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Communication and Collaboration

Addressing employee apathy in internal communications

Despite research continually citing the negative effects of poor internal communication, internal communications is still largely ignored in the workplace. Could this be the reason why?

7 minute read
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“They just quit out of nowhere!”

When a team member resigns, seemingly out of left field, it can be a confusing and frustrating race to fill the gap.

While spotting an unhappy employee is easy, noticing the subtle signs of employee apathy isn’t always as obvious.  

Those who are silently seething  often don’t make a scene or cause trouble in the workplace. With no internal conflicts or loud outbursts, their resignation will likely catch you off guard and unprepared.

Truth is, there are most likely employees within your organization right now that are experiencing apathy. Employee apathy can be difficult to detect because these team members will carry out their regular routines at work. 

As a former internal communicator I’ve seen firsthand the challenges organizations face.  Employee apathy doesn’t happen overnight. It develops slowly over time and can definitely damage team morale.

In this guide to employee apathy we will cover: the company behaviors that cause apathy, signs of apathy in employees, and ways to prevent apathy by keeping employees engaged. 

Let’s start with a solid definition of what employee apathy is.

What is employee apathy?

Apathy is defined as behaviour that shows no interest or energy and shows that someone is unwilling to take action, especially over something important. 

Employee apathy relates to the lack of value employees and leadership place on internal communications, and their subsequent failure to do anything about it.  

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Company behaviors that cause employee apathy

A recent survey revealed that 27 percent of internal communicators feel that leadership doesn’t value internal communications, and 64 percent say the executive team doesn’t understand the importance of what they do. 

Despite research continually citing the negative effects of a lack of communication, internal communications are still largely ignored in the workplace. 

I’ve seen firsthand the challenges organizations face when they fail to prioritize internal communication. 

Years ago I was hired as a communications manager at a mid-size business. Even though my focus was on external communications, I couldn’t help myself but to devote a little time to employee communication too. Unfortunately, my efforts weren’t received well by my executive; I was informed that internal comms wasn’t our focus, and it better not take away from any external communications tasks. 

Sigh. Looking back, we were all working in silos, and the majority of my colleagues in our various departments were completely unaware of the company mission, values, or corporate objectives. And, of course, collectively scratching our heads wondering why we weren’t hitting any of our targets. 

Internal communication isn’t just about informing and educating employees. It’s about preventing the circulation of misinformation. It’s about ensuring employees are all working towards common goals and objectives, and helping them find meaning and purpose in their work. It’s about forging relationships across silos, and building strong partnerships deep within the organization. It’s also about gathering business intelligence, and cultivating strong knowledge share. 

Here’s the problem with employee communication: In some organizations weak communication is routine. In fact, if you work in an organization with poor communication you might just easily assume that a CEO keeping to themselves is normal workplace behaviour. 

My hunch is that executives actually do care about internal comms/employee communication, they just don’t realize it. After all, what leader doesn’t want an engaged staff, prevention of misinformation, and knowledgeable remote workers? 

Focused employee communication is also often ignored because many organizations think they already do a great job communicating internally. “We do our part: we deliver quarterly town hall meetings,” we often hear organizations say. Yes, this is a great comms activity, but, internal communications is just as much about bottom up communication as it is top down. It isn’t enough to broadcast leadership messaging; communication from employees must reach up to the leadership. By leveraging things like employee surveys organizations can gain a better understanding of their employees. 

Internal communications is also undervalued because many people in your organization still don’t understand what it is. Here’s our definition of internal communications:

Internal communications aligns employees to company strategy by systemically informing, influencing, motivating, and engaging people at all levels of the company through the one-way and two-way channels—digital and physical—that are most relevant to each employee.

12 Signs of apathy in employees

Apathetic employees do exhibit subtle warning signs, if you know what to look for.  If you are able to recognize the signs of employee disengagement early enough, it is possible to take effective action and reverse the trend. Can you spot the subtle signs of apathy in employees?

Signs of Employee Apathy

  • A repeated pattern of tardiness
  • Lack of accountability, making excuses
  • Irrelevant preoccupation with cell phones, smart devices
  • Withdrawal
  • Poor Communication
  • Silence
  • Apathetic Approach
  • Absenteeism
  • Complacency
  • Missed Deadlines
  • Lack of Participation
  • Rudeness

How to get employees engaged

You can’t force employees to respect internal communications, but you can provide them with the knowledge and information to care about the company, their colleagues, and their job. 

It’s kind of like sneaking vegetables into a toddler’s dinner. They haven’t quite figured out what’s best for them, so until then it’s up to you to make sure the children get their nutrients. And, if all goes according to plan, they begin craving veggies on their own.  

The same holds true with internal comms. You already know what’s good for your employees. You know your workplace will flourish with the right information and news. And hopefully with enough knowledge they will come around to realizing the benefits of healthy internal communication. 

In the meantime, here are a few ways to get employees engaged:

Start with employee news first

News about your employees will consistently outperform other types of news posts. At ThoughtFarmer every new hire gets a blog post with a quick summary that outlines their role, but also a bit about themselves—their interests, their hobbies, their life outside the office. 

It’s a great way to get to know your coworkers and make them feel welcomed in their first few weeks in a new job. Using the intranet to share content about new employees, personal successes, and upcoming team activities will drive a lot of engagement, so start with these stories first. 

Employee Apathy In The Workplace

Leverage your digital workplace tools

It’s hard to vent about weak internal communication if you aren’t actually using the tools at your disposal. On average only 13 percent of employees report using their intranets on a daily basis while 31 percent admitted that they have never used it. Intranet adoption can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible.

Empower employees with communication opportunities

Destination Canada created a corporate culture of shared communication by empowering employees to post information to their intranet. From visitation statistics, to exciting internal contests, the tourism organization turned their intranet into a place employees wanted to visit. 

Employee Apathy

Get leadership involved in employee communication

Leadership is notorious for leaving internal communicators out of the loop and not giving them a seat at the table. While this battle isn’t going to be won overnight, sometimes it comes down to the simple things—like first including leadership in employee communication activities. 

One of our customers recently obtained leadership’s involvement in an intranet launch video. The result was an entertaining video that captured the interest of their entire staff.

Increase knowledge share

Most organizations don’t know what knowledge they require and what knowledge they already have. The Vancouver Police Department relies on their intranet almost exclusively for sharing knowledge. Having critical information easily accessible helps save their investigators time and money. It also goes a long way in improving their overall employee communication. 

Final thoughts

Don’t let employee apathy drag you down. While it has its frustrating moments, internal communications is one of the most rewarding jobs. Depending on the size of your organization, you have the power to educate, inform, and influence many people; and that is an incredible thing.