Employers need strategies for electronic newsletters

Over the past couple of years, our agency has experienced the client trend of replacing printed employee newsletters with electronic communications. 

Not because employees asked for electronic communications.

Not because employee surveys pointed to a need.

Not because any study has shown electronic communications to be more effective.

Not because producing an electronic newsletter is less time consuming.

The singular reason that seems to drive the movement away from printed newsletters and magazines is an attempt to reduce printing costs … but at what price in terms of building trust, loyalty, motivation and productivity?

When reducing budgets becomes more important than raising employee confidence, numbers are in charge. And in this case, perceived short-term budget gains are often overestimated, and long-term negative impacts on employee relations overlooked.

Electronic employee communications can be very effective. But if a company simply produces an electronic duplicate of a printed publication, it’s making a mistake. In fact, most electronic employee newsletters do not provide what employees are asking for and as a result are simply “deleted” without being read.

Effective communications between employers and employees is becoming progressively more important. Enhanced communication equals better retention, higher morale and stronger trust. Yet at this pivotal time, some managers are going in the opposite direction by decreasing their companies’ commitment to investing in improving the process of communicating effectively to team members.

These managers fail to realize that the traditional concept of top-down, one-way communications strategy is dead. It’s not dying. It’s dead.

Today, employees expect employers to foster dialogues and to listen. They expect to be provided with simple ways to “respond” to information that they receive from their employers because they have become accustomed to sharing their feelings and opinions. Many already use blogs, wikis and instant messaging to discuss their jobs, their teams and their employers with co-workers. And the numbers are growing.

These “wired” employees are highly adaptable, global, empowered and mobile. They are impatient if delayed and expect information now, not five minutes from now. They expect their employers to find ways of using new channels and new technologies for more tailored, two-way discussions that invite employees in.

So what can employers do to improve communications with employees?

In poll after poll, employees rate their managers and supervisors as preferred sources for information in the company. Why? Because people like to connect face-to-face with other people. If given a choice, few people would prefer to receive another email over meeting directly with the person sending it. Don’t let automation replace face-to-face contact. Communications programs work best when new technology is combined with interaction.

Don’t just repurpose printed materials. Electronic newsletters should provide information that employees want and allow them to respond to each item via a “comments” section. This format provides feedback to employers on what employees are thinking, what topics are of most interest and what content can be eliminated. You may learn that absolutely no one is reading those safety tips that are so important. If that’s the case, you’ll need to develop a different method of communicating that information. You may find that employees really miss the little non-company-related news items or unusual facts that drew them into your printed publication, and as a result are not reading as much of your electronic newsletter.  In short, if you’re not going to take advantage of the real benefits that electronic newsletters have to offer, your electronic newsletter will probably have significantly lower readership than your printed newsletter.

To educate and build trust, consider allowing business unit leaders to host blogs that provide new information, promote discussions and invite employees to respond.

Intranets can be used to share entertaining but informative pieces that contain links to make it easy for employees to push the information to colleagues. Or it may be possible to share ideas within your company on an internally housed social network that enables company leaders to visit with employees in a virtual world, breaking down barriers and building understanding and rapport.

If you decide to open electronic channels where employees can post on their own, you will have to be diligent to ensure that employee-generated content is aligned with the standards you set for all other types of company communications.

Ultimately, the employee communication choices you make should be based on the needs of your company and your people. Many companies today are restoring abandoned employee magazines and newsletters having learned that people missed the publications after they were gone. These companies found that their employees appreciated receiving “hard copy” newsletters that could be saved, taken home, read at their leisure and shared. This is in comparison to improperly produced electronic newsletters that are often simply “deleted” without even being skimmed. 

Before jumping on the “electronic newsletter” bandwagon, first determine how your people prefer to receive information and what type of information they want to receive. Then act on what you learn.

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