Communication Tools in the Workplace - Negative Impacts
Today's workplace culture is dominated by a variety of innovative communication tools. While intended to improve company-wide communication, the impact of this silent chatter can actually be quite negative in terms of employee productivity and morale. Employees complain that verbal communication is being replaced, and in some cases, eliminated. In order to respond to all of the nonverbal "noise," they must learn how to navigate numerous communication platforms. Employee computer and phone screens are overflowing with distracting apps, and there is no escape from the "noise" because the apps are on 24 hours per day. Workers indicate that inevitably, important information is lost among the barrage of communication that bombards them each day. Finally, such excessive communication draws colleagues into discussions and teams, often when their input is either unnecessary or not warranted.
Verbal Communication has been Replaced by Excessive Silent Communication
- A study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Lucidchart reported that "technology is actually hurting communication as it has drastically cut down on direct communication, allowing employees to default to tools like email rather than phone calls and meetings." Employees have indicated that the loss of personal contact is a not a positive outcome. In fact, the survey determined that employees believe in person meetings are the most effective method for sharing information.
- Relying on silent communication causes employees to lose the knowledge conveyed by tone of voice, gestures, and informative visuals. The loss of face-to-face contact causes employees to fear they are missing critical information. Only 22% of employees in the Economist survey reported having in-person meetings on a daily basis.
- The "noise" from communication tools causes inefficiency in the workplace that could be avoided with a live meeting. An issue that could be resolved in 10 minutes in a meeting is debated over "endless chats, email threads and strings of text messages."
Employees are Overwhelmed by the Learning Curve
- Although instant messaging is a common source of communication "noise" in the workplace, only 12% of baby boomers use it, as compared to 31% of millennials. Industry experts attribute this to the reluctance of baby boomers to learn how to use this type of technology. This discrepancy in employee usage reveals the potential for older employees to miss important information. There is also a risk of a divisive culture emerging between older and younger workers.
- With so many communication methods being utilized in the workplace, employees are frustrated by having to decipher which tool should be used for which situations. In fact, 56% of employees find the process disruptive. They also worry that If they focus on one methodology, they will inevitably miss information from another.
- The results of one survey reveal that more than 50% of workers are overwhelmed by having to use multiple communication platforms, with some admitting they are ready to quit due to the stress caused by it.
Employees have Overloaded Screens
- Employees are reluctant to load an exorbitant amount of communication apps on their phones and computers.
- The abundance of communication expelled by apps leads to workplace inefficiency. Employees spend nearly 32 days per year switching back and forth between apps. They are forced to navigate between the apps up to 10 times per hour, which has a direct impact on concentration. In fact, 31% report that they lose their train of thought when transitioning between apps.
- One industry expert warns, "The struggle to keep your employees on task can be an uphill battle when you are competing against all the electronic racket."
- Employees are concerned about the amount of communication "noise" that is released from the average of four apps they use at one time. Nearly 75% of employees describe communication volume as challenging.
Employees Cannot Turn off the Noise
- Workplace communication tools enable employees to be reachable 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. This "always on culture causes burn-out and kills creativity."
- Messages that are conveyed through technology may convey a sense of urgency. Company culture often dictates that emails should be responded to within a certain time frame, and instant messages are comparable to a person interrupting an individual in person while they are trying to work.
- Some communication technology messages are "louder" than others, with apps indicating that the message is important or critical and must be addressed quickly. One industry expert is concerned that employees trying to respond to these urgent messages are susceptible to burnout. He states, "There’s no doubt you’ll be more stressed when you feel like you don’t have enough time in the day to finish your important work, or you’re constantly being interrupted by “important” messages and notifications."
Loss of Important Messages and Information
- Employees also report that so much communication is launched at them that they cannot decipher important information from what is truly superfluous.
- Nearly 25% of an employee's workday is spent dealing with email. Most workplace inboxes are filled with emails containing important correspondence, but also spam, jokes, invitations, and personal exchanges. "Not only do employees eventually begin to feel overwhelmed by redundant or unnecessary emails, but eventually they begin to question if they should even open them at all — an action that can lead to failure to communicate and lowered productivity."
- According to global enterprise software company Interact, the interruption caused by unnecessary emails costs $650 billion annually.
- Employees admit to deleting information because they are overwhelmed by the barrage of communication. This situation will only worsen, as "workers will be exposed to an even bigger onslaught of communication as the future workplace will be saturated with new technology."
- Vital information is at risk of becoming white noise that is ignored by employees.
Forced Teamwork Decreases Productivity
- Communication tools often generate teamwork when it is not warranted. "This comes in the dreaded form of the cc and, in recent times, the @." Pulling additional individuals in when addressing an issue is not always the best solution, and in some cases, can be counterproductive.
- Broadcast communication carries a risk of cluttering an employee's channel with “knowledge” or “help” that is not directly related to the initial communication. "This elevated stress weighs down the body and brain, eventually causing problems between coworkers and for the company as a whole."
- Excessive communication "noise" does not necessarily result in collaboration. Instead, "employees suffer from the modern workplace malady known as ‘communication overload,’ a productivity-killing infirmity characterized by...an excessive number of emails, notifications and alerts that are devoid of importance, context or urgency."
In order to conduct this research, we relied heavily on the data obtained from several national surveys involving 1000s of employees in the United States. We confirmed that these surveys were all conducted within the last five years. We also reviewed numerous organizational psychology articles, industry blogs and commerce websites. In analyzing the information we secured from these various sources, we were able to determine the most commonly cited negative impacts of multiple communication tools on employees and company culture.