Internal communication is an indispensable tool for human resources management and management. The smooth flow of information within a company indeed brings numerous benefits. It allows for the dissemination of corporate culture, strengthening employee engagement, fostering team cohesion, improving the social climate, retaining employees, and building an attractive employer brand.
However, many organizations suffer from poor internal communication. According to a 2018 survey conducted by INside and OpinionWay, one in two employees feels that their management does not communicate sufficiently internally. Worse still, one in three respondents states that they are not well informed about what is happening within their company, and 20% claim they do not have the information they need to do their job. This observation is particularly worrying considering the costs incurred by the lack of internal communication. A study by the telecommunications company Mitel estimates the financial impact of ineffective internal communication at €9100 per year per employee.
So, how can we address internal communication problems and improve information transmission within a company? In this article, Mozzaik decrypts the causes and consequences of ineffective internal communication, provides solutions for effective communication, and introduces internal communication tools revolutionizing the sector. Happy reading!
What is internal communication?
Internal communication refers to all communication actions and tools implemented within an organization to circulate information from management to employees (downward communication), from employees to management (upward communication), and among employees regardless of their hierarchical level (horizontal or transversal communication).
Internal communication tools
There is a variety of internal communication tools. Internal communication mediums can be physical (company magazine, bulletin board, brochure, etc.) or digital (intranet, enterprise social network, newsletter, etc.). Interpersonal exchanges, both formal (meetings, seminars, individual interviews, etc.) and informal (lunch breaks, Zoom coffee, after-work gatherings, etc.), are also important channels of internal communication.
The key role of internal communication in business
Internal communication has an operational function as it disseminates processes and rules internally (especially safety instructions). It also serves as a lever for motivating employees by promoting corporate culture, encouraging employees to adhere to common values and a shared project. Lastly, internal communication plays a crucial role in fostering a peaceful social climate. It smoothens interpersonal relationships and social dialogue, strengthening cohesion and employees' sense of belonging to the company.
Signs of poor internal communication
A decrease in productivity, a growing number of projects falling behind schedule, an increase in security incidents and workplace accidents, a rise in absenteeism and turnover, or a deterioration in the social climate marked by the emergence of interpersonal conflicts can be symptoms of poor internal communication. These signals should prompt the HR department or the communication department to rethink its internal communication plan and adopt internal communication tools more tailored to the company's needs and its employees.
What are the consequences of poor internal communication?
The consequences of internal communication problems or a lack of communication in a company are as numerous as they are costly. We can notably mention:
Decreased productivity and loss of earnings
Decreased productivity linked to ineffective internal communication. When information and knowledge do not circulate well, employees struggle to understand their objectives, procedures to follow, as well as roles and responsibilities. Disoriented, they waste time seeking solutions from their colleagues, become more stressed, and eventually disengage. As a consequence, according to a 2016 study by the American software publisher Vocoli, an organization with 100 employees would lose nearly 884 hours per year clarifying its internal communication. Ultimately, the productivity loss caused by poor internal communication would cost an average of $26,041 per employee per year.
Increase in errors, accidents, and security incidents
A lack of internal communication results in an increase in errors and security incidents. When employees do not have access to important information and safety instructions, they do not know how to perform their tasks optimally. In the worst case, this lack of knowledge of the rules can jeopardize the physical and mental health of employees and threaten the security of the company, leading, for example, to workplace accidents or the loss of confidential data.
Decrease in collective intelligence and innovation
Teams with poor communication are less innovative. They do not exchange ideas and knowledge, so collective intelligence does not fully flourish. This represents a loss for the organization, which could improve its products and processes to boost its performance and be more competitive in its market.
Deterioration of the work atmosphere
Poor internal communication leads to a deterioration of the company's social climate. When employees are deprived of communication tools, opportunities, or best practices that allow them to communicate well with each other, they struggle to understand each other. Interpersonal conflicts can then emerge, degrading relationships between colleagues and, more generally, the work atmosphere. Ultimately, ineffective internal communication has a negative impact on employees' ability to work as a team, as well as on the mental health of employees who may feel isolated and stressed.
