Posted 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022

Two people at a whiteboard. One pointing at a diagram.

How to improve manager-employee communication in the coming year

By UWL Associate Professor of Communication Studies Scott Dickmeyer

If your career requires you to supervise others, perhaps the most important resolution you can make for 2022 is to improve your manager-employee communication. Since the pandemic began, we are experiencing “new workplace realities” that require us to rethink how we interact and make resolutions for more effective workplace communication.  

Academics and organizational executives focus on understanding why millions of Americans have chosen to leave the workforce. To combat “the great resignation,” organizations are offering flexible schedules, signing bonuses, and wage increases to persuade folks to return to work. However, these strategies are not producing the desired results, indicating that employee expectations about the worth of work have changed or evolved. The simple exchange of compensation for labor is not rewarding enough to attract and retain talented employees.  

COVID restrictions have required many to practice all their workplace communication virtually. Zoom meetings and collaborations through chat-based workspace allow us to work from afar, yet we are frustrated by the challenges they impose. People are recognizing the myriad “sacrifices” we make for our paycheck. Consider the time lost by grooming & commuting for work, time spent at the worksite (rather than at home), and socializing with team members. Add this time, and associated costs, to the workweek and the hourly wage may decrease significantly.

Recent research indicates that remote workers are more satisfied than office-based workers. Additionally, working remotely provides more autonomy for employees (in terms of time, technique, and task-orientation), decreases anxiety associated with micromanagement, and generally allows employees to feel more “in control” of their work-life balance. 

While these new realities may be seen as obstacles, I argue that they provide managers a unique opportunity to reconsider how to interact with and motivate our employees. Based on 23 years of studying Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America, teaching, training, and consulting with organizations, I offer three resolutions for managers that can improve communication with their employees in 2022.

Effective manager communication

Scott Dickmeyer, associate professor of Communication Studies
  1. Be relationship-oriented, rather than task-oriented, in your communication with employees. Most companies design jobs, hire people into them, and orient communication toward task accomplishment. Yet a 2018 Harvard Business Review article argues that to retain “stars,” managers should hire talented people, create jobs to leverage their strengths, and communicate about their experiences.
  2. Focus on intrinsic motivators, rather than extrinsic motivators, when developing your employees. In the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” author Daniel Pink reported that employees are more motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, in comparison to monetary inducements.
  3. Manage meaning, rather than work, to build trust when communicating with employees. Considering that purpose is an important intrinsic motivator, it is not surprising that over 70% of companies on Fortune’s 2021 list saw increases in trustworthiness and employee experience scores. 

COVID-19 has complicated many aspects of our lives, including the experience of work. Traditional practices leave managers ill-prepared to lead in this complex environment. However, by resolving to improve communication by focusing on organizational purpose, recognizing employee strengths, and committing to team member development, 2022 may be your most successful.  

Scott Dickmeyer is an associate professor of Communication Studies at the UW-La Crosse. He is recognized nationally for his work on effective leadership, improving managerial communication, training public speakers, and integrating diverse individuals into effective work teams. He also leads seminars for UWL's Small Business Development Center Supervisory Management Certificate Program