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Human Resources

How human resources can prevent information overload

HR struggles to balance the amount, type and frequency of messages sent to employees
University Business, February 2016
Carol Patton: HR professionals should help employees better manage information.
Carol Patton: HR professionals should help employees better manage information.

It’s so easy to hit “send.” But experienced human resources professionals know better and are implementing creative strategies to share important news with employees while preventing them from overdosing on information.

Although employees are responsible for reading and acting upon messages they receive, some HR professionals are helping them better manage that information.

There’s good reason. More than half of the 2,532 business and HR respondents to the Global Human Capital Trends 2014 survey by Deloitte Consulting believe their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload in today’s demanding work environment.

Advance planning

Paul Grantham, assistant vice president of communication services at Duke University Health System, says he serves on an editorial team that meets weekly to identify—weeks or months in advance—what content will be emailed, posted online or published in print.

“We try to curate content and provide it in a prioritized fashion so it makes more of an impression on people so they’re not inundated with lots of things that don’t have a priority,” he says. “We also look at our metrics each week to see what’s getting traffic, what people are paying attention to, what types of things work in terms of headlines, and how we phrase or present content.”

The school’s 36,000 staff and faculty consistently open a monthly piece titled “Five Free Things to do at Duke” that highlights campus events. Anything that mentions freebies acts as bait and exposes employees to other, more important news mentioned in the communication, Grantham say.

The department sends out an employee newsletter every Thursday that is limited to seven stories. On Mondays, managers get a brief list of items requiring their attention that week. Messages and stories are also posted on social media to encourage employee response.

HR also developed a “no solicitation” policy and sometimes turns down employees or departments who want to push out less important information.

“Email is still a critical way to reach [employees], but you have to be smart about it because if you overwhelm people, they just tune out,” Grantham says.

Bullet points

In The University of Texas System, the primary form of employee communication—UT4U—is emailed weekly, says Faye Godwin, interim director of the office of employee services and assistant director of the office of employee benefits.

The UT system supports 14 institutions and roughly 90,000 benefits-eligible employees. UT4U is a bullet point list with relevant links that covers everything from compliance issues to campus celebrations.

“It’s more efficient to hit people once a week with current events as opposed to hitting them multiple times a week with things as they pop up,” says Godwin, adding that employees typically prefer electronic communication to hard copy. “Brevity is also important. People aren’t accustomed to sitting and reading long diatribes anymore. We speak in sort of Twitter language and bullet points.”

Communications beyond emergency messages can be texted to cell phones and other mobile devices, but HR must be concise, Godwin says. If texts are too numerous and lengthy, employees may simply stop reading them.

Old-school approach

Meanwhile, HR at Northern Arizona University models future communications based on the effectiveness of last year’s emails. The school also resorts to an old-fashioned technique—actually talking to employees.

“We still use verbal communication,” says Diane Verkest, associate vice president of HR at the university, which supports about 3,100 staff and faculty. The HR staff communicates with most of this population at regular employee group meetings. “Sometimes it’s not just communicating but getting input for new programs or changes.”

Verkest says it’s important for HR to be thoughtful not just about the content of messages, but also where they are published and their frequency.

So, do your employees a favor. Prioritize. Condense. Strategize. Otherwise, messages of all sorts may become one giant blur.

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

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