We paired up with people leaders to get their thoughts on how to expertly communicate at every stage of the employee journey.
For your employees, every moment matters.
Each interaction you have is a chance for them to better engage and stay connected with your brand and overall purpose.
But poor communication can hinder that. In fact, almost 15% of employees’ total work time is wasted through communications.
That’s a huge loss for productivity, motivation, and even talent altogether.
So, in this practical guide for internal communicators and employee experience professionals, we’ll take you through every step of effectively communicating with employees throughout their entire journey with your organization.
Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of it, don’t forget to download our free template for communicating at every stage of the employee journey. Customize and fill out your own process and goals to improve your employee communications plan.
The importance of customizing internal comms to the employee journey
A lot of organizations still don’t have a long-term strategy for their internal communications.
Non-existent or poor planning isn’t a great look:
- Poor workplace communication can cause 52% more stress for employees
- Disengaged employees can cost us all a whopping $7.8 trillion in lost productivity
- As many as 54% of employees quit their jobs when they don’t feel valued by their organization.
Communicating the right way from the start until the end of every employee’s journey gives you the chance to prevent or reverse all of this.
It lets you build better relationships with your employees by providing them with valuable information that helps them perform better, feel more connected to their colleagues, and be proud of what they do.
By understanding the different stages of an employee’s journey, you can create tailored messaging and communication strategies. These help with increased morale and better job satisfaction, and create more efficient processes.
And employees want you to communicate with them.
Specifically, they want you to listen to their needs, help them overcome challenges, and ask them for feedback when you’re not sure of the next steps.
In a lot of cases, employers don’t even know why their employees are unmotivated, not performing well, or leaving the company for good.
A McKinsey study found that the factors employees cite when quitting a job are entirely different from what their employers expect. The biggest issue? Employers overlook relational elements like building trust or a sense of belonging.
These are the exact elements we’re going to focus on in this guide and in the downloadable template, so that you can build better employee-organization relationships every step of the way.
What are the different stages of the employee journey?
Let’s take a deep dive into every stage you should consider.
The interview stage
This is where you get to interview candidates and decide if they’re a fit for your company’s culture. It also helps employers build trust and foster meaningful relationships with their employees by making a good first impression.
But that can be easier said than done when this is the first step that can make or break a candidate’s experience with your organization.
You want to make sure you’re choosing the right person for your company, purpose, and existing team. Therefore, it’s important for companies to ensure that their interview process is effective, fair, and professional.
Note: Like the employee journey, both parties have the right to assess each other’s abilities and expectations, enabling them to decide if it is a good fit for everyone involved.
How to communicate at this stage:
Through the interview stage, you should aim to gain an understanding of the potential employee’s skillset, personality, and qualifications for the role.
Additionally, the interview stage provides an opportunity for two-way communication to start happening. Therefore, it’s important that employers take this process seriously to get the best people on board, but also use it as a window into life at their company. You should be giving your interviewees as many opportunities to assess your fit for them as they’re giving you.
Despite it being the right thing to do, doing so will help establish a sense of trust from the outset of your relationship.
💡 Get our free template for communicating at every stage of the employee journey to the full process of building a two-way conversation from day one.
The hiring [or pre-onboarding] stage
Hiring [or pre-onboarding] is the process of preparing new employees for their first day on the job. It involves communicating your expectations and providing all the insights they need to feel confident coming into your company and culture.
Good communication is essential during the hiring stage as it sets the tone for the employee’s future relationship with the company. The goal is to make sure that the employee feels welcome and prepared for their first day, getting a good grasp on:
- Why they should work for your company
- How they can make an impact on the company
- How they will be supported throughout their career with your company.
How to communicate at this stage:
There are a few key things we recommend when communicating with your new employees during pre-onboarding. These rules apply to the other stages as well, but tend to require you to make the first move [see point 4]:
- Stay clear and concise in your communication. Use language that’s easy to understand, outline your best practices in a shareable doc, and follow up with a one-on-one meeting to clarify potential misunderstandings.
- Be mindful of their time. They’re not yet a part of the team so they might have other commitments with their previous [still current] employer keeping them away from meeting up every day with you. A call a day is not the way to go.
- Listen attentively and be understanding. New employees haven’t seen how your team and organization communicate yet, so it’s important to create a supportive environment and stay prepared to explain even the smallest of details. Employees should know they can ask questions without feeling like they’re being a burden.
- Follow up after initial contact. So you’ve sent the good news and got a new team member! Don’t forget to equip them with all the right resources and answers right before they join. Keep all the rules above in mind but note that sometimes it can take months for a new person to actually join your company due to other contracts they might have. So check in with the employee periodically to see how they’re doing and if they have any additional questions.
