Texting: A New Frontier of Employee Engagement and Recruitment

Alissa PenneyBy Alissa Penney

Cell phone usage and ownership have grown exponentially over the last 20 years in ways even top thought leaders couldn’t predict. Even as recent as 2015, our predictions were way off regarding how we’d be utilizing this amazing pocket-sized bundle of technology. We’ve moved from thinking of cell phones as something we use occasionally, but can live without, to feeling real panic when we misplace them. What if someone messaged us? What if we missed an important call?

Because of the way cell phones connect us to each other, it’s no wonder that we’ve evolved our way of thinking about them. We can get the latest news from our favorite media sources. Stats on our local sports teams and times for movies coming out next week are right in the palm of our hand, ready to be pulled up in an instant. We can even send messages instantly to our friends on the other side of the world and connect with each other in ways that defy historical boundaries.

When we think about this information while wearing our HR hats (because we all know we wear way more than one!), the data can really help focus our recruiting efforts with more effective strategies. If you find yourself going in circles trying to get candidates to show up to their interviews, to connect with them before their first day, or even just to call you back to schedule time to come in for an interview, text recruitment may be the solution for you.

Engaging potential candidates, from the start, to communicate your company’s culture, mission, and vision gets them invested from the get-go which, in turn, reduces the risk candidate disengagement poses. With Millennials, Gen Z (IGen), and Gen X needing more engagement with their employers than ever, we HR folks need to ensure that we are staying in touch with how these employee groups prefer to communicate to keep them engaged with us.

Think of the impact your recruitment strategy could have on hiring if your company adopted texting as a means of early engagement with prospective candidates! Considering the fact that 4 in 5 adults keep their phone nearby all day, those same adults check their phones multiple times per hour, and 89% of adults indicated that they much preferred communicating with businesses via text (according to surveys by Gallup and the PEW research center), you are 60x more likely to reach candidates via text recruitment as opposed to standard emails.

Aside from the apparent advantages texting has for recruitment in general, studies have also found that women greatly outflank men for cell phone usage and texting responsiveness, regardless of age. With this in mind, your company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives stand to gain as well. Most recruitment strategies do an excellent job in sourcing candidates, but many can fall short when it comes to ensuring a variety of candidates are being reached. If your company’s demographics metrics have indicated that your company is predominantly made up of male employees, adding text recruitment to your overall strategy could improve your company’s female employee demographics as well.

The best part? Texting isn’t just for new hires and potential candidates. It can be a great tool for current employees as well. Especially when you consider all of the possibilities:

Open enrollment reminders

It happens every year, employees wait until the final deadline to complete their open enrollment checklist. They didn’t receive the email. They forgot. There’s a lot of reasons they’re late or never fill out their information. Texting could be a great way to ensure that employees are notified about open enrollment deadlines early and often. You can even send them a link via their smartphones so they can fill out the necessary forms.

Employee engagement surveys

Feedback from your employees is a critical part of the engagement process, whether it’s annual or periodic. Employers need to hear genuine concerns their employees have and need to be able to gauge a real-time company “heartbeat” or else they run the risk of becoming disengaged from their employee’s needs, especially for labor-intensive careers.

Text communications are great for this as well. It can provide an opportunity for companies to reach employees when and where they work instead of having mandatory “employee survey time” at a shared computer away from where the issues are happening.

Performance management/feedback reminders

Hand in hand with employee engagement surveys are performance reviews. If you’re an HR professional who has worked at a company with annual performance reviews, you’ll have felt the same struggle that I have - late and undone reviews. There’s only so much manual chasing you can do before you throw up your hands and have to get leadership involved. Which - let’s be honest, nobody wants.

Imagine being able to communicate directly with managers and leaders in a way that could get you a higher response rate. It’s something that I could have only imagined in my early HR days. Communication using such a direct channel is a game-changer in the best way.

Reminders for PTO usage

For some reason, I have had tons of employees forget that they should take time off of work! Maybe they hadn’t forgotten and were just really hard workers, but everyone needs a break and should take advantage of the time off that they’ve earned. It helps no-one if employees are stressed.

Enabling your employees to take time away from work to recuperate is imperative to a happy, healthy workforce. Employees can’t de-stress if they’re working 24/7. Reminding them to take time away helps employees know that you both value their time at work and their time away from work. Texting is a great way to give real-time PTO numbers to your employees.

Company closings/delays for weather

Long gone are the days we sat around waiting for company delays and closings to roll across the bottom of the television screen (or hear them rattled off the radio if your family was like mine and didn’t own a TV). Even schools provide up-to-date text based communication about school closings and delays to students and their parents. So why can’t companies do the same?

