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What is Downward Communication? Benefits, Drawbacks and Examples

Downward Communication

Did you know that 71% of employees say they’re more productive when they feel connected to their colleagues through communication? This shows the importance of effective communication in the workplace.

No doubt, the communication techniques used in a work environment affect employee performance and collaboration efforts. Top-down communication is a common form of communication in the workplace and has both positive and negative impacts on collaboration efforts and employee engagement. 

What does downward communication mean? How does it affect performance and collaboration at work? What can businesses do to generate employee engagement effectively?

In this article, you’ll learn the impact of this form of communication and how businesses can improve employee engagement and collaboration efforts among employees. Ready? Let’s go!

Downward communication: what it is and how it works

Any form of communication from a manager to an employee, whether it comes from their direct manager or someone else in their management chain, is defined as downward communication. Depending on how individuals process information and respond to stressors, this type of communication can positively or negatively affect employee engagement, performance, and morale.

Also referred to as “top-down communication,” this form of communication involves vertically sending messages to the bottom of an organization’s hierarchy. Downward communication is only deemed successful when the person in the organization’s lowest position has gotten the message passed down to them.

In an ideal world, each level within an organization works with those above and below to carry out daily tasks and move projects forward. In practice, many organizations need better communication between departments, perhaps most notably within a company’s upper-management levels. 

One reason is that many managers don’t know how to communicate effectively with their employees. This leads to miscommunication or even confusion over who is responsible for what task and why it needs to be done. To avoid these issues, managers must learn the best medium of communication for their organization, be it face-to-face interaction, email, or written memos.

Examples and mediums of downward communication

In today’s business world, top-down communication is rampant and almost inevitable. When sharing updates or clarifications about the organization’s goals, this type of communication is often used. Here are some examples of top-down communication:

  • Project feedback
  • Annual reports
  • Company policies announcements
  • Clarification of the company’s goals
  • Training
  • Performance appraisals
  • Job instructions
  • Notices or updates

Mediums of top-down communication include:

  • Emails
  • Memos and newsletters
  • Phone conversations
  • Staff meetings (physical discussions)

How to effectively generate employee engagement?

How your employees feel about your organization daily is part of how we measure employee engagement. The second part is the energy they bring to the office. However, it can get difficult to maintain your employee engagement, which can impact workflow.

Maintaining employee engagement will increase performance, leaving the team happier and, in the end, increasing productivity.

Here are the top tips to help your organization boost employee engagement.

Recognize your employees

One way to increase employee engagement and productivity is to recognize their efforts. Everyone likes their efforts to be recognized. When this is achieved, employees feel valued and motivated to do more work. Also, if you’re struggling with employee retention, recognizing your employees helps with that. 

Additionally, when an employee is recognized, others are likely to be inspired to be recognized as well. The result? A significant boost in workplace morale. 

Come up with different ideas for recognizing your team. For example, you can recognize your employees by sending emails praising them and celebrating their work achievements, anniversaries, and birthdays. When employees feel wanted and appreciated, their morale will improve and they will become more engaged. 

Encourage feedback

Like recognition, feedback increases employee engagement. Begin by encouraging managers to have frequent review sessions with members of their team. Another way to get employee feedback is to conduct in-house surveys. Surveys help organizations measure employees’ interests and receive suggestions and opinions. This boosts collaboration.

Properly onboard and train recruits

An easy way to engage employees with their jobs and make them feel like a part of your organization is to onboard them properly. Proper onboarding forms the foundation of their experience in your company while also setting the tone. Also, when an organization takes its time to train employees, it helps them to hone their skills, making them feel valued and improving their performance.

Prioritize mental and physical health

Employees will likely engage better with their jobs when their organizations know how to prioritize their mental health. The same principle applies to physical health. To score high in this category, you can organize a wellness initiative for every employee. 

For instance, the organization can collaborate with a gym to offer membership discounts. Also, a meditation class can help employees take a break when they are overwhelmed and dealing with burnout. This will go a long way towards improving employee performance.

Benefits of downward communication

This form of communication in the workplace has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, it creates a sense of unity within the organization as it is a way to maintain an open line of communication between the executive level and the rank-and-file employees.

However, this type of communication is less effective in other ways, such as ensuring all employees are on board with company policy. Find below some advantages of top-down communication.

It makes responsibility delegation easy

Delegation is essential for productivity in the workplace. When managers don’t delegate, the organization performs poorly. Employees feel left out and irrelevant. What this form of communication does is help managers or executives conveniently delegate tasks. When information is passed from the top to the bottom, as in the case of downward communication, the workplace is healthier, and performance increases. Also, top-down communication simplifies the process of assigning and distributing tasks.

It instills discipline

Typically, this type of communication involves passing information from the highest level in the organization to the lowest. This form of communication causes employees to comply with instructions from managers. It also fosters discipline in the work environment, thereby boosting productivity.

It increases efficiency

The future workplace depends on efficiency. When instructions are passed from the top down in an organization, not only does it instill discipline, but it also increases efficiency. The reason is that the higher-ups are capable of coordinating the instructions passed from their position. Also, employees can easily get feedback from their supervisors or managers. With this comes a boost in performance and collaboration.

Drawbacks of downward communication

Communicating downward can have negative consequences for those who work hard but need recognition or acknowledgement from upper management. In these cases, top-down communication becomes a form of control used by the managers to keep their reports in check. Here are some drawbacks to this kind of communication.

It breeds misunderstanding

Messages passed from one person to another are likely to be misinterpreted. The reason is that people interpret simple instructions differently. Also, when a message is passed from one person to multiple people, it seldom gets to the last person in one piece. 

After painstakingly updating managers about important information, you find out that the message seems to change as it gets to the bottom of the hierarchical ladder. At most, you’ll either have to send a general email or hope it doesn’t get distorted before it gets to the last person. This can affect collaboration efforts and employee performance.

Feedback is often slow

Another drawback of communicating downward is that it doesn’t allow for swift feedback. The back-and-forth movement from the higher-ups first, then down to the organizational ladder, and then up again, which is time-consuming. This results in distorted messages, slow feedback, and sometimes issues resulting from delayed feedback and, ultimately, low performance.

Top-down communication can be demoralizing

This form of communication is directive; hence, it doesn’t allow employees and management to communicate effectively. Employees’ views, opinions, and suggestions can only be discussed with the higher-ups, resulting in a lack of motivation and frustration. This can negatively affect collaboration and performance.  

The key to employee collaboration and performance is employee engagement

Despite the hype and hoopla, too many businesses still need help to improve employee engagement to boost performance and collaboration efforts. This is partly due to organizations still relying too much on traditional management and leadership practices.

Rather than directly engaging employees with clear goals, guidance, and feedback, managers often rely strictly on downward communication strategies. Sadly, this type of communication is not very effective for performance and collaboration. I would love to know how this type of communication has impacted employee performance and collaboration in your organization. 

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Moyofade Ipadeola

Moyofade Ipadeola is a Content Strategist, UX Writer, and Editor. She loves personal development and helping people grow. Mo, as she’s fondly called, is fascinated by all things tech.

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