The Importance of Language

Many people are now returning to work following a long period of non-working through the Government’s Job Retention Scheme (Furlough). Whilst this is certainly good news for most employees, I have been really struck by the impersonal approach that some organisations are taking in getting their people back to work.
A friend of mine was on furlough for a relatively short period. They’d had no communication from line management or HR before receiving a letter by email advising that they were ‘required’ to return to work. The letter went on to say ‘you will’ work from home and that they would be ‘required’ to adopt good health and safety behaviours as part of this return.
So the letter was perceived as a bitter sweet pill; on one hand, my friend was pleased to be returning to work but on the other hand, they felt that the letter was very perfunctory in its language. They have worked for the organisation for seven years and had previously felt valued by management and the rest of their team, with good two way communication.
For me, the problem was that the organisation had chosen to make this communication solely in writing, leaving them only words and a small amount of implicit tone to get their message across. Meharabian’s communication model demonstrates that only 7% of our communication comes from the words we use. The other 93% is made up of tone (38%) and body language (55%). By using a written means to advise of my friend’s expected return to work, the organisation had lost the two biggest elements of communication. They therefore needed to ensure that the words they used were the best ones for the purpose; using authoritative, commanding and directive language such as ‘you are required’ and ‘you will’ were, in this case, not the most effective and caused my friend to feel that they had no control or say in the approach to their planned return.
Fortunately, my friend had only been on Furlough for a short time so the transition back into full time work was relatively easy. For others, who may have been furloughed for three months or more, this transition may not be so easy. Therefore, employers being mindful of using inclusive language in their communications, i.e. ‘as we return to work’ will help in re-engaging staff in the most human focused and efficient way.
For more information on how we can help in engaging and empowering staff, contact Clare Davey 

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