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Line managers lack communication skills

Almost a quarter expect their internal communications budget to be cut in the next year

Lack of line manager communication skills could be the biggest barrier to internal comms success, according to research from Gatehouse.

The State of the Sector report, which surveyed 451 communication experts, found that 52% of communication employees thought a lack of clear communication from line managers is holding employee communications back. The next most selected barrier was outdated technology (chosen by 49%), a lack of involvement in strategic decision-making (44%), and lack of resources (43%).

The survey found that two out of three line managers hold team meetings less than once a week, and pointed to a link between lack of line manager communication skills and disengaged staff, with 32% of those polled considering disengaged staff a key challenge.

Despite dissatisfaction with line manager communication, improving this was considered a top priority by less than four in 10 (37%) of those communications professionals polled. Just 10% of organisations hold one-to-one coaching for line management, and only 38% offer this group other forms of communication training, the report found.

Co-founder of Gatehouse Simon Wright told HR magazine that line managers' inability to communicate well with employees is the continuation of a trend. “It seems to have got slightly better since last year, but it is such a small percentage it isn’t really significant,” he said.

He added employers should be doing more to invest in the communication skills of managers. “One problem could be that line managers often get promoted because they are good at their job, and not necessarily because they are good at communicating,” he said. “All too often communication is seen as a skill they will just pick up by themselves, and they aren’t given the tools needed to become good at it.”

But the survey suggested such budget for training was not likely to be forthcoming at many organisations in future. It found that almost a quarter (23%) expect their internal communications budget to be cut in the next year. Only one in five (21%) predicted an increase. The UK fared worse than the rest of the world, as 25% of British internal communication experts anticipated a cut in their budget compared with only 16% in mainland Europe and 13% in Asia-Pacific.

When it came to other internal communications priorities, 34% of those polled were aiming to decrease their use of emails, and 77% hoped to increase their use of social media (including Twitter and Facebook) to communicate with employees.