In jobs that keep workers constantly on the move, trying to discuss high-stakes topics with long-distance managers can be intimidating. Feedback about benefits, pay, and even unclear company policies carry a great deal of weight — especially when employees worry their interests will be dismissed.
But for managers, effectively responding to these types of concerns is another challenge entirely. Do you tackle controversial topics head-on at the risk of inflaming the sensitivities of your workers? Or do you craft a broad statement that acknowledges the issue but glosses over the awkward specifics?
If you lean toward the latter approach, you’re not alone. But for companies that opt for a more direct response, the results are clear — specific messaging solves more controversies than it creates. And employees feel respected in the process.
“Overly-general broadcast messages don’t fool anyone,” said Katherine Vanderford, Customer Success Director at WorkHound. “They’re designed not to rock the boat, but they end up doing the opposite because the responses are so watered down that they lose their meaning.”
Share the Full Picture
Let’s look at the issue of varying truck speed policies for transportation companies. To keep drivers from exceeding speed limits, many companies keep electronic “governors” on their trucks. Due to federal regulations, drivers are only allowed to stay on the road for a set number of hours. So the employer-mandated rules for driving speeds often become a burden for drivers who want to make up for lost time on the road.
While many trucking companies will attribute the speed regulations to safety concerns, drivers in the field know speed reductions in high-traffic areas address some threats while simultaneously creating new ones. It’s a catch-22. So drivers know the issue can’t be about safety alone.
In reality, speed limits are also about fuel efficiency and cost savings. When employees want clarity on the reasoning behind policies like this (or even take issue with them), it’s important to respect their experience in the field and provide a full picture of how decisions are made — as well as what other options are available.
“The purpose of the broadcast messaging system is to build trust between the worker and the company by acknowledging their feedback, taking action, and building confidence that their concerns are being heard,” said Vanderford. “This isn’t just an opportunity to share a message with employees — this is a conversation. You have to listen to understand. It’s important to dissect what workers are saying before planning your response.”
Getting It Right
So how do you make sure your broadcast messages are hitting the mark? For starters, you want to know what differentiates an ineffective general message from an effective specific one.
General broadcasts typically communicate something along the lines of “This is why we’ve done things this way and will continue to do things this way.”
Feedback-specific messages, on the other hand, will say something more like “We’ve done things this way for a while, and based on your feedback, it’s not working. Here’s how we’re working to understand your concerns and address them.”
Messages that work well are filled with responses to employee feedback. Typically, we know a response is effective when workers either communicate appreciation to your company for honoring their concerns or move on from the issue entirely.
So next time your employees voice a sensitive topic, look at it as an opportunity to create a meaningful exchange with the people who keep your company moving.