How to avoid an apathetic workforce by fixing the way you communicate

Effective employee engagement is about how you share good and bad messages with staff.

By Leontia Fannin Carr Communications

YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD terms like ‘effective employee engagement’ and ‘organisational effectiveness’, but what do they really boil down to?

In short, committed employees deliver business results far beyond those in organisations with an apathetic or disengaged workforce. The benefits to any business cannot be overstated.

Focusing on improving employee engagement is a must for any organisation wishing to retain high performers and attract new talent to their organisation.

Improving employee engagement can of course take many forms; for example, company-wide or local team based initiatives such as recognition programmes, wellbeing strategies or career development opportunities.

However, no one has a greater impact on employee engagement than a team manager. Managers directly impact how their team members experience working life every single day.

It is therefore imperative for any business to ensure that their management population has the capability to create the right working environment for their team, one where their team members feel valued, motivated and part of a collective effort to deliver the company’s vision.

Management style and approaches vary, however a manager’s ability to effectively communicate with their team, whether they be delivering positive or difficult messages, will have a profound impact on improving employee engagement.

Managers will often put a great deal of thought into delivering presentations or chairing meetings. However, communications through more informal means can have just as great, if not sometimes greater, impact on their team.

They need to consider how to communicate effectively with their people throughout the entire cycle, both informally and formally.

What are good manager communications?

The internal messages will vary from business to business, however there are some basic principles that can help a manager improve communications with team members.

The best communication creates understanding by being actionable, comparable, effortless and engaging:


Deadlines – Setting deadlines for team members creates clear concrete goals and helps motivate people to act. If people don’t know by when they are expected to do something, they are less likely to prioritise the work.

Next steps - Outlining clear next steps in a necessity. People are more likely to act on what a manager says if they know exactly what they are expected to do next.

Leaving any ambiguity creates a higher risk of misinterpretation and misalignment between a manager and their team members.

Checklists – Creating flowcharts and checklists to reduce errors ensures that important steps in processes are followed. This can be applied collectively with a team, as well as for individual team members.

Simplicity - The easier it is for someone to understand a message, the more likely they will be to act on it. Managers must be mindful of not overcomplicating a message or communicating unnecessary information.


Feedback – People struggle to learn and change their behaviour when they cannot compare their performance with a relevant benchmark, so giving feedback on performance is a necessity for any manager.

Feedback should allow for comparisons over time, with others, and with targets to contain information to improve performance.

When communicating performance feedback, it is imperative for a manager to show the direct link between the behaviour and outcome in order to drive the desired performance.

Social norms – People are strongly influenced by others, by what they think others do, and what they think is expected of them. Tell people what their peers do and use comparisons between themselves and others.

However, managers need to consider the use of social norms appropriately, particular with regards to individual performance conversations.

Imaginability – People struggle to take action when they cannot realistically imagine the consequences of that action. Provide vivid examples which simulate experience and tell stories of people in similar situations.


Translatable – People struggle to understand complex and unfamiliar units of measurement. Use familiar units that do not require any sort of calculation to be understood.

For example, when communicating pay or bonus information, clearly outline the impact for the individual – don’t leave calculations open to misinterpretation.

Relatable – People tend not to engage with communications that do not match the way they perceive themselves. Use familiar language that people would use themselves.

Overly complex formal corporate language will lessen the impact of a manager’s communications.

Manageable – People struggle with complexity and large amounts of information. Use simple, clear messages to ensure they are put to action. Chunk large messages or processes into smaller pieces to help people manage the information.

This is particularly relevant for any written communications a manager may send to their team.


Framing – People will react differently to information depending on how it is presented. Use framing with care, particularly when communicating gains and losses, will drive different reactions.

This insight will come into play for difficult messages that need to be communicated. Pay and rewards, for example, and how updates are communicated have the potential to be detrimental to employee engagement if not framed appropriately.

Salient – People are influenced by the information at the forefront of their mind, particularly when it’s vivid and emotional, ignoring potentially more relevant details.

Using striking visual cues or vivid language that will stick in the memory of the audience will be crucial for any internal communications that are sent via email or delivered via presentations.

Without a salient approach to developing management communications, they run the risk of being completely ignored by staff or the key messages being missed by the target audience.

Timely – People engage differently with messages depending on when they receive it. It is imperative that managers identify times when their teams will be most receptive and when they will be able to act upon their communication.

Personal – People are more responsive to personal communications than generic messages. Communication with a human touch, customised to the individual as much as possible, is much more likely to engage a team.

Leontia Fannin is head of internal communications and employee engagement at Carr Communications, which recently launched a behavioural economics and sciences unit.

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