Maybe the depiction of office life in the 1999 movie Office Space offers more than a good laugh. The film depicts three friends working at a software firm who passionately dislike their jobs. While the movie is obviously a comedic exaggeration, there is a real trend among U.S. workers who are dissatisfied or resentful towards their employers.

According to research conducted by The Gallup Organization, there are three types of employees: engaged, not-engaged, and actively disengaged:

  1. Engaged employees "work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward."

  2. Employees who are not-engaged "are essentially 'checked out'…sleepwalking through their workday, putting time—but not energy or passion—into their work."

  3. Actively disengaged workers "act out their unhappiness," and "undermine what their engaged workers accomplish."

According to the U.S. Employee Engagement Survey recently published in Gallup Management Journal, a startling 69% of workers are either not-engaged or actively disengaged on the job. Further research from the firm estimates that approximately $370 billion is lost annually due to lower productivity from actively disengaged workers alone.

So what can be done about this alarming trend?

While benefits, work environment, and other factors certainly play a large role in worker engagement levels, instituting a comprehensive internal communications program is one of the most valuable ways to encourage employees to become stakeholders in a company.

Many progressive companies now view internal communications as equal in importance to external communications such as advertising, marketing, public relations, and investor relations. Indeed, external marketing can reach its full potential only when employees fully "buy in" to a company's vision, messages, goals, and values.

The best internal communications plans start with a set of corporate values that clearly state the company's ethics, standards, and principles. All corporate communications should use the value statement as a foundation.

It's also important to conduct a companywide "communications audit" that analyzes how communications are conducted across divisions, offices, and teams. The audit should help answer some important questions:

  • Are employees receiving accurate information?

  • How are employees receiving regular information (e.g., company intranet, emails, newsletters, training sessions, meetings with executives)?

  • Are messages consistent across the company?

  • Do employees understand both the goals and the results of communications?

Once the audit is complete, a plan can be implemented that not only communicates employees' worth but goes a step further and demonstrates that they are critical to the company's objectives and future. In fact, there are countless ways to reinforce employee engagement from a communications perspective.

Some creative examples that are successful:

  • Contests with compelling prizes (free tickets to sporting events, etc.)

  • Celebrations of momentous achievements attended by senior executives

  • Awards/certificates recognizing employee commitment to company's values (e.g., recognizing leadership, customer service)

  • Internal mentor-protégé programs to link junior and mid- to senior-level employees across the company

  • Employee-led community relations events sponsored by the company

In addition, it's important to provide a framework in which employees can anonymously give feedback and suggestions about the company's direction. Employees who feel that their ideas and suggestions are taken seriously are much more likely to be positively engaged in their job.

An organization with high levels of employee engagement enjoys increased worker retention and gains enthusiastic advocates for its products and services. By implementing a carefully thought-out internal communications program, organizations can leverage benefits for maximum advantage. Employee engagement can be the catalyst that leads a company to increased levels of productivity, creativity, and bottom-line results.

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Tonya Bacon is a director at Strategic Communications Group, based in Silver Spring, MD.