If you’ve ever put off DIY, you’ll know that a dripping tap or peeling skirting board eventually just becomes one of life’s tolerations. If you put off the task long enough, it gets pushed to the dusty recesses of your mind. But it still chips away at your contentment, leaving you feeling uninspired and slightly uncomfortable in your own home.
Our relationship with work is often the same. Unless issues are nipped in the bud, small upsets can lead to apathy. For instance, it can be disconcerting if your firm introduces a debt-collection method that goes against your current client-centred approach. And if this new approach subsequently harms the relationships you’ve already built with a client, it’s likely that you’ll feel conflicted between your roles. You might start to dread dealing with clients you previously enjoyed working with. Your relationships with colleagues can also become strained.
If there are no structures in place to fix the issue, it will be hard for you to feel motivated and passionate about your job. After a while, you may begin to accept the new status quo. But you’re not as productive because the environment doesn’t allow you to perform to your highest ability.
These types of work worries are common. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has drawn together academic studies on employee engagement. One study of a cross-section of UK workers from various industries showed that only 35 per cent of people feel they are engaged in their work. Other studies suggest that 22 per cent of workers (6.4 million people) feel discontented and unproductive.
Yet the solutions to workplace disgruntlement can be surprisingly simple. Research sponsored by the O.C. Tanner Company found that saying ‘thank you’ to staff increases engagement by 20-30 per cent. And with such large results from a simple statement, it’s clear that communication is a powerful weapon in feeling productive and inspired at work.
Engagement isn’t something that can be demanded from someone, nor can it be part of a job description. It’s the willingness to do that little bit extra, simply because you care, or because you feel that it will be appreciated.
It’s vital that your organisation creates an entrepreneurial-style culture, where employees have the drive and ambition to succeed. So, whether or not you’re not part of the senior management team, you need to drive initiatives that enable managers to directly listen to employee views. And by communicating clearly you can help to set clear management objectives.
Tools for engagement
The first step to engagement is finding ways for you and your colleagues to share your views. Hopefully, your firm will have an internal newsletter or intranet site that welcomes contributions from employees. Reports are also great tools for communicating your thoughts and ideas. This can help you to hone your recommendations so that your internal documents are clear and concise.
Taking the write steps
The following tips will help you to create a high-impact writing style so that you can express your ideas and recommendations clearly.
Engage your reader
Before you touch your computer keyboard, spend a few minutes focusing on your reader. Don’t assume, for example, that everyone in your organisation will understand detailed aspects of the human resources process.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the document about?
- Who will read it?
- How much do they already know about the subject?
- What do they absolutely need to know?
- How important is the subject to them?
- How interested are they in the subject?
Focus on your main message
Whether you’re writing a short newsletter article or a lengthy report, make sure you’re crystal clear on what you really want to say. Take a pencil and a piece of paper and create a spidergram of all your ideas. Keep writing until you’ve exhausted every possibility. Then group together the ideas that have elements in common. Next, decide what you think is most important. This idea needs to come right at the top of your document. Then you present the other points in order of importance, making sure to leave out any unessential points.
Apply this same technique when you’re writing the executive summary of a report. Managers have competing priorities and many other documents to read. So if your summary isn’t compelling they may decide just to skim read the rest of the report. This could mean that the gems in your report are lost. Remember, your task is to create a more engaging working environment. You’ve got to connect with your reader first.
Create powerful sentences
Using verbs instead of nouns makes your sentences more powerful. Consider the sentence, ‘I expect the software to create a 15 per cent increase in productivity.’ It is much more powerful than, ‘My expectation is that there will be a creation in productivity of 15 per cent when using the software.’ Using the verbs ‘expect’ and ‘create’ over the nouns ‘expectation’ and ‘creation’ makes the sentence punchier. And try to limit the length of your sentences to 20 words. This makes them easier to read. (You could shorten this example still further to: ‘I expect the software to increase productivity by 15 per cent.’)
Use headings, subheadings and bullet points
Break up your documents into digestible chunks and keep your paragraphs short. Use subheads and make sure that they highlight your main points. If your reader only reads the subheads they should still be left with the gist of your document.
Bullet points are another great tool for making your documents readable. They help to grab attention; reduce word count and help your readers to scan for the important information.
Speaking directly to your readers can help them to take action. So don’t be afraid to use the words ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’. Similarly, always opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, write, ‘We hold employee forums every Wednesday,’ instead of ‘Employee forums will be held every Wednesday.’ The first sentence has more movement and life – it’s also more likely to make someone want to attend a forum.
Avoid management speak
Aim to make your writing as plain and simple as possible; don’t fall into the trap of using management speak. Terms such as ‘raising the bar’ and ‘low hanging fruit’ are best left to David Brent from The Office. Your writing will have far more impact if you use simple terms to express your ideas.
Create a call to action
Know what action you want your reader to take, and then ask them to take it. If appropriate, you could even offer an incentive. (‘Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with all your great ideas for improving internal communication. The best ideas will win a £50 M&S gift voucher.’)
This may be a step too far, but at least make sure that there’s something in it for the reader. Always keep your readers’ needs in mind when writing your call to action.
Use a fine tooth comb
Once you’ve completed your document, print out a copy and proofread it slowly by stopping a pencil at every word. Look out for typos and spelling mistakes, but also see where you can prune out unnecessary words. For example, terms such as ‘pre-prepare’ and ‘forward planning’ contain redundant words. All planning goes forward and preparation is preparation: you can’t ‘pre-prepare’. Don’t be afraid to delete whole sentences if they don’t add much to the document, or repeat something that was said earlier.
Email made easy
Most of us have fired off an email in haste and regretted it at leisure. Hopefully, you didn’t do so at work. But if you did, it’s a lesson that email and emotion don’t mix. If you’re feeling particularly fired up about a particular workplace issue, by all means type it out on an email. But don’t even consider typing in an address or pressing the send button – until you’ve had time to reflect. The rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t want it broadcast on the 10 o’ clock news, don’t send it on an email.
The SCRAP formula below will help you to write emails that grab your readers’ attention for all the right reasons.
Begin by explaining the situation (‘where you or your department are now’).
Introduce the idea that there’s a problem (‘why you or your department can’t stay where you are’).
State your resolution to the problem. The reader will perceive you as an expert because you have a ready-made way of fixing things.
Suggest what action the reader can or should take. Offer a viewpoint that is new and intriguing.
Finally, end with a polite, but thought provoking sign-off.
When it comes to email, usually the fewer people you put in the ‘carbon copy’ box, the better. But distributing important ideas and recommendations isn’t spamming. So make sure that important documents are forwarded to the wider organisation.
Whether you want to highlight a brand new piece of bookkeeping software or demonstrate an innovative approach to credit control, it’s important to look beyond your administrative role. So, investigate areas of your work where you can make real improvements.
Remember, if a workforce isn’t engaged, it’s likely that the staff turnover will be high. But even if you see colleagues becoming disenchanted and leaving, that doesn’t mean you need to join them. The techniques you’ve learnt such as focusing on your reader and clarifying your main message can also be used in verbal communication and can help you stand your ground.
Improving productivity isn’t just about working harder. It’s also about improving your knowledge so that your work has greater impact. By honing your written communication skills, you make other parts of your job easier.
But whatever issues you face at work, don’t let them put you off your path. When you take responsibility for driving your own career success and happiness, you set the stage for clear communication. And that ultimately helps you and your colleagues to be more engaged and productive.
Robert Ashton is the Chief Executive of Emphasis.
Want to write more engagingly? See our courses for individuals or our courses for groups. Alternatively, send us a message or call one of our friendly advisors on +44 (0)1273 961 810