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Tapping into your employee’s goldfish attention span and speaking their language

Martyn Barnett, MD at RMG Networks provides advice on how to communicate internal information to an increasingly overwhelmed millennial workforce with a low attention span.
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Since the dawn of this millennium, we have seen huge changes in people’s behaviours and attention span, driven by technology and our use of it. These changes have reached a point whereby the “old” forms of internal communication are no longer enough ─ and yet the need for organisations to effectively engage with staff and stakeholders is greater than ever.

In fact, a recent Deloitte survey looking into employee experience as part of wider global human capital trends, found that 77 per cent of people inside organisations believe email is no longer a viable tool for effective communications.

The issue is, as more technology is incorporated into corporate culture, user attention span is decreasing. The average attention span in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, comparable to that of a goldfish that is nine seconds – so it’s clear HR professionals need to fully understand how people are now digesting information to effectively communicate with employees.

This is especially pertinent considering a large and growing proportion of the workforce comprises of millennials and members of Gen Z who are often deemed to have a low attention span. With this in mind, it is time to change the face of internal communications – or risk serious damage to productivity and competitiveness. The modern workforce is not constrained as its predecessors were, by the old ideas of company loyalty.

Over a quarter of millennials surveyed by PwC anticipate they will have six employers or more in their lifetime, highlighting how important it is for companies to keep employees engaged. Now, if employers want loyalty they have to generate it themselves, or risk their top talent going elsewhere.

To drive loyalty – and ultimately productivity – employers need to communicate well. But in a world where everybody is used to commenting, liking or disliking and having their say, e-mails and instructions to look for information on the staff intranet simply don’t cut it anymore. When it comes to engaging the workforce through internal communications, one size most definitely does not fit all. The workforce is increasingly made up of people who do not respond well, if at all, to being treated as “just another worker”.

That approach is the fastest route to disengagement. The delivery of information needs to be targeted, relevant and contextualised at the point of delivery to ensure employees are only receiving content that affects them and that they can action personally. Employers also need to be prepared to listen and take feedback from staff and integrate this practice into their communications strategies.

Today’s employees have grown up generating content as much as consuming it, they prize customisation and personalisation, and they want to feel similarly valued and in control of their working lives. They make better use of visual information than print, and frequently access communications of all types through smartphones and other (mobile) electronic devices. Whilst this provides a massive opportunity to engage with employees, it’s important to strike the balance between bombarding them across multiple platforms and communicating rarely.

The good news is that there is a new way of communicating that is particularly effective when it comes to engaging modern audiences in the workplace. Using a highly visual approach, with user-generated as well as organisation-led content, elements of social media and gamification, running on multiple platforms including mobile, it is possible to engage employees very effectively. Whilst video content is complex and daunting for most organisations, it cannot be ignored as an effective corporate communications strategy.

But creating all this various content is only possible if these elements are strategised and systemised in a way that generates precisely the results, behaviour and information the organisation needs. The only way to know if your internal communications strategy is generating these results is by using analytics to determine who is reading, watching or acting upon the information delivered.

We now have new techniques for engaging with staff, but what has been missing until now has been the means to bring these together in a systematised way that generates rewards for all involved, whether that is increased team motivation or increased engagement with HR.

Historically, it has been difficult to source and effectively combine the expertise, hardware, software and dynamic content sources required, and to integrate these into a useful solution. What the ramifications might be, for organisations that fail to act swiftly in this area, remains to be seen, but given the importance of employee engagement to organisational function, it can hardly be anything but unfortunate.

Martyn Barnett is managing director of RMG Networks

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