During this year, upward communication in the workplace has become the most important type of internal workplace communications. As employers are worried about their employees’ wellbeing, safety and productivity while working from home, they want to show more empathy and open the space for their employees to speak up.
In this blog, we will go over the importance of building a culture of upward communication as well as some best practices for driving open workplace communications.
What Is Upward Communication?
Upward communication is the process in which employees directly communicate with upper management to provide feedback, share ideas and raise concerns regarding their day-to-day work.
Historically, downward communication was considered as the most important type of communication in the workplace. Today, however, in employee-centric organizations, upward communication is rising in its importance.
According to SIS International Research, organizations can lose more than $525,000 annually due to ineffective manager-employee communication.
Upward communication is increasing in popularity among organizations that want to build and encourage an inclusive, participative and engaging workplace culture. Companies that foster upward communication enjoy many benefits such as workplace transparency, better team collaboration, easier decision-making and, therefore, better employee experience.
The Importance of Upward Communication in the Workplace
The rise of remote work, social distancing and constant organizational change are completely reshaping the way employees communicate with their peers and their managers.
Organizations are trying to show empathy as employees across the world are going through the most difficult times of their careers. In order to achieve that, employers are switching from hierarchical, top-down communications to the more open, upward communication.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the benefits of upward communication.
Workplace trust and transparency
When employees feel free to speak up, they are much more likely to trust their employers and their managers. As workplace trust plays an important role in shaping positive employee experience, companies are now introducing new ways for employees to engage in upward communication.
Employee engagement and retention
Effective upward communication creates a healthy work environment and results in a more engaged workforce. This ultimately improves employee retention. One study shows that up to 25% of employees who quit their jobs did so because they felt like they were kept in the dark.
Organizations that understand the importance of upward workplace communication also have well-set strategies around creating open environments for more satisfied employees.
Even though there are still managers who are not good at accepting feedback from their employees, most of them are becoming aware of the importance of this approach.
Qualtrics reports that 60% of U.S. employees have a way to provide feedback about their own employee experience, and only 30% said their feedback is acted upon by their employer.
Moreover, today when many employees work remotely, managers are introducing new ways to connect with their teams via digital communication channels.
Crisis and change management
Most businesses go through constant changes and are required to adapt to new working environments while ensuring positive digital employee experience (DEX). This year was a wake-up call for many organizations who didn’t have change, crisis or continuity management strategies in place.
As employees are the most important stakeholders of any change in the organization, upward communication is a must!
Managers need to better understand their employees’ feelings during tough situations, and that is only possible when employees feel free to speak up.
Upward communication is crucial for achieving organizational alignment among employees. When employees engage in upward communications, they will ask questions and they won’t feel discouraged to request clarification about your company’s goals, mission and vision. Organizations that communicate their strategies using one-way communication channels, don't have a way to answer questions employees may have.
Ultimately, this results in misalignment and a gap between what the leaders expect and what employees are supposed to do to get there.
In one study, only 10% of employees said that they were aware of their company's progress in real time. Nearly half of them say that they find out more about the performance of their organisation by doing their own ‘digging’ than they do via ‘official’ information channels.
Collaboration and knowledge sharing
As most organizations are witnessing increasing skill gaps in their organizations, knowledge sharing among employees, and especially knowledge workers, is becoming critical. Moreover, over 50% of employees say that sharing of company information had a significant positive impact on their contribution to overall company performance.
Yet, this is hard to achieve within organizations that don’t practice upward communication.
When employees freely share their ideas with their managers, their knowledge gets transferred to others in a much more agile and faster way.
Inclusivity and sense of purpose
Upward communication in the workplace creates a sense of meaning, purpose and inclusivity among employees. When employees feel like their share of voice is encouraged and appreciated, their work satisfaction, morale and experience naturally increase.
Through effective and well-managed upward communication, employees can convey their suggestions or ideas for the organization’s benefit. In the absence of such communication, the potential of employees is not completely utilized.
Luckily, more and more managers are realizing the importance of giving employees a voice. They are implementing solutions that allow employees to easily contribute suggestions and ideas to upper management and other employees.
How to Create a Culture of Upward Communication in the Workplace
As seen in the previous section, upward communication impacts the most important people-related KPIs. Employees’ share of voice matters, and it is imperative that you try your best to solicit their feedback. Moreover, 75% of employees say that they would prefer to stay with a company that values their opinions and addresses concerns.
Let’s now take a look into how to build a culture of upward workplace communication.
1. Get the managers’ buy-in
Managers play the most important role in driving upward communication in the workplace. Therefore, the first step in building such culture is to get managers’ buy-in. Yet, many managers still don’t want or don’t know how to encourage their employees’ share of voice.
This problem is even more obvious now when most of communication happens online. This is why we are seeing an increasing demand for tools and technology solutions that enable employees to easily share their ideas, concerns and questions not only towards their managers, but towards the entire workplace.
