UPWARD COMMUNICATION: Definition, Examples & How to Foster in a Workplace

Upward communication
Image Credit: Businesscommunication

According to research, more than 75% of workers are unable to freely communicate and express themselves at their workplaces. It’s much worse when they think they can’t express their thoughts or speak their mind regarding work or an ongoing personal challenge. The lack of their inexpressiveness can thus result in reduced productivity, resignation, work stress or health breakdown, and even work conflicts. Hence, communication in the workplace is a very integral part of a working environment and is highly encouraged. Employees should freely communicate with their managers/employers as well as employers/managers with their employees. Discover what upward and downward communication is with an example and how one can foster upward communication.  

Let’s get on to business!

What Is Upward Communication?

As the name implies, upward communication simply means communication flowing from bottom to top, i.e., from subordinates to superiors in an organization. It is a means by which subordinates or employees directly communicate with top management and relate their thoughts regarding their work performance, problems, new ideas or opinions, etc. 

Most companies employed downward communication as their primary mode of communication up until recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. This method was already the norm in the majority of organizations until the pandemic brought about new ways of working ranging from hybrid styles to remote jobs, to freelancing, etc., where businesses both small and big had to figure out a way to sustain and enhance communication between employees to ensure they are meeting targets and their safety is guaranteed. However, this tremendous change worldwide has been the catalyst for the shift to upward communication. 

Importance of Upward Communication

As a result, the upward communication style of communication has a significant impact on business success that the downward communication method doesn’t have, ensuring:

  • An environment of trust and openness in the workplace.
  • Employee engagement and retention
  • Crisis and change management
  • Employee-manager relationships
  • The alignment of the organization
  • Collaborating and exchanging ideas
  • Inclusion and a sense of purpose
  • Innovation

Example /Types of Upward Communication

There are various examples and types or means of upward communication, including the following

#1. Reports on Work or Performance

This example of upward communication reveals that the performance reports in upward communication give employees or subordinates the opportunity to communicate their work reports to their superiors and also allow them to rate the performance of the superiors as well as other employees. Hence, management/superior is updated on where changes need to be made.

#2. Meetings in the Workplace

Meetings at work are a good way of upward communication since they allow employees to communicate with those in positions of authority. For example, these upward communication meetings can include Employee-Manager meetings and Team Meetings, group discussions, one-on-one meetings, etc.

#3. Opinion Box or Board

Employees can submit written feedback, concerns or complaints, and suggestions for management evaluation here. More so it could be an actual box or board, or it could be in an online format.

#4. Focus Groups

Employees at the highest levels of management and those in human resources participate in focus groups to talk about pressing issues facing the company’s workforce.

#5. Employee Satisfaction Surveys

To get a sense of how happy employees are with their jobs and the company culture as a whole, companies conduct employee satisfaction surveys. Besides, this is one of the best ways to encourage upward communication among employees.

Differences Between Upward and Downward Communication

Before we get into the differences between upward and downward communication, it’s good we orient ourselves with what downward communication is.

Downward communication is basically a mode of communication, in contrast to upward communication whereby information and messages flow from the upper level of the organizational structure to the lower level. Thus, the information goes down to the employees/subordinates from the managers/superiors through a hierarchy system.

Let’s look at the differences between upward and downward communication from a different perspective. The following is a table that compares the two types of communication:

CharacteristicsDownward CommunicationUpward Communication
DirectionFrom superiors to subordinatesFrom subordinates to superiors
Communicative natureDirectiveParticipative
Fundamental PurposesTo give orders, provide instructions, prescribe guidelines, inform, assign responsibilities, etc.To provide ideas, give feedback, make complaints, offer suggestions, etc.
FrequencyFrequent Usually infrequent
EffectivenessUsually immediate Usually limited
SpeedFastSlow

Upward Communication Advantages

The following are the advantages of upward communication

#1. Mutual Relationship

With upward communication in an organization, a good relationship and mutual understanding can exist between superiors and subordinates. Also, subordinates can always relate their opinions at ease to the management.

#2. Making Suggestions

Employers are able to give constructive opinions, suggestions, or even advice when there is easy communication access to their employees.

#3. A Friendly Working Atmosphere

The atmosphere in an organization speaks a lot about an organization. Thus, upward communication creates a friendly working atmosphere where everyone speaks their mind at will. 