The onboarding stage
The goal of onboarding is to help new hires become productive quickly, and work efficiently. To achieve this, new employees need a consistent flow of information throughout their first days, weeks, months, and even years with your business. This will help them feel confident and connected to their new team.
But onboarding isn’t just about getting your new hires up to speed on their responsibilities. It’s also about helping them feel at home in their new environment by making them feel valued and included in your team as quickly as possible.
How to communicate at this stage:
Make sure they understand their role. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you do and how they fit into the company’s structure. Consider connecting new hires with onboarding buddies that can show them around and introduce them to their team and role. Job shadowing is more than ideal if the situation allows for it.
Tip: Allow employees to approach you with questions or concerns from their first days. This will build up confidence in your company culture and make them feel more at ease during their transition period, but also help you refine your onboarding process for future hires.
The professional development [or learning and development] stage
Professional development can be overwhelming. Employees might not know where to start. In fact, they might not even have a clear understanding of where they want to get to in their careers and skills development journey.
That’s exactly what you should provide to them. Talk to them to see what their own goals are and present potential growth paths. Set clear expectations so they’ll know exactly WHERE they can get to, HOW you can help them, and WHAT results you expect from them.
How to communicate at this stage:
Show your support for their development. Let them know you believe in their power to better themselves and succeed within the company. Positive reinforcement can go a long way during the learning and development stage. When employees feel like they’re making progress, they’ll be more motivated to keep learning.
Build time into their work schedules for learning and development so they don’t feel like they need to sacrifice their personal life to participate.
Don’t forget to make it extra easy and comfortable for them to ask questions and receive feedback. This way, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone understands the material.
Finally, be transparent about your processes: give your people equal access to development opportunities and career paths by communicating them as often and as clearly as you can.
The promotions stage
This is an essential part of performance management as rewarding employees plays a huge role in keeping employees happy and motivated.
That said, it’s not something you should postpone until the end of the year. Instead, think of it as a continuous process that’s meant to keep your employees alert and on the right track toward reaching their own goals.
This is an important time for managers. That’s because they need to answer questions from employees who are disappointed or upset about not being promoted. It’s also an opportunity for managers to give feedback on how their employees can improve in the future.
How to communicate at this stage:
The best way to approach promotions is through regular one-on-ones. These allow for conversations to stay confidential while both employees and managers can share their honest feedback on progress.
Ready to promote someone? The first thing to do is congratulate them. If they’re leaving their current role, let them know how much you appreciate all of their hard work and how excited you are for them to take on new responsibilities. If they’re staying in the same position but moving to a new location, let them know that you’re excited for them to have this opportunity and that you’re confident that they will do great things in their new role.
If any changes to your company’s benefits program impact them as a result of their promotion, share those immediately so that they can plan accordingly. In addition, make sure new compensation information gets communicated from HR or payroll to the hiring manager so that they can update it in their system alongside other details.
The offboarding stage
Even when employees are leaving, you’ll still want to make sure they have a good experience. It pays to set expectations early in the process so they’ll know exactly what the next steps are and how long they’ll take.
Reminder: Don’t neglect the importance of giving them feedback at this stage. This is even more important if you have to lay off employees: the reason behind this should be clearly explained and complete with potential suggestions so the employee can keep growing in the future or even find a new job. Explain why they’re being let go, focusing on specific performance issues or concerns about their fit within your organization’s culture or mission statement.
How to communicate at this stage:
Do explain any new reporting relationships they might still have after offboarding takes place. You might expect people in management roles to help with onboarding future employees or mentoring the team.
You should also consider other formal steps like sending an email thanking them for their service, preparing a formal exit interview or meeting with the team members, and making sure they have all the information they need before they go.
It’s not uncommon to need to talk to your employees even after they’ve left your company. Whether they need your help with a recommendation or you want to get them to speak at a future event or mentor your team, there are plenty of occasions to meet up again.
How to communicate at this stage:
You may not want to keep close contact with former employees, but you mustn’t forget about them entirely. A simple email in which you thank them for their work can go a long way toward maintaining a positive relationship.
Make sure that the tone of any communication remains professional, even if there was tension between you and the employee when they were working for you. This is the perfect opportunity to keep things amicable between both parties.
Leaving a mark by…
So far, we’ve talked about all the various ways in which adapting internal comms to different employee journeys makes a positive impact.
But what are the experts saying?
Jodi Brandstetter SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Founder at By Design Brainery, notes that as early as the hiring stage, appropriate communication is key to ensuring that the candidate understands the hiring process and stays in the process until the end:
“HR tends to only communicate at each step. For example, HR will notify a candidate if s/he is moving to the next step or when s/he is no longer in the running. We do not always consider the candidate’s perspective during the hiring process.
“I have seen candidates continue longer hiring processes when HR stays involved in communication every step of the way. And candidates have told me that they would be more likely to commit to a company that provides this type of communication.
