If you issue employee communications only through e-mail or company bulletin board postings, I have news for you: Most employees are not listening.
If you have a slick-looking company intranet and even have taken to social media sites, blogging and tweeting information to employees, guess what? They're still not listening.
Here's the thing: Everyone wants your employees' attention 24 hours a day. Their inboxes are full of e-mails; their phones and iPads are constantly buzzing with text messages, tweets, Facebook updates and RSS feeds.
How can you possibly compete with the latest sports story, TMZ's breaking news on celebs in rehab, an old college girlfriend's updated profile picture or even actual work priorities? You can't. You're just another e-mail, tweet, blog or feed that's vying for their attention. And let's face it; your story isn't very sexy.
I reached this understanding - and my breaking point - after sending e-mail after e-mail, posting bulletin board memos, tweeting to the ether and still constantly hearing, "No one ever told us that."
My team of human resource professionals is extremely creative. So to resolve the communications impasse, we got together and, I'll admit it, we stewed. I vacillated between frustration at the lost time spent communicating with, well, apparently no one, and utter contempt that employees were not paying attention to our very important and useful information.
Finally, I came to my senses and asked my team, "What are we doing wrong?" and "How in the world can we get employees' attention, even if only for a minute or two at a time?"
Light bulb moment
After many "ideation sessions," we still had nothing. Then one team member noted how much time is lost every time someone uses the restroom. After looking at said teammate as if they were completely bizarre, light bulbs went off for someone in the group ... what takes place in the restroom other than the obvious?
In most American homes, the bathroom is the library. An a-ha moment!
For most people, it's not commonplace to walk into the restroom at their office with reading materials in tow. (Note I said "most people.")
If reading is going to take place in an office restroom, materials generally are supplied by the company. Why not take advantage of your momentary captive audience and give them some useful information while they take care of business?
Thus, my tips for best results with bathroom benefits communications:
1. Post the communications at average eye level when seated in the stall.
2. Limit in-stall postings to one page.
3. Purchase side-opening plastic posting sleeves for quick and easy communication rotation.
4. Include content-relevant images. Communication studies show people are more likely to pay attention to a message with pictures.
5. Each new communication piece should catch the eye of the reader and visually alert them to recognize that it contains new information. Some suggestions include using different colored paper with each update or using words like "new" or "update."
6. Have a "Take One" magazine rack in the restroom with several copies of previous postings.
7. Change the postings every two weeks. Waiting longer can cause the communication changes to go under-noticed. Sometimes it takes a few reads to fully digest the message, so changing sooner is not recommended.
So given that bathroom communications may be the most effective means of getting your turn at employee attention, is everything else really background noise? Not really.
Don't use the bathroom as your sole communication pulpit. Use it as one piece of your communication strategy. Continue to tweet to the nine people who are actually following you. Give managers elevator speeches.
Hold meetings. Post, blog, Facebook, Web chat and all that other cool stuff. Everyone hears and learns through different methods, and if your message is important enough (what HR message isn't?), you should use every option available.
WARNING! Bathroom postings cause side effects. You will experience an immediate increase in questions about your communication topic. Your team must be prepared to hold intelligent conversation about your benefits. You'll hear chatter and laughter around the water cooler about your department's new communications antics. By all means, laugh with them. They are actually paying attention!
Tina Whitelaw, SPHR, is the vice president, human resources, at Automobile Protection Corporation - APCO in Norcross, Ga.
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