How to Transform Common Barriers in Communication into Bridges for Retention

by Donna Burnett on April 17, 2023 in Hiring


communication barriers in the workplace Now, more than ever, you want to keep your key players in your company. The last few years have been full of conversations on healthy work-life balance, reasonable benefits, and flexible schedules. And yet turnover is still an issue. The number of people who quit their job edged up to 4 million in February 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor.

So, what’s an employer to do? We have found that a significant number of retention struggles in the work environment come back to communication. People don’t feel valued or heard. They are overwhelmed with work or underwhelmed with the lack of support from their leaders. That’s why it’s vital to examine common communication barriers in the workplace. And we’ve found there’s one big-picture remedy that can build longstanding bridges for retention.

Common Barriers to Good Communication

Information Overload

In a day of electronic everything, there’s no shortage of communication avenues. Meetings can be physical, virtual, or even prerecorded if a leader is out of town. You can email, text, or send messages through Microsoft Teams or Slack. Or if all else fails, you can make an old-fashioned phone call. The communication options, along with the ever-consistent ring of notifications, echo all around us.

Many days, we have an overload of information and too many emails to answer. But this isn’t just a problem from the last few years. Back in the early 90s, a few academic professors saw the increase of communication demands and gave a definition to the term “information overload”:

When the information processing demands on an individual’s time to perform interactions and internal calculations exceed the supply or capacity of time available for such processing.

Essentially, it’s what happens when we have too many emails and meetings on our plates. In everyday conversation, you may hear your coworker (or yourself) comment on the current workload and say, “There aren’t enough hours in a day!” This could be a sign of information and communication overload.

In today’s job market, the University of California found that, on average, workers only get 10 minutes and 30 seconds before being interrupted, and 56% of those interruptions come from external sources. No wonder time seems to escape us some days!

This is one issue that day in and day out adds up. But it isn’t the only issue.

Assumptions & Unintentional Bias

Communication can be challenging enough when a team is from a similar background and demographic. But in an increasingly diverse and global workforce, we must grow aware of cultural differences that may lead to incorrect assumptions or unintentional biases that cause significant barriers in communication. What do those look like? Here are just a few examples:

  • Affinity bias – an unconscious bias that causes people to gravitate towards others who appear similar, thereby excluding those who look and act different. From hiring to promotions, if you naturally gravitate towards people who are like you, you create a homogenous team that is missing out on learning from professionals from various backgrounds and cultures. Is it wrong to be excited about things you have in common with someone in the workplace? Of course not. But when everyone is treated with the same level of kindness and respect, and when you seek out diversity, you will break down barriers before they even have a chance to grow.
  • The halo/horn effect – SHRM defines this as the “form of rater bias which occurs when an employee is highly competent or incompetent in one area, and the supervisor rates the employee correspondingly high or low in all areas.” This can often be a quick judgment of a person. By considering one positive or negative act or comment, you may incorrectly determine the full character of a person. However, when you have multiple conversations with those on your team and get to know them better, not just their reaction to one question or issue, you can guard against this tendency.

If you do any amount of research, you’ll discover there are quite a few variations of biases and assumptions that can take place in the workplace. These blind spots only go away with a team of individuals who are intent on treating everyone equally and willing to put in the work to constantly improve their environment, outdoing one another in acts of kindness and support.

Information overload and assumptions are only two examples of communication barriers in the workplace, but there is one element that is often the glue that can restore connection and engagement in your environment.

The Bridge to Good Communication

In one word, the answer is trust. As the Harvard Business Review put it, “Trust is the enabler of global business – without it, most market transactions would be impossible.” And while many companies can agree with that statement, making it true inside their business is not as easy.

Trust isn’t built in a day; it’s not a microwave answer. From the top down, employees must see trust modeled. Are honest statements such as “I am not sure how to update this detail in our system” or “I think I made a mistake; can someone help me?” received with affirmation and support? Or are they dismissed, leaving employees feeling isolated and alone?

Inc. discusses how an atmosphere of trust is built. Trust comes from:

  • Inclusivity – Workplace language should be both inclusive and considerate, sharing appreciation even when opinions differ.
  • Autonomy – Micromanagement creates a low-trust environment. Progressively giving more responsibility with each step of progress builds autonomy and ownership of one’s role.
  • Vulnerability – Create an open-door environment where the team can sincerely talk about their struggles and ask for help.

If you have an environment of trust, an employee can come to you when they feel like their inbox is a volcano ready to explode. In turn, you can walk them through how to set boundaries on notifications or even how a simple “Thank you for your email. I will follow up with more detail shortly” can be a great initial response. If you have an environment of trust, you are constantly looking at how to include people whose skills and backgrounds are different than your own to encourage a diverse and inclusive team.

The more you build a workplace on the foundation of trust, the more you will create an environment where people will want to stay.

Curious about other retention and hiring strategies we may have? Get in touch with Contact 1 today, and we can support you in your business needs.

Related Articles

Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent in a Post Pandemic Market

Interview Questions that Support DEI & Retention

How Customers and Talent Are Shaping DEI Initiatives