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Getting through to your staff

May 20, 2010
by Susan D. Gilster and Jennifer L. Dalessandro
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The Staffing Experts detail effective methods of communication

When employees are asked to choose what contributes to job satisfaction, the presence—or absence—of an effective communication system consistently ranks high. While no single communication system is perfect, a variety of means for relaying and receiving information is essential to effectively lead an organization in a specific direction. Such mechanisms must communicate not only the vision and direction of the organization, but how staff members are expected to work, interact, and care for residents, families, visitors, and one another.

Everyone is content when they feel free to communicate and know that they are heard to the benefit of all involved.

Active communication with staff must begin at the first encounter and continue throughout the relationship.
As we have previously discussed, without communication, education, and training, staff members will not understand their responsibilities nor feel accountable for their actions. And it must be two-way communication—information being relayed and sought. For instance, when interviewing a potential employee it is beneficial to discuss the vision, mission, and expectations for performance and allow the candidate to agree—or not to agree—to a willingness to share and work toward that vision and meet those expectations for performance. Determining a collaborative, willing relationship in the very beginning will alleviate a great deal of stress on both parties as each one will be certain of what is desired by the other.

For both new and existing staff the need for consistent, scheduled, ongoing communicating will never end. There will be the need for regular reinforcement of the vision, mission, expectations and the never-ending need to communicate new information, research, regulations, programs, policies, procedures. In addition, you will need to brainstorm together as the organization continues to grow and change over time. Inevitably, unique events, situations, and problems will require the interchange of information to determine direction and solutions. Without the existence of a plan for the flow of information and decision-making, confusion and dissatisfaction will be the likely consequence.

Means of communicating

There are many means of communication. Face-to-face communication is most often the most effective method for the exchange of knowledge, experience, and information. Seizing opportunities for individual and group discussion is important, as is scheduling routine meetings for all staff. Staff meetings provide opportunities for staff from all departments to gather together, listen, and hear the same information at the same time. They also learn as they share their varied departmental perspectives, collaborate as a group in planning, and solve concerns as they work together to fulfill the vision of the facility. These meetings also provide an opportunity for the leadership team to observe staff, their attitudes and body language—in essence an opportunity to get a feel for the morale of the staff and determine if their needs are being met as well.

Written communication is effective and in some cases is necessary to ensure that the parties involved understand what was spoken and now written, particularly in relationship to specific actions and performance. Written communication given to staff before or at the same time that a meeting is held reinforces what is said, and may alleviate any misunderstanding. It is helpful to have both, especially when it affects an employee's daily work or benefits. It also gives staff an opportunity to voice their concerns privately instead of talking among themselves in the facility.

E-mail is growing in popularity and can be very useful. It is a quick and easy way to disseminate information to one or to a large group of people—again, when appropriate. Be forewarned, however, that e-mail does have its negatives and can backfire when your intention is meant to use it as a communication strategy for success! Be aware that both you and staff may "shoot" off an e-mail without thinking or taking the time to consider how these words will be received and interpreted. It is also not an instrument that should be used at a time of great stress and anger. Once you have put an e-mail out there, it is there forever.

Inserts may be provided with paychecks/paystubs when issues are not time sensitive, and can be used as an advance notice of intent. Staff is likely to take the time to read this information at their convenience. But be sensitive to what you put in a paycheck envelope, as staff will not want to read about cuts in benefits or lay-offs with no idea of the impact on them individually in a note. Break room and time clock postings, approved by administration, may also be utilized if done so in an area that will ensure staff attention. If using postings, be sure to post and remove on a timely basis, as staff will be less likely to pay attention to old postings.

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