“It does take effort and time to do this. But it’s less than having to start the whole process over because the candidate you want to hire declines for another position!”
Caroline Reidy, Managing Director at The HR Suite, says that having strong communication at every level of the company is pivotal for everything the company wants to improve:
“Having employees understand what is happening in the company and feeling like they can ask for help is an important step in having a strong corporate culture. This helps employees feel as if they are part of a community and that their voice matters. Having employee buy-in will reduce the turnover rate and employee dissatisfaction while improving employee engagement.”
… Making a difference
On achieving outstanding results, Jonathan H. Westover, PhD, MPA, SFHEA, AFCIPD suggests adapting internal communications to different employee journey stages:
“This can positively impact the workplace by boosting engagement, improving employee experience, reducing turnover, and enhancing the company’s employer brand.
“For example, by providing clear, targeted communication, employees can feel more valued and connected to the organization, leading to higher engagement levels and a better employee experience. Additionally, by sharing tailored information, employees can better understand the organization’s goals, values, and expectations, leading to improved performance and reduced turnover.”
To achieve these results, Jonathan points out it’s essential to “create a communication plan that considers the different stages of the employee journey, their communication preferences, and their level of understanding”. He also outlines the must-haves for a plan that “should include a mix of channels and formats, such as in-person meetings, email, intranet, and social media, to ensure that everyone receives the necessary information in a way that works for them.”
Lastly, Jonathan highlights the importance of regularly analyzing the results of your plan: “Evaluating the effectiveness of the communication plan and seeking employee feedback can help improve the plan and ensure that it continues to meet employees’ needs.”
… And being intentional
Amina Gass, Strategic People Operations Leader, also said that being intentional about their internal communication positively influenced their company by boosting employee experience:
“During our semi-annual engagement surveys in 2020, we realized that our PTO policy was ambiguous. Employees felt burnt out and rightful because work and home lives blurred. People thought they couldn’t take time because they didn’t know how much time they could take off.
“We know that burnout is real and leads to lower engagement and productivity, and we combated that by doing the following:
- Defined our ‘Unlimited’ policy and specified X amount of time to take time off to make things more transparent
- We introduced Mental offerings to our wellbeing benefits
- Drafted a tiered communication approach to explaining why and how this matters to the company
- Enabled execs and managers to model the behavior because, let’s be honest, people don’t feel comfortable if their direct managers aren’t taking time off and encouraging them to do so too
- Set up monthly reports to be sent to managers so they can see how much time off their teams are taking
- Re-surveyed and found that our guidelines and action items increased employee engagement scores.”
For Devin Basinger, SVP People & Operations, adapting internal comms to different employee journey stages has led to teams feeling more engaged at work:
“We’ve found that regardless of employee stage, team members just want to feel like they are engaging and being engaged authentically at work. Our approach to this generally means that we lean in with transparency by answering any and all questions that are asked, even when they’re asking tough questions.”
To achieve this, Devin’s team has made some strides in recognizing good outcomes and performance from their team members:
“Recognition is used by our best leaders to help engage their team members and spotlight what ‘great outcomes’ look like. It’s an easy and simple thing to do, but looking someone in the eye (even over Zoom) and sincerely thanking them for their work goes a long way toward improving the employee experience.
“One team in particular had very low engagement relative to receiving recognition. The leader of the department intentionally built a habit of spotlighting team members in department meetings each month, naming their names, identifying the habits and projects they were being recognized for, and pausing to say ‘thank you’ to each of them. That team now scores the highest in our engagement surveys when it comes to receiving recognition for good work.”
Common mistakes professionals make and how to avoid them
Mistakes can happen even before you hire someone.
Jodi Brandstetter says there’s a lot of uncertainty for a candidate during the interview and hiring processes:
“For example, there are typically a few days between each step where a candidate does not know if s/he is still in the running. This can cause a candidate to continue to look for other positions or remove themselves from the process.
“To lower the amount of uncertainty for a candidate, I recommend HR communicate with candidates between steps. This can be a quick call, text, or email that says, ‘You are still being considered but I do not have an update.’ My rule of thumb is to send these types of updates if it has been two days since the last step of the process and on Fridays.”
To overcome early errors during onboarding, Taryn Tennant, HR Leader, advises on enabling clarity on what is most critical for the new hire to understand and what is nice to know:
“Information should be spaced out and flexible so that an individual doesn’t get information overload but can also move ahead faster if ready.
“Aim to provide not just facts and data, but context on why something should happen. Going beyond surface-level information and offering details around norms, behaviors, and culture speeds up learning and enables new hires to make effective decisions faster. Mapping out an onboarding process that spans across multiple months is also key.”
