Workplace Communication – A Practitioner’s View

By | June 6, 2023

In the last 3 decades, human resources development has been one of the most deliberated agenda in the corridors of Indian organizations. Management, development & retention of human resources has assumed larger significance in light of the rapidly changing profile of the workforce (education, life-style, growth expectations, no-loyalty, mobility, tech-savvy, etc.); concurrent pressure on optimizing cost & maximizing revenues and the need for harnessing the human potential.

Workplace Communication, among other factors, has now turned more critical as it has the power to influence employees a great deal. Communication per se is inherent in every human transaction. But in the organizational context, communication has a very delicate role because there is a pressing need to share required information at the right time, to concerned employees, through right channels and in a suitable form. In fact, communication technology today has made the task little easier.

However, communication being so inherent is not easily noticeable, has remained a step-child of HR & top management and received little attention about its potential. Rather, workplace communication has rarely been considered a strategic tool. On one hand, customers & investors are bombarded with information and on the other; employees are, inadvertently though, deprived of information on which they have a legitimate right.

Meaning of Workplace Communication:

The word communication comes from the communis (Latin) meaning “common”. This implies that communication revolves around an aspect, common to all involved. American Society for Training & Development has defined communication as, “the interchange of thoughts and information to bring about mutual understanding, confidence and good human relations“.

Paul Nystrom has defined Organizational Communication as, “the medium through which managers lead & direct the activities of others, harness human creativity, co-ordinate specialists and control activities of those who work under them, and understand the needs and wants of those who function within the organization, and those who use the organization’s services and goods“.

The above definition emphasizes the role of managers or leaders. While it includes employees as well as customers, it doesn’t focus on the role of the organization & employees other than managers or leaders. Therefore, we can attempt to expand the relevance and consider that Workplace Communication is “a self-perpetuating process that helps the organization in achieving its goals by;

  • Linking various levels of hierarchy and functions
  • Acknowledging employees about the organization’s vision, values and goals to enlist their commitment;
  • Helping employees identify themselves with the organization & its vision and supporting them in prioritizing their actions;
  • Helping organization generate mutual trust and develop congruence between goals & efforts of the organization & employees..

Purposes of Workplace Communication:

There are five broad purposes around which Workplace Communication revolves.

  1. To convey information or data, to employees, about internal and external developments.
  2. To foster relationships among the employees and influence their attitudes towards the organization & its business.
  3. To form a basis for collective decision-making.
  4. To establish implicit and explicit rules for sharing information and data.
  5. To generate awareness and broad consensus, in times of critical changes & challenges.

Outcomes when Workplace Communication is not given due attention:

When top-down communication is inadequate and / or inappropriate:

  1. Poor awareness about organization’s vision, values & goals, especially at the middle & bottom of the hierarchy
  2. Inadequate appreciation of responsibilities & working conditions
  3. Employees drifting away from the direction desired

When bottom-up communication is inadequate and / or inappropriate:

  1. Failure in recognizing early warning of dangers to business as well as employee morale
  2. Inadequate access to creative abilities of employees
  3. Organization’s resources drifting away from the direction desired

When lateral communication is inadequate and / or inappropriate -

  1. Political division in across teams & functions
  2. Lack of trust and co-ordination
  3. Delay in decision-making

Ground-rules for effective Workplace Communication:

  1. It is based on identified needs of the people, teams and the organization as a whole.
  2. Employees receive required & adequate information that affects their work in time.
  3. Participation is the key word for all critical organizational processes.
  4. Organizational culture characterized by OCTAPACE (Openness, Confrontation, Trust, Authenticity, Pro-activity, Autonomy, Collaboration and Experimenting) values, is promoted.
  5. Dyadic communication, formal as well as informal, is an institutionalized activity.

A comprehensive approach to Workplace Communication:

Communication strategy – Develop a broad-based communication strategy, through mutual consultations. This strategy should aim at providing reliable information to employees and teams at the right time through proper media.

Healthy communication climate – Develop a healthy communication climate, that encourages interdependence as well as independence, and helps employees develop problem-solving orientation.

Classification of information and data – Divide information and data in three broad groups, based on the immediacy of use – (1) That need to be communicated in a very short span of time, (2) That can be conveyed after a reasonable length of time, and (3) That can be relayed at a convenient time.

Core communication group – The Group can consist of nominated employees, irrespective of their roles, who understand the dynamics of Workplace communication. The Group is given necessary freedom and the management pays due attention to its suggestions.

Communication manual – A ready-to-refer manual of communication is given to all employees. The manual essentially focuses on “what, when, who, why, where & how” of communication.


Effective communication in the workplace context is a product of sound strategy; its implementation; proper monitoring; and required changes. If any of these is missing, communication is bound to languish.

Being so inherent and ingrained, understanding communication in the context of workplace, requires a vision and an ability to logically extrapolate its influence on people, processes and parameters of the organization.

All levels of communication – interpersonal, intra-team, inter-team and workplace – are inter-related and at times overlap.

Complacency regarding effectiveness of workplace communication, is dangerous for it renders the organization insensitive to the needs of employees and those arising out of the perpetual shift in the business context.