I was recently asked what I thought was the biggest issue employees are facing in the workplace in 2024 and was surprised to find that I went blank. I’ve been working in internal communications for more than 10 years and thinking about and researching workplace trends is what I do for a living. Over the last decade, I’ve worked on internal comms strategies for numerous clients across a wide variety of industry sectors and I’d like to think I’m pretty up to speed. I was actually in the middle of putting together a presentation deck on the very subject, and yet I didn’t have an easy answer.

After a couple of weeks of reflection, I’ve come to the somewhat obvious conclusion that it’s because there isn’t one. With so many trends and factors impacting businesses, this is probably one of the most complex times to be an employee in human history. With unprecedented volatility and complexity the norm in most businesses, employees are being significantly impacted in many ways. Rapid technological advancements, global economic shifts, societal changes, remote work dynamics, digital overload, disrupted hierarchies and shifting skills needs are just some of the trends that have created a landscape where uncertainty and rapid change are just normal. Of course, all of this comes at a cost to employees.

The stress factor

Some of the research conducted since the pandemic paints a pretty scary picture. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report for 2023 found that 60% of workers are emotionally detached at work and 19% are miserable. That’s bad enough but when you drive into the details, 59% of those surveyed said they felt stress yesterday, 31% said they felt anger, and 51% said that job stress made them behave poorly with loved ones. That has to be concerning for employees and employers alike. Add to that the quite shocking statistic from the Columbia Business School that the average knowledge worker must process, consciously or subconsciously, the equivalent of 174 newspapers of information every day and it’s no wonder that workers globally are seriously questioning if this is sustainable.

The acronym used to simplify this is that we live in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times. It’s a term that originated in the military to describe the challenging and dynamic nature of today’s environment. While I am no fan of overused acronyms, there is a point to be made here.

Seeking clarity

As internal communicators and business leaders, we have to think about what is in our control. We can’t do much about the volatility that businesses find themselves in in 2024. There are large geopolitical and economic forces at play that we have no agency over. Similarly, we can’t offer certainty in an increasingly uncertain, ever-shifting landscape, nor can we do that much about complexity – it’s just where we are right now.

But, where we can have an impact, where we can look to assist our staff, is mitigating ambiguity. Humans don’t do ambiguity well. It impacts us on an emotional level, creating feelings of disconnection, anxiety, and distrust. Ambiguity in the workplace is a company culture killer and leads to disengaged workers. Which makes them unhappy and, as numerous studies have shown, disengaged workers negatively impact the company’s bottom line.

This is where internal communicators need to step in. According to Gallup’s research mentioned earlier, ‘unclear communication’ is listed as one of the biggest reasons for staff dissatisfaction.

Clear communication mitigates ambiguity by bringing clarity. Exactly how to do that is obviously and ironically, complex. But in all this noise it has to be someone’s job to listen to and advocate for employees, and a good place to start is by having a documented, well-thought-through internal communications strategy that tries to answer their many questions and puts your people first.

Curious about how to introduce more clarity into your internal comms? Or just wondering what other companies are doing in that space? We have lots of thoughts – and a cool presentation deck. Let me know if you want to chat.