3 Tips to Improve Manager Employee Communication - theEMPLOYEEapp

3 Tips to Improve Manager Employee Communication

Last updated on March 7, 2024 at 10:55 am

Manager communication has been a top challenge facing internal comms professionals for years. This is because line managers aren’t often great communicators. Usually, managers are promoted because they are the best at performing a specific task, but not because they have great people or communication skills. This can have serious repercussions for your company. Especially because many companies take for granted that frontline managers know how to communicate effectively but then are frustrated when manager communication is unsuccessful. 

But acknowledging this skill gap is not enough. We need to contribute to a solution. In this blog, we’ll share three ways to improve manager employee communication.

graphic that says coaching with employee training icons around it

What is Manager Communication?

What all is included under the umbrella of manager communication? Let’s start with the basics.

Manager communication is all the messages and updates shared between a manager and their direct reports. This includes, team meetings, one on one meetings, performance reviews, as well as any written communication that might be exchanged. 

It’s also important to remember that not all communication is written or verbal. In fact, at least 70 percent of all communication is nonverbal. This includes tone of voice, posture, mannerisms, and expressions. And that nonverbal communication is just as important as what’s actually said. 

For example, if a manager is giving their employees recognition, but they look bored and don’t sound enthusiastic, that can send a mixed signal. The act of recognition—which is a good thing—gets ruined by those nonverbal cues.

So, when companies focus on manager communication, they have to take into account how their people leaders communicate, not just what they communicate.

What Does Good Manager Communication Look Like?

Good manager communication is not black and white, but there are a few factors that make someone a stronger communicator and leader:

1. Being Positive. 

There is such a thing as toxic positivity, so it’s important not to force positivity all the time. There’s a great episode of Ted Lasso where Ted is talking to the team after a big defeat and he honors how everyone is feeling. He doesn’t just say, “Everything’s amazing, let’s move on!” He encourages his team to feel their loss, but to then lean on each other and work together to move forward. This is still being positive, but it’s being done in a genuine way.

2. Being Empathetic. 

Being empathetic and human is one of the most important things a leader can be. This makes a leader more approachable and helps them meet their employees where they are during tough conversations.

3. Being Honest.

Being a leader means having tough conversations. And your employees can likely see through half-truths or when you’re dodging addressing elephants in the room. So, being upfront and straightforward is just as important as empathizing and remaining positive to keep morale up. But if there is something scary or negative happening at your company, like layoffs, it’s important to be honest. Even if all a manager can say is “I don’t have details right now about how this might impact us” that tells employees that you aren’t hiding things from them, which builds trust over time.

4. Being Adaptable.

When it comes to how a manager should communicate with their employees, there is no one size that fits all. Every employee might have a different communication style, so it’s helpful when a manager can learn about how each employee communicates and try to adapt as much as possible. 

For instance, some employees might prefer a more informal tone and cadence for one on ones whereas others might want a more rigid schedule for meeting and feel more comfortable not being so informal. Also along this line is that not everyone is good in group communication settings, so if a manager only has team huddles and limited one-on-one conversations, some employees might struggle.

Why is Communication Important as a Manager?

So, why are we talking about manager communication? Why does this matter so much? And why should your business make it a priority this year?

The truth is that there are two main reasons why manager communication is important:

1. Strong manager communication can improve the employee experience.

You’ve probably heard Gallup’s finding that managers account for a staggering 70% of the variance in employee engagement

But that’s not all. 

Gallup also found that 50 percent of people quit to get away from their manager. And Pew Research found that 57% of Americans quit in 2021 because they felt disrespected at work…which comes back to your team and manager.

So, your company’s people managers have a huge impact on culture at a local level and on retention rates. But if your managers aren’t good at communicating–or watching their tone!—you risk losing your employees.

2. Manager employee communication is essential for workforce management. 

Managing a workforce is no small task. And a big portion of a manager’s role is communicating. But as we’ve already said, not all managers are trained as communicators before stepping into their new role. So even though someone was good enough at their job to be promoted doesn’t mean they know how to inspire their teams, manage them, and keep everyone on track.

3 Ways to Improve Manager Employee Communication

Improving manager communication skills is a must these days, especially as our workforces become more dispersed and rely more on mobile workforce technology. But how do we make inroads here?

Start with these three tactics to see results this year.

1. Review Current Programs

Review line manager training and onboarding programs with HR and operations to see what comms training you already have. It’s possible that training already exists but isn’t being reinforced or hasn’t been updated to account for different situations. Either way, do not assume things are completely broken. Instead, review what is available and have the teams responsible for the curriculum contribute to the solution.

2. Ask for Manager Feedback

Ask frontline managers for their feedback on what you’re asking them to communicate. Do this using employee surveys, focus groups, and observations.

Part of the challenge managers have in conveying important information may be how we present the messages to them. Have we provided talking points? Did we clearly state expectations for when and how messages should be shared with employees? Maybe the skills are there, but the resources are not. Observations can be a powerful tool in understanding what managers need from communicators to be successful. Sit in on an all-team or area leadership meeting to see how information is shared. What are managers referencing when sharing information? What’s the tone? Are they able to answer employee questions with confidence?

animated people taking an online employee survey

3. Follow the Data

To help your managers become better communicators, look at the data and follow the KPIs. Which managers or areas of the business are high-performing? What are they doing better or differently from teams that struggle to achieve their KPIs?

Business outcomes often have a direct correlation to effective communication. Chances are you’ll find great comms skills when you find managers who are achieving goals consistently. Learn from them. And ask them for help creating new tools and resources to achieve the same success. Peer-to-peer learning is very successful with frontline managers who are sometimes skeptical of things coming from corporate.


Improve Manager Employee Communication Today With theEMPLOYEEapp

We can’t just wait for others to solve this problem for us. We need frontline managers to be great communicators now. Since we are comms experts, we need to work with other business owners to ensure training and support are provided. We also need to advocate that comms skills should be part of the hiring and promotion process. If we work together, we can finally take the lack of line manager communication skills off our challenge list.



About the Author

Amy Jenkins is theEMPLOYEEapp’s Director of Client Strategy & Success. With over ten years of experience working in internal comms, Amy helps our clients create mobile communication strategies that get results.

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