Human Resources

Communication Tips for HR

By Bridget Miller

You can never be too prepared when it comes to effective communication, and in today’s Advisor, guest columnist Bridget Miller has a few communication tips specific to the HR function.

As HR professionals, a large component of the job revolves around communicating across all levels of the organization. There’s communications about policies, benefits, legal matters, disciplinary matters, conflicts, payroll, and more. It never ends! With communication being such a critical part of HR, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of tips that can help the HR team communicate most effectively. Here are a few such tips:

  • Pay attention to timing. For example, never send a critical message during a time when employees may not even see it soon enough. Doing so makes employees feel that the HR department is incompetent for not communicating sooner. If you discover too late that critical information needs to be communicated when employees are away, such as at the end of the year or other times when a large portion of employees are not in the office, find other ways to ensure that there will not be problems for employees.
  • Always craft messages with the end goal in mind. If the key is to ensure that employees are aware of a new policy; for example, be sure that is the focus, and don’t get bogged down with too much information. Look at things from the employee perspective, and determine how to word the message accordingly.
  • Consider the appropriate audience. Consider when it is appropriate to send companywide communications and when it makes more sense to send more personalized messages. For example, when communicating about pay raises, if the company is giving a companywide cost of living raise that is the same for every person, it may make sense to streamline that communication. But if there are differences in how much of a raise is being given for different departments, it may make more sense to communicate on a much smaller scale for each distinct group. (Of course, that is just one example.)
  • Pay attention to tone and perspective. While most business-related decisions have components that affect the organization as much as the employee, always be aware of how the communication will come across to the employee. For example, if no one is getting a raise because of rising input costs making it impossible to do so, be careful not to not sound as though employees should be happy about it because it could have been worse. For example, don’t emphasize that the organization is not considering cutting salaries, even if that was one option that could have happened. (This may seem like an extreme example, but it has happened in organizations where an over-explanation made the employees feel as though HR was saying they were lucky, which was clearly not a good tone to strike when delivering bad news, even if it’s true that it could have been worse.) At the end of the day, pay attention to the part of the message the employee cares about, and remember that it’s possible to say too much. Leave out the details that will not help get the key message across.
  • Evaluate the best type of communication for the news at hand. E-mail is simple and often the easiest way to communicate, but it’s not always the most appropriate. While there are obvious examples like disciplinary action and terminations that should be handled in person, there are less obvious examples too. The type of communication used can speak volumes to the recipient about how much you value him or her and the importance of what you’re saying.
  • Be concise, but don’t leave out important details. If a policy is changing, for example, give all of the relevant information needed, but resist the urge to over-explain. The same goes for all communications—be concise without leaving out anything vital.
  • Accuracy is mission-critical. As an HR representative, you’ll be held to a much higher standard in terms of getting communication details exactly right the first time. There’s no room to leave out words, have any misspellings or grammatical errors, or have anything about the communication that could be open for varying interpretations. Always get important communications reviewed and discussed by others before sending to help ensure all of this.

What other tips would you advise? What lessons have you learned over time about effective HR communication?