clear messages: that you don’t know what you are doing, and that your employees aren’t your priority.

If your schedule is tight, establish a strategic approach: plan internal communication ahead using an Excel planner, schedule posts, engage other content creators and look into your IC analytics for how your communication patterns affect those of your employees. If you keep your employee relationships intact and active, chances are that when you really need to inform them ASAP, they are there to listen.

Construction workers on site, and an internal communication problem quote that says "If you repeatedly ask for employee input, but never provide feedback, expect employee motivation to die out."

11. Asking for Input & Not Following Up

Pulse surveys that ask employees to report on their well-being or satisfaction on a weekly basis are great. But neither following back nor telling them what decisions their answers have impacted leaves them wondering why you turned to them in the first hand. If you repeatedly ask for employee input, but never provide feedback, expect their motivation to die out.

Rather, make sure to do a monthly overview of employee-raised issues and their impact and provide overviews for eNPS, pulse or satisfaction survey results. This enhances business transparency and boosts engagement.

Industry-Specific Communication Problems

When it comes to communication challenges in an organization, much depends on the specific industry, too. For example, poor communication in a company with scattered workforce, such as in logistics, vs in a company with a complicated reporting line, such as in retail, have its differences. Let’s look at the main industries and its workplace communication challenges one by one.

Logistics & Warehousing

Logistics companies face a great selection of communication challenges, as couriers or drivers are on the road most of the time. Employees in such companies to be provided with mobile-first solutions.

Back in the warehouse, different communication challenges arise, such as how to report urgent safety concerns and getting feedback on how the fixing process is going.

Manufacturing

An average manufacturing company usually has several factories in various locations. And if workplace communication means that news are distributed on leaflets or through front line managers, it is safe to assume that different employees receive information at very different times.

Another major issue that hinders productivity and employee engagement is knowing nothing about the end-user of the product you make. Positive customer feedback is often published on company social media or web page, but seldom sent back to its original creators.

Construction

Construction workers are scattered around various construction sites, meaning that they only see their direct colleagues, but have no picture of the organization as a whole. Mobile internal communication channels offer those employees an option to get to know the business as a whole, whereas email or a written message on a printed leaflet simply enlarge the gap between them and the organization.

Hospitality

Workplace communications in hospitality come with challenges encompassing both specific units and day-to-day messages as well as bigger, company-wide troubles. First of all, issues don’t reach the HQ or the senior management. Secondly, things are disorderly inside a hotel or restaurant, too. Housekeeping and reception employees are out of sync and rooms that need to be clean by 2 PM are untidy, whereas those of late arrivals are prepared first.

Retail & Wholesale

Mistakes in workplace communication often become evident in customer communications. Stores might be missing information on discount deals or be not up do date with the rules of the sales games launched by partners or brands. Or it could be prices or product info that are missing.

Sadly, it’s vice versa, too: issues with clients or products reach HQ with huge delays, as emails or static mobile-last intranets just won’t do the work for the hyper mobile retail employees.

Energy & Utilities

Scattered workforce in the energy and utilities sector makes developing working relationships extremely difficult. Such employees might have never been to your office, and therefore, are difficult to reach to brief on work tasks or hear back from. Information is delivered to them via one-on-one conversations, so getting to know the staff never really happens.

How to Turn from Problems into Effective Communication?

As you probably already know by now, it all starts with the right tool: the one that’s inclusive, mobile-first and affordable for a company with front line workers. The right tool will make it much easier for you to avoid the aforementioned 11 problems, too.

There are a lot of different communication tools available to aid the HR and IC departments in their pursuit of spreading and collecting information in the workplace. Dedicated HR tools such as GuavaHR act as a springboard for information sharing, group initiatives, project discussion and more to assist with lifted spirits and morale. Start communicating today!