Views: The role of communication in prioritizing talent retention

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IN 1951, an educator named Elwood Murray reckoned that communication issues are at the heart of all relationship problems. He stated, “Wherever there are problems in human relations in the world today, there appear to be problems of communication.” 72 years later and not much has changed, writes Joanna Parsons.

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Breakdowns in communication are the main cause of tension and unhappiness at work, and can reduce your organization’s ability to retain top talent. Gallup’s 2023 report found that some of the biggest issues for employees are feeling cared about at work, clarity of expectations, and connection to the mission and purpose of the company. All of these are communication problems.

Effective internal communication plays a crucial and often overlooked role in talent retention, by fostering a positive company culture and addressing the needs of employees.

And yet, in spite of the glaring evidence from Gallup, many organizations continue to under-invest in employee communications. Resourcing of internal communication teams appears to be on the decline since the end of the pandemic, as evidenced by the job ads that are offering one salary to do the work of an entire team. Join us as internal communications manager where you’ll act as channels manager, senior strategic advisor, videographer, graphic designer, professional writer and business partner!

There also seems to be little investment in communication skills for employees. There’s an assumption that communication is easy, so employees don’t need training in it.

But what if we did things differently?

What if organizations invested time, money and energy into training employees to be better communicators – would this have an impact on the company culture and talent retention?

An interesting study from Yarmouk University in 2019 looked at the role of communication skills in an academic setting. The researchers had observed that university courses delivered only academic training for students, without any consideration of ‘soft skills’ such as communication.

The researchers wondered what difference it would make if communication training was prioritized alongside academic learning. So they set up a study to find out. The aim was to infuse top-notch communication skills into a sample of students who spanned a range of disciplines including medicine, art and science. The students took a course in Effective Communication Skills for three semesters.

The findings from the research were astonishing.

The communications training had a significant impact on a huge range of critical areas. By the end of the training, students had an improved ability to speak with clarity, work well in a team, cooperate with others, tolerate others’ viewpoints, understand other people’s feelings, listen attentively, display empathy, and deal with conflict.

This list is incredible because skills like empathy, listening, understanding and cooperation are the fundamental building blocks for a healthy organizational culture. Cultivating and fostering these critical skills can help retain talent and ensure a loyal workforce.

And this can be achieved by investing in effective communication skills. Forget the free yoga or the pizza Fridays, communication is the key to unlocking success.

To retain talent in today’s competitive market, effective communication plays a crucial role. By integrating communication upskilling into the company culture, organizations can engage and retain the right talent to drive long-term success.

Joanna Parsons is an internal communications leader with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. As a remote work enthusiast, she is an expert in communicating with employees in hybrid and remote organizations. 

She currently works as director of colleague experience at Bentley Systems, and is a lecturer and course director on Strategic Internal Communication at the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII).

Previously she was the first ever head of internal comms for An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police force. She won four prestigious awards for the work she delivered with the police during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A trained sociologist, Parsons knows the importance of listening, observing and researching to develop a deep understanding of both audience and business needs in an organization. 

Parsons sits on the Board of Directors with the Institute of Internal Communications. She was awarded an IoIC Fellowship in 2022 in recognition of her expertise and achievement in the field of internal comms.