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It ain’t what you say…

A recent report into how we communicate in the workplace from Jurys Inn hotel group and CrossCountry (trains), has revealed new insights into office workers’ over-reliance on email communication and its effect on conflict management amongst employees. Sam Shepherd, Group HR Manager for Jurys Inn Hotels summarises the key findings.

The study was commissioned following research from Loughborough University, released in June this year, which revealed that ‘email stress’ caused by employees’ addiction to email and having too many messages to deal with, is leading to health problems and reduced efficiency in business. Interestingly, the results showed that just six percent of the 2,500 business workers questioned prefer telephone communication to email. Perhaps more shocking is the fact that almost 40 percent of 18-24 year olds admit they are nervous to use the telephone. One in 20 even state using the telephone ‘terrifies’ them. Jurys Inn has also found that when calling graduates to attend assessment centres for its GROW Graduate Scheme, phone calls are rarely answered and responses are only received via email or text. Disturbingly, these results suggest a fear of the live discussions that occur over the telephone or face-to-face.

Has email provided us with a wall allowing us to avoid live confrontation or has it, in fact, made us more confrontational? Of particular interest to HR professionals is that the Jurys Inn study also revealed a shift in the way we are communicating sensitive matters. For example, a fifth of employees would now consider handing in their notice by electronic communication, and a further 14 percent would ask for a pay rise in this way. Amongst female employees, 16 percent would inform their employer of a pregnancy via email. Furthermore, almost a quarter of workers admit to complaining about another member of staff via email, 23 percent, and an additional quarter have witnessed a colleague using email to criticise another member of team. This demonstrates the negative impact of the overreliance on this method of communication. Email is not unequivocal and due to its terse nature it is difficult to develop and maintain relationships in this way. Face-to-face meetings, on the other hand, are essential for fostering relationships and preventing potential conflicts later down the line. Communicating in person allows you to ask spontaneous questions, allowing you to develop a greater understanding of each others needs, therefore minimising the risk of conflict.

Jurys Inn recognises that email is an important tool in the workplace. However, as an organisation with hospitality in our DNA, Jurys Inn also appreciates the importance of building relationships via regular face-to-face meetings and encourages all its employees to take this learning on board. For instance, each hotel’s senior management team holds a face-to-face meeting every morning, with all employees from each property attending a BETogether update daily, which has proved very effective in sharing issues and minimising future problems. As the study has shown, younger workers are the most reliant on email communication. Therefore, as part of the Jurys Inn GROW Graduate scheme, training is provided to assist graduates to deal with face-to-face communications with employees, whilst also equipping them with key negotiation skills for external communications.

Over 40 percent of Jurys Inn’s workforce is aged 25 and below and therefore Jurys Inn realises it is up to us to instil these core skills in our trainees early on in their careers. To this end, Jurys Inn is proud to have been highly commended for the Top Employer of Young People award by the Young Person’s charity, Changemakers, for the organisation’s commitment to investing in the long term personal development of our young workforce. Jurys Inn believes face-to-face conflict management skills are core attributes that need to be instilled in the next generation of workers before it’s too late. Many of Jurys Inn’s graduates and trainees take this advice on board, enabling them to quickly progress through the career ladder. In fact, 90 percent of Jurys Inn’s general mangers are promoted from within the company. Jurys Inn believes they wouldn’t have got to where they are now without harnessing and developing these key face-to-face negotiation skills, something that has been recognised by Jurys Inn’s Gold accreditation from Investors In People.

From an HR point of view, we also must ensure employees are encouraged to discuss internal issues in person, rather than hiding behind email communication and allowing conflicts to fester. Business leaders must instil these values now, particularly amongst the upcoming generation and challenge how we communicate before talking to each other becomes a thing of the past.