Why Everything Communicates, Whether You Want it to or Not

Sometimes, it is the unwritten message that communicates most strongly with employees. (Illustration by Dreamstime)

An early lesson in my career was that everything communicates.

That lesson rang loud and true recently as I listened to a good friend tell me she’d just learned that she, plus all partners and the founder, was taking a required double-digit pay cut. She’s in a non-profit job, so you know that hits hard. The economy is slow, business is down, and she, while not a partner, is one of the highest-paid members of the team.

Three things bothered her about the cut:

  • It followed a significant lack of marketing and business development, actions that could have helped them better withstand a market downturn.
  • Just last week, three college grads arrived on the scene — new hires who could have been offered staggered start dates or a portion of their salary to retain, but not activate them.
  • The founder didn’t take a larger cut than the rest, despite his larger stake and greater influence on these decisions.

For my friend, these actions shook her confidence in the leadership. She witnessed thinking in a vacuum in lieu of long-term strategic planning. And she personally felt the brunt of knee-jerk decisions at odds with one another. Now this very talented contributor is planning to walk.

She’s not alone. A recent workplace survey showed that 54 percent of workers plan to flee as soon as the economy recovers. Furloughs that have been used to avoid job cuts have helped create employees who are overworked, angry, and feeling exploited. These reactions are amplified when leadership avoids making the tough decisions earlier, leaving employees to shoulder the pain today, as in my friend’s case.

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How leaders lead, how decisions are made, how we work; everything communicates more than the actual communications — the print, web, email, or in-person way you communicated your message.

This article was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.