The Causes & Effects of Poor Communication in the Workplace

By Hani Khan

Workplace communication is the exchange of information and ideas within an organization, and good communication is essential in the workplace for companies to work effectively and productively. With great internal communication between employees and employers comes increased morale, productivity, and commitment, especially with employers who spend the time and energy to create open communication lines. These types of managers quickly build trust among employees, resulting in increased productivity and performance. Employees who effectively communicate with their colleagues and bosses continue to be valuable assets to the company.

Why is communication so important in the workplace?

  • It avoids confusion
  • It provides purpose
  • It fosters a transparent company culture
  • It creates accountability
  • It builds productivity and growth

Effective communication in the workplace is central towards reaching all business goals, as it defines organizational goals and helps coworkers better collaborate with one another. However, not all communication in a business environment is created equal. Some companies suffer from poor communication, resulting in friction, frustration, and confusion. Poor communication often creates a tense environment where people are not motivated to be productive and not inspired to collaborate. This lack of motivation then affects how employees relate to clients and potential customers, negatively affecting the bottom line. So what is exactly poor communication and what are some of the causes and effects of poor communication. 

What is poor communication in the workplace?

Poor workplace communication occurs when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is heard, whether it be between colleagues or between an employee and a manager. More specifically, the understanding between two people is not mutual when the person being communicated misunderstands what you’re communicating to them.

For example, an employer sets a deadline for turning in data on Friday for their employee, and the employee has no problem with getting the data in on Friday. On the surface, it may seem like an example of good communication. However, the employee might think they have until 5 p.m to deliver the data when they actually need it on Friday at 10 a.m. This mismatch of deadlines stemmed from poor communication, as the understanding for the deadline was not directly communicated between the employee and employer.

What are the causes of poor communication in the workplace?

Poor Leadership

Employees look to business owners and their managers for direction in the workplace. Good communication that starts from the top down motivates staff members to be more productive and innovative. These good leaders clearly communicate objectives, goals, and future visions. However, poor and incompetent leaders are more than often indecisive and are unable to inspire their team. Poor communication and bad leadership may stem from managers being unable to answer questions or clarify points, so that their employees are left even more confused and frustrated than when they started.

Unclear Objectives

Goals and objectives are powerful in business, as they focus attention on achieving desirable outcomes, such as profitability. Profitability does not just happen, magically. It requires attentive employees who know what management expects them to accomplish, and transparent objectives provide that direction. If organizations, especially the managers, fail to provide direction, this not only leads to confusion and frustration, employees may also end up underperforming without meaning to.

Limited Feedback

Feedback is “information provided by an agent regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding”. Effective feedback, both positive and negative, is very helpful, as it provides valuable information to make important decisions in the future. Top performing companies are top performing companies because they utilize feedback consistently to make themselves better. Poor communication can severely limit feedback given to employees and hinder their work. When feedback is limited from management, employees might not clearly understand their current actions and continue to underperform in comparison to the manager’s standards.

Demoralized Employees

When an employee loses interest in their work or the company, they are considered demoralized. Employees who feel demoralized often also feel unvalued, unappreciated, and even disrespected despite their capacities and talents. This will often lead to the employee becoming unproductive and irritable, disregarding the open lines of communication instead of helping move the company forward. Restoring employee morale may involve reevaluating workplace culture and thinking about what it takes to create a work environment in which employees are personally invested enough to work with a good attitude.

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Work environments are getting more and more diverse. Diverse work environments have been proven to help companies grow, as it brings in new ideas for greater creativity and innovation. However, one challenge of increasing diversity in the workplace comes the potential for poor communication. Different people from different backgrounds relay messages in different ways, with varied nonverbal cues. Interpretations of messages will also be different. For example, forming a circle with your thumb and index finger means “OK” in the United States; however, it means “money” in Japan. To combat this form of poor communication, companies should invest in diversity classes to educate employees. 

What are the effects of poor communication in the workplace?

Unpredictable Work Environment

Poor communication causes a lack of predictability and stability within the workplace, leading to an uneasy environment for employees to work in. Employees might not clearly understand their objectives for the week or might misunderstand the process for a project, leading to unproductivity and ineffectiveness at their job. Employees and employers have a responsibility to facilitate an active dialogue in order to create a stable work environment to get their best work done.

Less Effective Collaboration

Collaboration and communication go hand in hand. If employees are unable to communicate effectively, it is very likely for collaboration to be effective as well. Collaboration in the workplace is important in many ways from promoting self-analysis and resulting in efficient problem solving. The effects of poor communication in the workplace set every collaborative project for failure, and almost everything in the 21st century workplace is a collaboration. 

Workplace Conflict

The effects of poor communication may cause tensions to rise, resulting in a potential conflict between employees. Failure to communicate may cause employees to make the wrong assumptions, such as leaving other employees to pick up their work, when this task was not previously discussed between a team. Good communication prevents workplace from arising in the first place.

Low Morale

With poor communication, employees may have a harder time meeting expectations and catching up with their deadlines, resulting in them getting behind. This could leave them with a sense of guilt, embarrassment or even low self-esteem. Low workplace morale should be addressed immediately, so that employees can maintain a healthy work-life balance and continue working efficiently.

Improving Company Communications

From demoralized employees to workplace conflicts, poor communication detrimentally affects an organization’s productivity and overall workplace culture. To combat poor communication, some things to do is to write out project descriptions clearly, check in to ask how things are, and set aside time each week to address workplace concerns. Improving communications can prove valuable for the business from increased productivity, higher morale, and positively benefitting the bottom line. Businesses must make it a priority to invest into improving its culture of communication, whether it be through additional management training or new technologies to maintain an open line of communication.

Here at Simpplr, we devote our time to simplify employee communication to make it easier to connect and align with your employees. We have designed each integration to keep every line of communication open to your employees and create an open culture to foster growth and transparent communication.

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