Attitude Surveys and Communication Audits

Earlier this year the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported on a poll they conducted together with about communication in the workplace. Participants included HR professionals and other employees of the same organizations. They all registered similar attitudes about downward communication such as business goals, plans and progress. However, the attitudes about upward communication such as concerns and suggestions showed marked differences.

HR professionals agreed more than other employees that their organizations had open upward communication, listened, and were responsive to staff concerns and suggestions. On the other hand, “…more employees actually felt their management was extremely trustworthy than did HR professionals.” Unfortunately, what caused the latter finding was not addressed in the results. In larger organizations, employees rated management less attentive to issues and less open to employee suggestions.

Among SHRM’s conclusions, “Despite strong trust in management, employees may still feel unappreciated and believe that their concerns and viewpoints are not always taken into account.

Successful communication practices require not only the ability to transmit ideas to employees but also the willingness to listen to employee ideas and concerns.”

Are you listening to your staff? Do you want to know if they think you are listening? Do you want to know if they trust you?

Fewer than half of the participating HR professionals reported that their organizations collected employee opinions. Perhaps your organization conducts an attitude survey. Fewer conduct a communication audit. An employee attitude survey is a written or electronically submitted form designed to identify and quantify employee attitudes about pay, benefits, policies, practices, supervision, management etc. It is usually conducted anonymously and generally results are shared with participants. Participants may include all or a cross-section of the workforce. Some organizations create their own surveys and watch internal trends on an ongoing basis. Others outsource and may participate in ongoing external comparisons.

A communication audit generally focuses more on what is actually being communicated in both directions. Are the messages understood and believed? The audit is a tool to help an organization start to communicate better in both directions. In one format, live interviews are conducted by outside professionals, usually with supervisors and possibly managers. Live interviews allow for probing details raised by the participants. Typical discoveries may include:

  • How do staff (including supervisors and managers) get information about business operations, benefits, organizational changes, etc.?
  • What and/or who do staff consider to be their most reliable source of information?
  • What would improve communication?
  • What does staff want senior management to know that they don’t already know?

Why are only supervisors or managers included in this process? This would appear to go against open two-way communication. Generally, supervisors and some managers know more about the employment situation and communication than they or others acknowledge. If successful, this process will be the start of enhancing their ability to better contribute to both directions of the communication process. In most cases, a communication audit is implemented because of a general goal of improving communication in the organization. However, in some cases an employer might decide to conduct an audit because of some concerns, general or specific. Something has happened in the organization. Something has happened in the community.

If done correctly, the communication audit can help the organization understand what is being communicated in both directions, how well it is being communicated and if it is believed.