One in every three US workers feels like quitting their job over poor workplace communications, according to a new report from employee engagement platform Dynamic Insight.

In a survey of 1,072 American staffers, the firm pinned communication problems chiefly on the infrastructures that employers have in place, with many systems thought to be either overwrought or out of date. Indeed, 53% of respondents felt overwhelmed with pressure to keep up with the plethora of communication tools they are meant to use and manage.

Half reported unnecessary stress for fear of missing critical information, with the ironic result that this stress has harmed their productivity. Three quarters said that they regularly waste time through the effort required to keep up with the incessant dings, pings and chats that emanate from their workplace software – while more than two-fifths (42%) complained that ineffective tools had led them to miss vital information necessary to do their jobs. Within that segment, half cited that specific problem as a weekly frustration.

The findings chime with those of another report released just a few days beforehand by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), on behalf of workflow software provider Lucidchart. In their study of 403 US senior executives, middle managers and junior staff, they found that visual communication tools are more effective than methods such as email, but comparatively underutilised.

It also emerged that communication breakdowns have the greatest impact on middle managers: with their need to communicate upwards to the C-suite, downwards to their direct reports, and laterally to different departments, mid-level managers tend to require more tools to communicate than employees at any other level. That said, almost half of directors (49%) reported that miscommunication happens either frequently or very frequently in their organisations.

But despite the findings of these reports, are software tools ultimately secondary to the need for strong, interpersonal communication skills?

The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Communication breakdown is a really easy, acceptable way of explaining why things have gone wrong on a project, or within an organisation. It sounds all very non-threatening and is generally regarded as a comfortable way to hand-wave a problem off the discussion table, because the cause has been identified. I personally believe that communication breakdown has become a palatable excuse for all sorts of things that are worthy of far deeper scrutiny.”

Nevertheless, Cooper notes, “if you do communicate with people, ensure that it’s done in suitable ways – for example, by using the correct medium, having a sense of clarity about the purpose of the communication and being thoughtful about which parties are included in the loop. It’s so easy to sweepingly copy staff in on emails, or bulk-invite them to online meetings. The irony here is that, while we seem to be constantly aware of how time-poor we are as leaders, we are often extremely careless with other people’s time.”

She points out: “In the pre-email era, you would never have had 100 memos to read every day. People were somewhat more thoughtful about who they’d copy a memo to – purely because of the physical labour involved. If you need to communicate only with a small number of people for any reason, the voice is a superb tool. That’s what we have it for. Instead of using the arms-length medium of email, it may be more productive to put in a phone call, or leave a voice memo. Two-way communication, where you’re checking understanding in real time, is a powerful asset.”

Cooper adds: “Just putting a mass of digital stuff out there, simply because you can, and expecting people to a) be interested in it, and b) read it all, is an extremely flawed approach. We at the Institute are very attuned to the plight of middle managers, who frequently serve as junction boxes for communications. Indeed, they’re the connective tissue between senior and junior members of staff. As such, many of them wrestle with a daily challenge of working out what’s urgent, what’s actionable and what’s just for their information. People try to make it easy for themselves by copying lots of colleagues in on emails, and it’s left up to the recipients to do the sifting. So of course, things are going to get missed.

“The golden rules for any communication exercise are: be thoughtful, make sure you’re getting your message across – and always use the appropriate medium.”


For further insights on effective communication in the workplace, BOOK NOW for our upcoming webinar with London Speech Workshop founder and director Emma Serlin, set to take place from 1:30pm to 2:00pm on Wednesday 11 April