Is Communication Overload Killing Your Company’s Productivity?

When commenting on a couple getting divorced in an episode of The Simpsons, Homer remarks, “The problem is communication…too much communication.” While the joke was to show how horrible of a husband Homer can be at times, the truth is, there is such a thing as too much communication. Several recent studies show that communication overload, as well as under communication in times of change, may be killing productivity and hurting employee morale.

Computers, the internet and globalization have made it possible for companies to have teams of employees of that work in different locations. However, a recurring theme in modern times is that advanced technology is a double-edged sword, and the same is true here. Problems can arise when trying to use increasing forms of advanced technology to keep far away teams or teams in transition connected.

The Problem of Communication Overload

Game of Productivity: Communication Overload is Here”, found that technology could split teams just as easily as it can bring them together. Of the 300 corporate representatives in the survey, 81 percent said that despite taking steps to improve communication among employees, they still lacked a way to keep projects on track and provide management oversight.

Trying to fix communication issues by adding more means of communication can exacerbate the original problem. To put it another way, creating more email lists and copying more people on emails can be counterproductive if the goal is to foster cooperation and move projects forward.

This shortcoming of communication technology is something that was acknowledged by the survey participants. According to the Clarizen data, 70 percent of the representatives said “they need to go beyond creating additional lines of communication, and facilitate better collaboration among employees so they can work together to meet objectives, coordinate activities and monitor progress”.

Only a little more than half (53 percent) of the participants of the survey were using collaboration software, though 73 percent of them acknowledged that using this kind of solution could help. As a maker of collaboration, Clarizen endorses this kind of approach.

“There’s no doubt that leveraging technologies to improve the lines of communication among employees is important, but communicating is not the same as collaborating,” said Anne Catambay, Vice President of Marketing at Clarizen.

Since the majority of the survey participants were using collaboration software, but only 16 percent of the entire group rated their productivity levels as “Excellent”, it’s clear that collaboration software alone isn’t the solution. Some other ideas business could try include that were used by the survey respondents include:

  • Limiting the number of meetings employees must attend per month or putting caps on the number of employees in a particular meeting.
  • Using communication tools with advanced features for collaboration such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Slack.
  • Consider switching email platforms. Gmail for Business is pretty useful, but there’s also Microsoft 360, Zoho Mail, Amazon WorkMail and more.  

Why Addressing Communication Overload is Important for a Business

Communication overload can happen when necessary communications happen in improper ways. Team leaders and team members have to communicate with one another. The problem arises when employees find themselves drowning in “many meaningless meetings and an excessive number of emails, notifications and alerts that are devoid of importance, context or urgency”, a phrase Clarizen used to describe communication overload.

It’s easy to write the problem off as an unavoidable side effect of modern communication, but not addressing the causes of communication overload can have negative effects for a business. According to a Workforce Trends study completed by Kronos Inc. and Future Workplace, employee burnout plays a key role in 20 to 50 percent of their annual workforce turnover.

A study by American Psychological Association also shows that communication can have a positive or negative effect on employees. In predicting employee well-being, engagement and trust accounted for 53 percent of the variance. The APA noted that when there are changes within a company that aren’t communicated well, employees are negatively affected.

The APA study on changes in the workplace noted that improper communication during times of change at a company can lead to significant levels of distrust and apprehension. Not only does this damage productivity, it could cost a company workers.

According to the researchers, “Workers who reported being affected by organizational change currently or within the past year reported lower levels of job satisfaction compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated changes (71 percent vs. 81 percent). Working Americans who reported recent or current change were almost three times more likely to say they don’t trust their employer (34 percent vs. 12 percent) and more than three times as likely to say they intend to seek employment outside the organization within the next year (46 percent vs. 15 percent) compared with those with no recent, current or anticipated change.”

These negatives can be easily mitigated by properly communicating the reasons and goals behind recent changes. According to the APA, “workers reported having more trust in their companies when the organization recognizes employees for their contributions, provides opportunities for involvement and communicates effectively”. In predicting trust, employee involvement, recognition and communication predicted 43 percent of the variance.

In the end, modern communication in the workplace can be difficult to get absolutely right. It’s impossible to please everyone when changes happen, and sometimes, changes have to happen. But by being mindful of the dangers of communication overload, as well as the dangers of not communicating well enough, business owners can create systems that foster cooperation and productivity among workers.

For more recent data about the things that affect employee morale, check out this article on how employees may respond to CEO activism.

Donald Postway

About Donald Postway

Donald Postway is a freelance communications specialist and business analyst. He has a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in communications, both from the University of North Florida. He has worked in a variety of industries, including local government, information technology, marketing, retail and more.

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