If you’re a municipality, you may already be using an alert system to reach out to employees for extreme weather condition updates. Bear in mind that having a multi-directional system may work better in your benefit if you have employees living in more than one city or state that may be experiencing localized weather conditions.

Team building communications and accolades

Direct communication from co-workers on a job well done has become one of the best ways to recognize and empower peer-to-peer recognition programs in the workplace. I remember running a program based on note cards that you could leave in other employees’ inboxes as a way to (hopefully) recognize them for a job well done. It was a great idea at the time!

But, considering the way you can track that kind of recognition data now, we could have identified where our star employees laid much better using a texting based recognition program. The principles are essentially the same, of course. But better tracking means better data, and better data means better decisions. I’ll take better data any day of the week if it means that I can help grow and develop employees!

Measurable data for HR

If you love data as much as I do, you’re probably the most excited about the implications of qualitative, accurate, trackable, measurable data. Being able to track communications without having to manually input pieces every single day is the ultimate HR goal (aside from people being kind to each other at work, but that’s an article for another time). Being able to show growth and tangible evidence that programs and initiatives are working, or need improvement, is an awesome tool and should be utilized to its fullest capabilities.

I hope you’ve started to consider the positive changes you could see with a text based communication system, but, if not, then let me share a personal story of mine.

In a previous HR life, it was a constant battle to get employees to follow up with me on annual performance reviews. Employee’s reviews went undone for months (yes, MONTHS) because they were often lost in the pile of emails my field supervisors would get every day. I can laugh about it now, but I still vividly remember the time that I had to hunt down a field supervisor who was incredibly past due on his performance reviews (he’d done them, I just needed the documentation!) and I ended up driving around town for hours because he just couldn’t stay still. A funny anecdote to tell, but ultimately a huge waste of both his, and my, time.

The thing is, he carried a company cell phone so he could stay in touch with all of his teams working around town. It would have been incredibly easy to automate a text reminder to complete his performance review forms - I could have even redirected him to the online documents so he could do everything from his phone! Had we been more innovative, we would have realized the amount of heartache (not to mention company funds) that could have been saved by implementing simple automation.

And that’s just the start of the transformational capabilities text communication strategies have in the workplace:

  • Companies have the chance to stay innovative and agile in how they communicate to their employees.
  • Hard of hearing and visually impaired employees have a level of accessibility to texted communications that just don’t exist with paper-based communications.
  • Real-time communication means faster access to high quality data, which means faster and better decisions. I know I’ve mentioned real-time communication a lot, but quality data is priceless in the way it can drive accurate business decisions.

Just a few more numbers to throw your way (you knew there were more numbers coming!). Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) studies have indicated that, in 2013, employers with more than 100k employees lost approximately $62 million due to poor communication strategies. That’s A LOT of lost profits! Imagine the opportunities lost for those company’s goals because of internal communication issues. If we have the opportunity to reduce losses and improve employee relations/morale in the process, then I firmly believe that we HR professionals should seize the chance to make solid workplace improvements.

I don’t know about you, but thinking about how HR professionals can automate these types of notifications just blows my mind. Ten years ago we couldn’t begin to dream that we’d have the option to communicate so directly with our employees. Now it’s something that can change the scope of how HR operates to make us more effective business partners and, ultimately, more human.

Will there be barriers to implementing a texting based communication system, of course. But as with any new change or innovation, they certainly aren’t insurmountable. HR professionals should not be deterred by how much planning may need to take place. Texting policies are absolutely a must and go a long way to reiterate your expectations of employees and what they can expect from you as their employer as well.

The future is full of technological innovations that stand to change the way we do business, for the better. Texting as part of recruitment strategies is just one of the many ways that we can automate processes to make our work lives that much better. I’m incredibly excited to see the ways that technology and different means of communication continue to evolve and inform how we continue to do business!

Has your company implemented a texting based recruitment or communication system? If so, I’d love to hear more about how it’s benefited your workplace and your employees! Interested in implementing text recruitment in your company? Contact Emissary for a demo today!


About the Author

Alissa Penney is the Owner and Lead HR Consultant of A Better HR, an HR consultation company focused on helping small, thinly stretched HR teams do Better work. She loves getting to learn about what makes other HR professionals passionate about the work they do and helping answer difficult HR questions! She’s also an HR for HR contributor and community steward for the Legal & Compliance and Wellbeing groups.

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