This guide to tackling content overwhelm helps you cut through the noise and ensure the most important information lands with employees.
We’re all here for frequent, open, and authentic internal communications. Establishing your internal comms basics and ensuring you have the right platforms and channels in place is crucial for communicating effectively with employees. But experiences of the frantic post-pandemic workplace and record levels of employee burnout have left us questioning if the volume of communication has gone too far.
The average company now uses 75 different technologies internally, climbing to 200 for large organizations. And the average employee is reported to spend more than half of their workday reading and actioning the 300+ business emails they receive each week.
So what’s the problem? More ways to communicate sounds great!
Although the increasing amount of platforms and channels to communicate internally can be a great thing, there are also significant downsides taking their toll on employee engagement, wellbeing, and morale. In 2022, Gallup reported employee engagement in the US had declined for the first time in over a decade, and both burnout and work-related stress are rising globally.
Let’s cut to the chase – employees are constantly overloaded with information, which is certainly not doing great things for engagement or productivity.
What is content overwhelm (aka information overload)?
Digitization and the evolution of corporate culture have contributed to an information overload, which the Information Overload Research Group (yes, it actually exists) say occurs when the information being circulated exceeds the processing abilities of the individual within the time they have available. It is generally the result of a combination of three factors – too much information, not enough time, and poor quality of information.
Sound familiar? It certainly does to us.
Despite this excessive level of communication, Gallagher’s 2023 State of the Sector report found that only 56% of leaders believe employees understand their organization’s strategy, vision and purpose. And only 53% rated their employees’ understanding of compensation, rewards, and benefits as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. What’s going wrong here?
Lack of time and capacity was unveiled as the top challenge for IC professionals, so what are we spending our time communicating if employees don’t seem to be getting this stuff? Internal comms teams are under increasing pressure to churn out more content than ever before, but the important messages just aren’t pulling through.
Research shows that 43% of employees miss important information and updates due to the sheer volume of messages, notifications and emails that they receive alongside it. They are overloaded with information, but don’t know where to look for the specific content they need.
Don’t panic! We’re here to help.
A move towards people-centric internal communication
Effective internal communication keeps colleagues informed, engaged, and aligned with the mission and goals. There’s a whole lot of noise, but it’s our job to cut through and highlight the most important things.
And there’s really only one way to do that – by embracing people-centric internal comms. People-centric internal comms puts employees at the heart of your approach and takes an audience-first view of content. Far too often we create content for the leader who requested it rather than for the audience who will be asked to read, watch, or listen to it.
We’re advocates of building an amazing employee experience, so we need to start listening when our people are telling us that the volume of communication is too high.
Combating content overwhelm: how to cut through the noise
With a growing number of topics to communicate and channels to use, reducing complexity is key.
An audience-first, people-centric approach means truly embracing your responsibility as a gatekeeper; filtering content requests to decide what is communicated and, crucially, what is not communicated. Having an understanding of the overwhelming volume of content landing with employees prompts us to cast a more critical eye over every pre-publication communication.
We need to continually ask ourselves questions like ‘is this content of value to the audience?’, ‘am I publishing this content to the most appropriate channel?’, and ‘am I sharing this content at the right time to ensure maximum engagement?’.
An effective process for filtering content ensures consistency and gives communicators the ability to confidently push back on requests for messaging that might be misaligned or unnecessary.
4 steps for filtering content
Our four-step process is a quick and easy way to ensure employees are front-and-center when it comes to content filtering decisions. The four steps – value, importance, audience, and urgency – are explored below:
The first step is to assess the value of the proposed communication. To get started, you need to decide which of the five categories the message fits into.
Once you’ve established which category the communication falls under, you can assess its value against the objective. If the message sits outside any of the above categories and doesn’t align with an objective, it might not be of any value to employees.
The next step is to consider the importance of the message. It may well fit under one of the five categories and hit the objective, but might not necessarily be important enough to make it into your editorial calendar.
Consider how important the communication is by asking yourself if it warrants an employee taking time away from their daily work to read, watch, or listen to. That’s not to say that every piece of content should be treated as a crisis communication needing an open rate of at least 90%, but it does mean that every message should feel important and beneficial to its intended audience.
One of the best ways you can add value is by streamlining content to avoid sharing too much information.
Sharing the communication with the relevant audience is key to cutting volume. Audience segmentation – or splitting your audience down into smaller, defined groups – means the message is much more likely to be heard, understood, and acted upon.
Internal audiences can be segmented in lots of different ways, and the approach will depend on the objectives and desired outcomes for each piece of content.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of publishing every communication to a company-wide audience, particularly when you’re working with a platform that doesn’t support segmentation. Making use of an employee experience app like Workvivo can help you share the right content with the right audiences and personalize activity feeds for maximum engagement.
The final step is to assess the urgency of the communication to be shared. Timing is often much more important than you might think. Does the message really need to be circulated right now? Are there other pieces of content scheduled for the same day? Too often we jump into reactive mode and assume the message needs to be shared ASAP, forgetting to question the impact of the timing.
Keeping the audience at the heart of your assessment, consider when the best time to share the message would be to ensure the best engagement. It’s not exactly best practice to send a communication about downsizing part of the business at the same time as publishing the latest management promotions. Nor is it ideal to send an urgent email with details about the next mandatory e-learning at the same time as a company-wide CEO message about focusing more on customer-facing work and reducing distractions.
Using the right channels and grouping content like a pro
It’s almost impossible to have a view of all the formal and informal communication across your organization, which is why it’s even more important to keep your own house in order and ensure that all IC-owned content is valuable, important, and shared with the right people at the right time.
A ‘newsroom approach’ is one way to bring channels together, with all content being run through a central newsroom to help streamline messaging and avoid contradiction or duplication. We also recommend using a channels matrix to help you pick the best communication channel for each piece of content. At a glance, it will show what channels you have available and allow you to assess what will be best for the audience you’re targeting. We like using this simple template from our friends over at All Things IC!
Whatever the channel, grouping content and then publishing to a central repository of information – like an intranet news hub – saves employees time and effort, effectively reducing content overwhelm.
Leave content overwhelm behind with Workvivo
So there you have it! Your complete guide to tackling content overwhelm and avoiding bombarding your employees.
Want to hear more about how Workvivo can help amplify your messaging? Book a demo with our friendly team today.
By Caitlin Kirwan
Caitlin Kirwan is a communication and engagement professional with over 10 years of experience leading internal communications. Since launching her career with BMW in 2012, she has managed national and global internal comms and engagement programs across multiple sectors for organizations including Deloitte, PayPal, and DAS.