Ashley Amber Sava, Head of Communications and Director of Marketing at Rolebot, observes that organizations aren’t being thoughtful enough about how they’re making people feel:
“Most people decide whether they’re committed (or already considering flying the coop) during their first 90 days in a new role. I’ve helped businesses implement onboarding programs with campaigns that start the second the offer letter is signed/sealed/delivered and don’t lose momentum before the employee’s first day. The employee feels included, confident, and appreciated starting things off that way.”
Another mistake almost all experts we talked to mentioned is assuming that all employees have the same level of knowledge and understanding of the company’s policies, procedures, and goals.
Caroline Reidy observes:
“Not giving your employees all the information under the assumption that they ‘should’ know something leads to so many communication breakdowns.
This can affect employees at all levels. When onboarding new hires, it’s important for them to have access to all the information that they need. A big area where this comes up is acronyms. There’s nothing worse than starting a new job and having lots of acronyms thrown around to the point that you don’t know what’s going on. It can leave new hires panicked about not knowing critical information and can immediately leave them in a position of feeling overwhelmed and like they can’t ask for information.
Having written documents for employees to reference at all stages of their journey can help overcome this. Having clearly defined agendas, outcomes, and regular company updates will help make sure everyone has the necessary information to do their job.”
To avoid this mistake, Jonathan H. Westover shares his own approach:
“It’s essential to tailor the communication to the specific stage of the employee’s journey, considering their background, experience, and knowledge. For instance, new employees may need more detailed explanations and support compared to long-term employees.”
Jonathan also highlighted that another common mistake is using jargon or technical language that may be unfamiliar to some employees, especially those who are new to the organization:
“To avoid this, use clear, concise language that is easy to understand, avoiding acronyms or technical terms. In case such terms are necessary, provide a definition or explanation to ensure everyone can follow the conversation.”
Important: Although being clear about expectations is a must, note that leadership shouldn’t be explicitly setting expectations.
Taylor Martin, People Experience Manager at Reveal, says:
“Being explicit is not being insubordinate or rude. It’s ensuring success and shows an investment in the work being done. It’s essential for all team members — regardless of the stage — to be able to explicitly express their needs. This is often very uncomfortable for junior employees, interns, and apprentices. If the individual doesn’t initiate the conversation for that reason, the team leader should do so.”
Taylor also mentions that the only way to get the most for your team is to be curious about how they work best:
“Having this insight in tough times is the secret to navigating loads of other challenges. Managers often assume that alluding to expectations is the same as being explicit. It’s not. Provide examples of scenarios and what you expect in each scenario. This is not an ‘I command you to do XYZ.’ Instead, it’s creating a dialogue between you and your team member.”
Remote working can add an additional layer
Remote work is also still bringing on its own particular challenges.
Ashley Amber Sava notes that a poor employee onboarding experience (especially in a remote environment) can give a new employee instant ‘buyer’s remorse’:
“There is a prevalent misconception that you can overcommunicate with new hires. I don’t buy it. Being fully distributed means communicating more than you think you have to.
“The communication and onboarding should start the second the professional signs their offer letter. In no universe should there be radio silence during that delicate in-between period from the signing of the contract to the first day of work.”
Geneviève Rousseau, VP of Culture & People Growth at designstripe, shared with us details of how onboarding progressed at her remote company:
“It’s important to share concrete examples of how people work in their day-to-day. We record tons of Loom videos explaining how we work as a team. For example, we do a Slack tour about how we use each channel and why.
“We showcase examples of our team using their values in their day-to-day. We have our new team member watch the last recording of our last big team meeting. This way they have access to information, and it’s done in an intentional manner that feels more inclusive and welcoming for them.”
Creating a personalized onboarding experience for new employees as well as regular check-ins allowed Geneviève’s new team members to feel welcomed, valued, and engaged. Furthermore, they received the guidance and support they needed to feel like they understood the company’s values, culture, and processes.
On top of this, challenges extend to the hybrid space as well.
Allison Eyres, Director of People Operations at Airtame, says the biggest mistake she’s noticed is people not taking a moment to hop on a call when there seems to be confusion or misunderstanding to easily clarify a situation:
“When different cultures and ways of communicating come together, a call or video chat is a great way to get everyone on the same page again.
“Slack can be a great tool for collaboration, but I do feel that the tone of written communication lies in the eyes of the reader, not the sender. I always encourage managers and team members to hop on a call if they feel that their written communication is being taken in an unintended way.”
Communicate at every stage of the employee journey with Workvivo
If you’re not happy with how you currently communicate at every stage of your employees’ journey, Workvivo is here to help.
From dedicated onboarding Spaces and prompts for new joiners to post a ‘Say Hi’ intro video, to shout-outs for professional and personal achievements, delivering relevant, meaningful communications to your teams has never been easier.
To learn more, book your free Workvivo demo today.
And don’t forget! Click below to access your free template, designed to supercharge your approach to internal communication!