Using Change Communication to Lift Employee Engagement

Making a major transition? This is the perfect opportunity to influence employees’ attitudes and productivity

Announcing a major change at the same time a company is trying to lift lagging employee engagement scores can seem like an impossible task for internal communication teams.

Yet, that’s exactly the challenge many communicators are facing. Change is constant and rapid in today’s business landscape, and it can sometimes cause anxiety for internal audiences.

So how can we make progress on improving engagement at a time when employees might be feeling worried or defensive?

The answer lies in the three essential elements that influence engagement: inspiration, safety and support.

When employees feel inspired, energy levels spike because they have a meaningful purpose to strive toward.

When they feel safe and supported, they don’t have to focus their time and effort on protecting themselves. Instead, they can apply their energy to their work.

These three elements – inspiration, safety and support – become paramount in change communication.

Our brains tend to automatically classify transitions as “high-risk” because of the likelihood that we might lose something as a result. However, these high-stakes situations present the ideal opportunity to lift engagement by strengthening relationships between employees and the company.

Messages should convey purpose and address concerns.

When change communication includes the compelling “why” behind the decision to make a major change, employees feel inspired and begin to see how their contributions will make an impact.

Plus, when they realize they will be able to play a meaningful role in bringing the change to life, they feel confident and safe that their function is valuable and their job is secure.

By proactively addressing their questions and putting their fears at ease, the information shared with employees can also help them feel safe and supported. When they are able to see that leaders are looking out for them, they realize they can work confidently – with focus and peace of mind – and spend less energy looking for threats.

Timing must show respect and create clarity.

When employees find out about a major change from official sources within the company – not customers, neighbors or news media – they feel respected. This sends a signal of support and safety.

Another way timing of communication can influence perceptions of safety is by avoiding information overload.

Using simple, clear wording shows employees the company wants them to understand. When the message is complex or lengthy, employees might worry that someone is trying to hide important details.

In many situations, it’s best to use a phased approach for communicating change because it gives employees a chance to absorb and process the news.

In the first phase of change communication, they find out what is coming and why it’s important. In the second phase, they find out exactly what they’re being asked to do and how they will be supported. In the final phase, communication reinforces key behaviors and conveys gratitude.

This carefully measured, thoughtful release of information can lift employees’ levels of trust and shows them that leaders are being courteous, straight-forward and fair.

Formats need to encourage conversation.

The way the change communication is released to employees is another leading factor that influences their perceptions of safety.

When leaders are open with employees and give them a chance to be heard, employees feel more confident and willing to trust.  They feel like they’re being treated fairly and that leaders have employees’ best interests in mind.

This often translates into making major announcements in person and providing ample time and opportunities for leaders to answer questions from employees.

Careful communication planning leads to powerful business results.

Communicating change is a pivotal opportunity. It has the power to make a huge impact on business success by revealing exactly how valuable the organization views its relationship with employees.

High-performance organizations know it’s worthwhile to communicate in a way that keeps employees motivated and confident. They know this is the only way to ignite the collective and unstoppable power of a workforce committed to helping the company move forward.

About the Author

Jessica Walter, MS, APR, is a Communication Strategist and Certified Leadership Coach with a passion for inspiring individuals and companies to live into their full potential.

Jessica has been a strategist and consultant for a communication firm, a marketing executive for a regional bank, a communications director for a health system, a public affairs officer for a Dept. of Defense command, and the assignment editor for a TV newsroom.

She has recently been quoted in Training Magazine, Becker’s Hospital Review and the Central Penn Business Journal on accelerating business growth through culture and employee communication.

She holds a master’s degree in Leadership & Business Ethics from Duquesne University, a bachelor’s in Mass Communication from Towson University, and the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Universal Accreditation Board.

She is also certified as a Lean Systems Leader and as a Professional Leadership Coach.

© 2021 Jessica Walter, MS, APR

All content provided here is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization with which the author is involved. Although the author makes an extensive effort to provide a complete representation of facts, it is recommended to gather information from many sources. The author sincerely hopes that you find this information helpful and urges you to be inspired, to inspire others, and to be gentle with yourself as you continue on your path.

Published by Jessica Walter, MS, APR

Certified Professional Leadership Coach and a Senior Strategist with JPL, one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest integrated marketing agencies, where she oversees research and strategy engagements for internal communication clients. I have 20+ years of experience leading strategic communication programs in corporate, non-profit and agency settings. I also holds the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR).

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