2. Build a culture of open communication
Upper management should create a culture of listening in the workplace. Mid-management and supervisors who interact with low and mid-level employees should open the line to two-way communications.
To build a culture of upward communications, managers should encourage digital open-door policies that invite employees for discussions or suggestions without fear.
3. Understand your audience to personalize communication
In order for organizations to switch their focus to upward communication, they first need to understand their employees’ current state of mind. More precisely, many large enterprises that operate in different countries need to understand the cultural differences among their workforce and adapt their communication efforts accordingly.
Cultural differences can affect the language in messages flowing through upward channels to managers. If you want your employees to speak up and join daily company conversations, communication needs to be personal and relevant to what they do.
Yet, many internal communicators, managers and leaders don’t have an easy way to segment their audiences and make communication more personal and localized.
4. Choose the right communication mediums
Upward communication channels can be broken by the communication mediums available to lower-level employees versus managers and leaders. Directors or managers often use multiple communication channels that other employees may not have access to.
Instead, employers need to turn to communication channels available and inclusive to the entire workplace.
One-way communications channels such as company-wide email newsletters are, therefore, dead. Using such mediums prevent employees from joining the conversation and share their voice.
5. Crate channels for employees to express their ideas and concerns
If you want your employees to engage in upward communication, consider creating communication channels designated for your employees to ask questions, comment on leadership announcements, engage with one another and provide their feedback.
When you do so, your employees will understand that you are really putting an effort in encouraging them to be open and transparent.
Moreover, with the rapid increase of remote work, engaging dispersed workforce has become the priority for most managers.
6. Encourage employee-generated content
One of the best ways to show your employees the importance of upward communication, and encourage them to speak up, is by allowing them to create and share their own content in the organization.
Consider implementing workplace communication solutions where managers and leaders are not the only ones driving the conversations. Instead, encourage regular employees to create and publish their own stories and make them visible to others.
7. Support your managers with knowledge and tools
Oftentimes, internal communications professionals are the ones who support managers in mastering their employee communication strategy. They work closely together to find the best ways to connect with their teams, build stronger relationships and drive upward communication.
8. Encourage leaders to be authentic and approachable
More and more, we see leaders engage in company-wide conversations. During the current pandemic, employees are expecting from leaders to speak to them, share important news and updates and also invite them to share their own thoughts and concerns.
As mentioned earlier, for many employees, these are the most stressful times of their careers. hence, it is the leaders’ job to communicate in an authentic way and be approachable if they want to experience the benefits of upward communication.
9. Create and share engaging internal content
When inviting employees to participate, managers and leaders need to make sure to share authentic, personal and inspiring internal content relevant to their audiences. Unfortunately, many workplace communication tools such as outdated intranets and emails don’t allow them to do so.
As a result, employees may feel left out or even overwhelmed with the overload of information not relevant to their roles, positions, locations, their age or even language that they speak. Employees will engage in upward communication only when the communication is relevant to their knowledge or meets their interests.
Consider introducing a communication solution with personalized employee news feeds where employees can start their day by engaging in a fun and meaningful way.
10. Measure your employees’ engagement
Driving and improving digital upward communication in the workplace is only possible when you know what you are doing right and what you're doing wrong. In other words, internal communicators, managers and leaders need to be able to measure employees’ engagement with their communication messages.
They need to understand what type of content employees engage with in order to make future, data-drive decisions.
🎥 Watch our online session: Strategic Planning Live: What Should Internal Comms be Measuring.
The Role of Managers in Driving Upward Communication
According to a Gallup study, employee engagement increases when managers provide consistent and clear communication. Another study showed that 4 out of 5 employees surveyed wanted to hear more frequently from their bosses about how their company was doing, and more than 90% of employees surveyed said they would rather hear bad news than no news.
Therefore, management should continuously incorporate a routine downward communication and encourage employees to practice upward communication. Communication from management can help prevent silos across departments and make management more approachable.
However, downward-only communication has significant negative sides. Since messaging trickles down through a “chain of command,” the original intent and motivation of the communication can be distorted.
Managers need to understand that downward communication does not leave room for an immediate response from their employees, and the result is that one-way messaging can come off authoritative and closed off to feedback.
What's more, when managers encourage upward communication culture, it motivates employees to feel they can share feedback about company processes and culture with upper management. Ultimately, this creates a healthy work atmosphere and environment.
As mentioned earlier, upward communication can aid overall creativity and innovation in the workplace and make employees feel they have a voice in approaching the ultimate company goals and objectives. However, managers have to be 100% on-board with upward communication from their employees.
If you want to enable your managers to drive upward communication in the workplace and, therefore, create a healthier workplace culture with engaged and well-informed employees, schedule a Smarp demo.