Originally published in Entrepreneur.com, April 22, 2016




You’ve probably heard the expression “feeling like a mushroom,” which is to say feeling kept in the dark, left uninformed and fed a bunch of sh–. Think shiitake mushrooms.

Now, research has officially applied this urban phrase to the workplace, with a 2016 recent study (entitled Mushroom Management) from a UK consultancy Censuswide and Geckoboard, a KPI dashboard, which found that:

  • 1 in 4 employees surveyed has quit, or knows someone who has quit, due to a lack of transparency and communication in the workplace
  • Only 10 percent of employees surveyed were aware of their company’s progress in real time.
  • More than 4 out of 5 employees surveyed wanted to hear more frequently from their bosses about how their company was doing.
  • More than 90 percent of employees surveyed said they would rather hear bad news than no news.

If you think you are already communicating enough to your employees, how do you know that’s true?  You can determine this by first reviewing the list of techniques below. If you are practicing at least two of the following communication techniques, my experience as a managerial coach tells me that you are headed down the right path of employee communications. Ideally, all of these communication techniques should be used, to increase employee engagement and retention.

  1. Real-time progress updates

When employees are able to see at any time how they, as well as their teammates and company overall, are progressing, engagement and productivity increases. No longer do they feel like mushrooms.

With the multitude of software packages and mobile apps available today, there is no reason why you can’t track the progress of your company in real time. Some of the tools my clients use for project management and KPI tracking include: Workboard, MavenLink and BaseCamp.

  1. Weekly newsletters to employees

Weekly newsletters may sound like a major commitment, but they can provide a huge return to employee morale and engagement. Just like customers, employees need to hear messages multiple times before they actually sink in; research shows that the number is actually seven times. Weekly newsletters can help you to reach that number sooner.

Small business owners may cringe at the idea of this time commitment, because it becomes one more thing, they have to do each week.  But if this describes you, there’s a specific approach to try: The owner of a boutique consulting firm I know decided to start his own weekly newsletter, in spite of his small staff.  How did he manage this? He spread out the work responsibility and planned ahead.

First, he met with his team and brainstormed on what topics employees would want to hear about on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis; then he delegated the work to those employees who had the knowledge and desire to be part of the process. Today, he spends about an hour a month putting together those weekly personal messages to employees while he lets others drive the bulk of the content.

  1. Monthly 1-1 meetings

Leaders who commit to regular 1-1 conversations with their employees provide employees with consistent, actionable feedback to help keep them on track, engaged and appreciated in their jobs. If you’re such a leader, make sure your meeting times are pre-scheduled, and show that those 1-on-1s are a priority, by not shifting them around at the last minute.

The president of a custom chemical manufacturing plant I know decided that all managers needed to implement 1-1 meetings with their direct reports so that communications were consistent yet specific to the needs of individual employees. Unlike newsletters and group meetings, 1-1 meetings provide more personal time to focus on specific employee goals and development.

The 1-1 meetings were also in addition to, not a substitute for, other communication techniques. After a year of their implementation, the company leadership reported a decrease in turnover and an increase in productivity, much of which was attributed to managers being committed to 1-1 conversations.

  1. Quarterly ‘town halls’

Prior to identifying internal communications as a critical component to employee retention, Bruce Peddle, president of Risk Innovations in Atlanta, Georgia, told me he had made little effort to provide consistent companywide updates. Only when he acquired another company in the Midwest, did he realize that he could no longer communicate in an impromptu manner.

That’s when Peddle instituted quarterly “town halls,” where the company’s performance and future plans were, and are, discussed as well as the status of current strategic projects. These meetings allow the entire company to gather and provide employees the opportunity to ask questions of management in real time.

As a result, employees know the direction the company is going in, how specific plans are working and, most importantly, how they fit into those plans. Not only did employees become more engaged, but the word also got out in the industry that Risk Innovations was a company you wanted to work for because employees were sharing the company’s story with their friends.

When companies are committed, then, to practicing good employee communications at all levels of the organization, they benefit by increased employee retention, employee engagement and, bottom line, profitability. If your own company hasn’t implemented the four techniques above, consider it a challenge to implement one of them in the next 30 days. If your company is smart, it will implement them all within six months and say goodbye to those mushrooms in its basement for good.