The number of channels available today to disperse both internal (HR, marketing, etc.) and external (social media) information within organizations is plentiful. In-person and phone communications aside, we have email, billboards, monitors, text messaging, apps, intranet, internet, alert systems and screen messaging on our computers. And the list could continue.
Technology is advancing quicker than any human can handle. When we think we have something figured out, something faster and bigger comes along and obliterates it. Or it’s not as secure as we think it is.
Companies try to be the first, the biggest and the fastest to be in front of everyone in the world because, naturally, they need to sell themselves and increase profits. But they also do this to their employees, which ends up causing a technology jam. Everyone is inundated with information, and we can handle only so much at once. (The University of California San Diego revealed through a study*The University of California San Diego: “How much media? 2013 report on American consumers” that U.S. media consumption in 2012 totaled 6.9 zettabytes, or 63 gigabytes per person per day, a number that has been steadily increasing.) (And according to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, Americans spend over 11 hours each day consuming media content)
There is a lot of wisdom in tackling one item at a time rather than multitasking. But companies expect their employees to keep up with their fast-moving, ever-changing decisions.
But the reverse – not enough information – also adds to the frustration. And when employees have too much data they do not need mixed in with the lack of information they do, the result is wasted time.
This overwhelm causes multiple problems, including confusion and misinformation, a decrease in productivity due to multitasking, and employee burnout (leading ultimately to an unstable retention rate).
Confusion and misinformation
First, information overload or underwhelm creates confusion and misinformation.
When multiple pieces of information are given through various channels, it isn’t always possible to give important details. Either these channels do not allow room for specifics, or the information is confidential. In each case, the details, or “clues” to piece together the bigger puzzle, are omitted. This is especially true if the information is dispersed via several departments through different department heads. If not everyone understands the issue in the way it’s meant to be understood, then diverse points of view will alter the intent.
We were not designed to multitask. The American Psychological Association points out that “the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.” Multitasking, or simultaneously switching from one assignment to another, causes us to lose time and blurs our focus. According to David Meyer, PhD, in his research he noted that, “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”
When we stop in the middle of a task to read our emails or text messages, it takes time for us to reprocess our previous task and continue.
Employees burn out for a variety of reasons, including information overwhelm. Yet another cause for burnout could be the lack of information.
When they sense they are not valued by their employer, it is often because not enough information reaches them and they therefore feel left in the dark. They think they are the last ones to know about new products, mergers and other changes, despite being the first ones to run interference.
This should be a wake-up call for leadership, who are the main source to share information with their teams. Yet , according to Gallup, only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.*2017 State of the American Workplace If employees experience enough burnout, they will try to find a better environment with another company, with the hopes that its communications will be clearer.
When and how to share information
The information issue is a serious one to consider: Share a lot or share only a little? These are the questions organizations must ask themselves.
Understanding what and how information is to be shared is imperative to keep communications smooth. There isn’t an easy answer. What works for one company may not work for yours. You have to decide what is important.
A communications strategy is a start in outlining what should be shared and how often. This is also helpful in avoiding information crossover. In other words, making sure employees do not receive the same information from multiple sources, or worse, reading conflicting information.
Meeting with all department heads is also imperative to collect various viewpoints about how their teams prefer to receive their information. This gives each manager a better sense of the focus of each piece of communication and what needs to be clarified for employees, especially if they raise questions.
Since some communications happen quickly, some companies may feel there may not be time to outline a strategy. However, just as an external PR strategy is in place for those sudden PR nightmares, a basic internal communications strategy outline should be in place at all times for decisive communications. The strategy should include the timeline, which department heads are involved and who should be contacted, how the information is to be dispersed and when, and the external control factors you have in place.
Quick tips to control information overload
1. Limit the number of emails you send
Since your communications strategy should outline how the information is to be dispersed and when, there is no need to send multiple emails on the same topic.
2. Limit email word count
A clear subject line, a brief description in the body (under 200 words), and the necessary attachments and links are all that should be needed.
3. Limit the company apps
Businesses invest in multiple apps for communications, and employees don’t always know what to use or when they need to check them. Try to have one app with all the company information, such as HR documents and benefits, links to your website and intranet, company news, and other company-related sites, such as your YouTube channel, in one place. Having everything in one place makes it easier for employees to get an overview of company news.
4. Limit pop-up messages on computer screens
Pop-up messages are helpful to notify everyone when the company newsletter is out, for example, but sending multiple pop-up messages on a daily basis trains people to ignore them.
5. Limit bulletin board changes
Bulletin boards are helpful in updating employees on the latest changes, news and reminders. Not everyone has time to check their computers, which is why bulletin board posts are a good way to send those reminders to employees, who can quickly scan short messages as they walk by (if they’re not checking their phone). But constantly changing the message means not everyone sees the important pieces of information. Consider the traffic, location and time of day when deciding how often you change these messages.
(Information taken from page 7 of the report: Your company’s most important asset – and 7 reasons why it is struggling.)
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