Deterioration of social dialogue
Poor internal communication can degrade relationships between employees, their superiors, and their leaders. When downward communication is deficient (for example, due to a lack of transparency, coherence, or pedagogy), employees cannot understand, accept, and adhere to management decisions. The resulting mistrust can jeopardize the company's operation, especially during times of transformation or crisis. Conversely, a lack of upward communication can lead to internal tensions. Indeed, employees who do not have satisfactory means to express themselves do not feel listened to and considered by their management, which generates dissatisfaction.
Increase in turnover and absenteeism
Ultimately, between employee disengagement, risks to physical and mental health, poor work atmosphere, and tense relations with management, defective internal communication can contribute to an increase in staff turnover and absenteeism. Two phenomena that have a significant cost for employers. According to the Work Institute, the amount to invest in replacing an employee corresponds to 33% of their annual salary and can even reach 200% of it. Moreover, according to calculations by the Sapiens Institute in 2018, the cost of absenteeism at work in France amounts to €107 billion per year.
What are the causes of poor internal communication?
To improve communication within a company, it is necessary to identify the causes of its inefficiency. Obstacles to internal communication can be of various natures and vary from one organization to another. The most common problems with internal communication include:
Existence of organizational silos
Issues with internal communication can arise when information does not flow between hierarchical levels or between departments due to a lack of relays (managers, employee representatives, etc.) or appropriate communication tools (notice boards, intranet, internal social network, etc.). If nothing is done to disseminate company news in production or distribution locations, for example, frontline employees may be excluded from information channels managed by headquarters. Similarly, in the absence of a shared information system for all members of the organization, employees from different departments or entities may fail to exchange important information.
Lack of transparency and coherence
The lack of transparency and coherence in downward communication is also a common problem with internal communication. To gain the trust and commitment of employees, leaders must communicate regularly, clearly, and sincerely about company policies, objectives, and challenges. In this regard, downward communication should not exclude certain groups of workers or avoid important subjects. Moreover, internal messages must be consistent with measures actually implemented and with external communication.
Insufficient upward communication channels
Another common problem with internal communication is the lack of communication channels promoting upward communication. Employee representatives play a key role in social dialogue and in conveying information from employees to management. However, besides these representative bodies, information often tends to flow in only one direction, from hierarchy to employees. Under these conditions, decision-makers do not have a precise understanding of what is happening on the ground. They lack the necessary information to make informed decisions and implement effective measures. At the same time, employees feel that their needs, expectations, and opinions are not taken into account by their management. Consequently, relationships between teams and their hierarchy deteriorate, and the social climate is affected.
Information overload or inadequate internal communication strategy
While a lack of communication is detrimental, information overload or a poor internal communication strategy can also hinder effective communication within a company. Excessive, poorly prioritized, poorly targeted, overly complex, dense, or dispersed information can be harmful. Overwhelmed, employees do not have time to consume all the content they receive. They do not know which information is important for them. Worse, they do not understand the messages conveyed to them. For example, sending technical IT documentation to a non-technical internal audience can be counterproductive and lead to security vulnerabilities.
Linguistic and cultural differences
In international companies, internal communication is a significant challenge. Due to language barriers, differences in cultural references, or lack of common professional codes, employees may encounter difficulties in communicating and understanding each other. Simple misunderstandings can make collaborative work more complicated, leading to delivery delays, errors, or conflicts. Some employees, more direct in their communication style, may offend their peers with their perceived lack of tact. Others, more suggestive, may struggle to convey their requirements, creating tensions within or between teams. These common internal communication problems are certainly not insurmountable. To address them, the internal communication plan may include the implementation of communication tools adapted to multilingual exchanges or the dissemination of best practices in intercultural communication.
Inappropriate or misused communication channels
Finally, poor-quality internal communication can result from the inappropriate use of internal communication tools or the absence of communication channels adapted to the needs of different internal audiences or the type of information being transmitted. While an information board may be useful for on-site workers, it does not reach remote workers. Similarly, distributing HR process information on a flyer or in an occasional newsletter is less effective than making it permanently available on the company's HR intranet.