Ineffective communication costs U.S. businesses $1.2 trillion annually, or $12,506 per employee, pointed out by Grammarly Business’s latest State of Business Communication report, published in early March. But are leaders receiving the message that urgent improvement is required?
The Grammarly Business survey of 251 business leaders and 1,001 knowledge workers suggested connection problems are growing. Time spent on written communication grew 18% compared to 2022, while worker stress levels were 7% higher due to poor communication, and this caused a 15% decline in productivity.
Further, the research, conducted in partnership with The Harris Poll, showed that workers spent over 70% of their working weeks communicating on various channels. Yet 58% wished they had better tools to streamline communication. “Leaders who shrug off the massive impact of poor communication on their bottom line will lose,” argued Matt Rosenberg, Grammarly’s chief revenue officer and head of Grammarly Business.
Rosenberg said that the results of the second annual report indicated the challenge was growing, causing a “greater impact on everything from operational efficiency to employee and customer satisfaction.” As a result, he urged a rethink of communications strategies. “At a time when the stakes are critically high, leaders who invest in empowering efficient, consistent communication across their organizations will see results and profits climb.”
Tel Aviv-based Shirley Baumer, head of building blocks and collaboration at project management software firm monday.com, stressed that poor communication is shaving trillions of dollars off organizations’ bottom lines. She cited Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report, which found that an eye-watering $7.8 trillion was lost last year due to lower productivity levels.
“Disengaged colleagues and confusion regarding tasks are some of the biggest symptoms of poor communication in the workplace, which also decreases productivity in teams, causing disastrous financial consequences,” added Baumer.
Time-sinking and unclear communications
When considering instances of where poor communication was costing businesses, Baumer said: “Locating old emails to see what a manager has said, or finding chat messages that explain a task from three days ago are all too common examples of a communication time-sink that occur every day.”
James Malia, U.K. managing director of global digital gifting company Prezzee, agreed with this opinion and said it was due to having too many ways to transmit messages in the digital age. “There’s now a river of communication coming at people from all angles.” The long list of platforms, from email to Slack to WhatsApp, and “with different generations preferring different channels” meant that “one size can’t fit all,” he added.
Building on this theme, Slack’s head of U.K., Stuart Templeton, referenced his organization’s survey with Duolingo that highlighted emojis could be interpreted differently depending on age and location. “Some 36% of workers globally said the 👀 (eyes) emoji means ‘I see you,’” he revealed, “while 26% use it to say they ‘want the gossip.’ And in the U.K., 13% of respondents use it to help with workflows, suggesting ‘I’m looking at this.’”
Templeton stated progressive organizations understood the need to streamline and standardize communications. Moreover, they realized that “traditional command-and-control management styles don’t engage employees anymore.” He said the “best-performing companies” were not “hoarding information [but] sharing knowledge openly” as a default. “That’s why it’s so important to have a centralized place where work happens and to make transparency the default starting point for communication, but it takes trust,” he added.
Nailing effective communication
Another common mistake was not updating others about work in progress, said Baumer. She posited that a “fear of failure” drove this. “We often see people collaborating on a project or a process but not sharing their part until the result is perfect,” she said. “This habit is common among managers who sometimes do not want to be perceived as unprofessional or clueless.” She added that not sharing progress meant a missed opportunity to “harness others into the project” and benefit from additional feedback.
For Joanna Swash, the group CEO of Moneypenny, a company based in the U.K. and U.S. that offers call answering and live chat services, feedback and trust were both vital for effective communication – and the tone had to be set by leaders. “It’s a two-way street,” she said. “It’s about talking and listening.”
A 2016 Harvard Business Review article revealed that the university’s management sessions were framed around three types of listening, Swash noted. First, internal listening was focused on one’s own thoughts and priorities. Meanwhile, focused listening allowed someone to hear what another person said without fully connecting with them. Finally, 360-degree listening meant hearing what other people were saying and also what they were leaving out.
“This last one is what companies, and good leaders, should be striving for,” added Swash. “Being able to see things from different perspectives makes a better business. It makes better leaders, building trust and engagement, and it begins with harnessing the skill of communication,” she concluded.