What is Upward Communication?

Upward communication is when communication flows between lower-level employees and upper management. Implementing this type of communication allows employees to share their concerns, ideas, and feedback.


Traditionally, organizations were structured so that senior leadership would develop ideas and simply instruct employees to carry out their vision. However, it’s becoming increasingly popular for company leaders to incorporate employees in the brainstorming process. Studies show that 48% of employers are willing to hear employees out.


Upward communication isn’t just limited to company vision or overarching goals. It also encourages employees to share their feedback, concerns, and issues.


Practical Examples of Upward Communication

There are many ways that management can incorporate upward communication into their company culture. Some practical examples include:

  • Employee Feedback Surveys:

    Using surveys to gather feedback on workplace conditions, management practices, and overall employee satisfaction.

  • Suggestion Boxes:

    The old reliable method – employees can use a physical suggestion box to share their ideas.

  • One-on-One Meetings:

    Holding regular meetings between employees and their direct supervisors provides opportunities for discussing performance, challenges, and suggestions.

  • Reporting Systems:

    Enabling employees to submit reports detailing project progress, issues, or achievements directly to their managers.

  • Town Hall Meetings:

    As well as broadcasting updates and ideas to the company, town halls can also include Q&A sessions – a great way to allow employees to speak directly with senior management.



Upward Communication in a Team Dynamic

Upward communication isn’t just for individual employees to communicate with management. It’s also applicable within a team dynamic. It allows team members to share their expertise, concerns, and progress with their team leader.


This fosters a collaborative environment where everyone feels involved and empowered to contribute to the team’s success. Team leaders who encourage upward communication can leverage the team’s collective intelligence, leading to more informed decisions and a sense of ownership over projects.



Benefits of Using Upward Communication

Upward communication is becoming increasingly essential for modern organizations. Employees are more empowered and likely to want their ideas and perspectives to be valued.


Companies that don’t adapt to this trend will likely see high employee turnover rates and dissatisfaction. In addition, upward communication allows businesses to:

  • Upward communication provides valuable insights from employees directly involved in day-to-day operations, leading to more informed and practical decisions made by leadership.

  • Increase Employee Engagement:

    When employees feel their voices are heard and valued, they tend to be more engaged and motivated in their work.

  • Identify Problems Early:

    Employees on the front lines often have the first glimpse of potential problems or areas for improvement. Upward communication allows for early identification and mitigation of issues.

  • Foster Innovation:

    By encouraging employees to share ideas, companies can foster a culture of innovation and creativity, leading to new products, processes, and improvements.

  • Improve Employer-Employee Relations:

    Upward communication strengthens trust and transparency between employees and management, fostering a more positive work environment.


How to Implement Upward Communication

Implementing an upward communication strategy within an organization can take time and commitment. It’s not something that can be changed overnight. Especially rigidly hierarchical organizations which have operated for years in a top-down manner.


First, senior management must be committed to receiving feedback, ideas, suggestions, and complaints directly. Even from the lowest-ranking employees.


To enable this, the company must adopt some form of open-door policy. This doesn’t have to be literal, i.e. an actual open door. It could also be virtual – a channel via which employees can communicate to management, with an assurance that the channel is monitored and read. To go a step further, management could allocate certain hours to receiving and listening to employees.


Finally, this approach should be accompanied by a culture of recognition and appreciation. Employee ideas and feedback should be acknowledged, respected, and adhered to when relevant. Demonstrate to employees that their input is making an active difference.



Obstacles to Upward Communication

Establishing clear lines of upward communication isn’t without its challenges. Here are a few potential obstacles that may hinder the process:


Fear or Retaliation:


It’s critical that employees feel safe and comfortable sharing their ideas. This means eliminating “shaming culture” where ideas are mocked, and ensuring that even sharp critiques of company policy aren’t reprimanded, but are instead listened to.


Hierarchical Structures:


In very hierarchical organizations, employees might feel a significant power distance between themselves and leadership, hindering open communication.


Absence of Internal Communication Tools:


Without dedicated communication channels, such as anonymous suggestion boxes, surveys, or internal communication platforms, employees may lack a clear and convenient way to connect with management.

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