#4. Feedback

Subordinates relay their reactions to a decision communicated by superiors. As a result, upper-level management can verify if lower-level employees accept the message of the superiors.

#5. Decision-making

Subordinates provide relevant information via upward communication, which eventually speeds up the decision-making process by the superiors.

#6. Understanding the Attitude of Employees

This form of communication basically helps employers understand the attitude of their employees and how to follow up with them.

#7. Appreciation

Subordinates get the opportunity to praise or appreciate their boss through this form of communication. 

#8. Creativity Is Being Developed

Upward communication necessitates the development of a creative environment in which employees demonstrate their development initiatives.

#9. Mutual Trust

In a workplace where this type of communication is used, evidently, trust is built between high management and lower-level employees.

Employees can play a significant role in the creation of new policies as well as the revision of obsolete ones. They can always communicate with their employers through the upward communication medium about a policy that is not working.

Upward Communication Disadvantages

You must have heard the saying “anything with an advantage has a disadvantage” right?

So yeah, this form of communication definitely has its disadvantages. 

There are instances when it is difficult for employees to communicate effectively with their superiors. The following are some of the drawbacks of this type of communication most often faced by subordinates:

  • Upper management might only get a positive message from subordinates.
  • Delay or lack of appropriate response from the high management.
  • It can take a long time to convey the issues to the higher levels since they have to go through a number of different people.
  • The possibility of a negative response or reaction from the superiors
  • Manipulation of information 

Challenges that Come With Upward Communication

When employees need to communicate with their superiors, mostly when they want to give critical feedback, the process can be quite complex and difficult. The following are some potential stumbling blocks to effective communication.

  • Fear
  • Managers may be unwilling to listen to criticism or feedback.
  • An autocratic style of leadership can stifle upward communication.
  • Ingratiation will render any upward communication ineffective or even useless.
  • Comments from top to down can have a negative impact.

Ways to Foster Upward Communication in an Organization

There must certainly be a culture of upward communication in the workplace if lower-level employees are to have their views and opinions heard. Hence, we’ll take a look at ways managers and employees can foster upward communication in an organization.

#1. Keep an Open Communication Culture

To maintain an open communication culture, you must create an environment where people feel free to come to you with their problems, worries, and questions, as well as suggestions for how to make things better.

It is imperative that you devise a strategy to deal with the influx of requests from people that may arise as a result of this measure.

#2. Establish Avenues for Upward Communication

It is good to develop a plan for internal communication so that employees are aware of the effective ways they can get in touch with you. This plan should take into account the employees’ reasons for wanting to communicate with you.

You can also create means for anonymous interaction, such as the suggestion boxes we discussed previously in the article.

#3. Establish a System for Receiving Comments 

As with formal performance reviews, giving your staff the opportunity to provide feedback on a frequent basis is a good idea. Not only should you encourage your employees to communicate their concerns to you on a frequent basis through informal channels, but you should also conduct surveys or other types of formal feedback gathering on a more regular basis. So, you’re letting them know that their evaluations of you are of equal importance to your own evaluations of them.

#4. Ask Strategic Questions

Asking the right questions conveys the idea that you’re aware of your flaws and you are open to their advice on how to improve. Also, ask for instances, especially when you receive critical feedback you’re not sure about, and don’t hesitate to seek clarification.

#5. Foster a Culture of Participation

The way to foster a culture of participation in upward communication can be done in the following ways

  • Firstly, you can set up joint brainstorming sessions.
  • You can also set up a spreadsheet where everyone can present their ideas for different tasks.
  • Encourage your team members to pass on their knowledge to others in their respective fields of expertise.
  • You can decide to create a group chat platform for your team where everyone can share valuable resources.

#6. Be Open and Teachable

After all said, if you are not able to receive criticism humbly and without provocation, all this can’t be achieved. Supposing a staff member meets you to suggest something you should have done or said during a speech, and you startle the staff away by shouting or not paying attention, that would mean you are not being open and teachable. Consequently, as an employer, you need to learn how to handle criticism to avoid getting into an argument with a low-level staff member. That’s one quality of a leader. 

Do you know that as an employee, you can also make upward communication more effective in an organization? This form of communication is not necessarily the responsibility of managers. As much as they can lay the groundwork, it’ll be up to the employees to talk.  

Well, here’s how you can also foster upward communication as an employee.

  • Learn to speak up; say your mind at any time an issue comes up. Also, remember, staying in your shell will never solve a problem.
  • Be self-confident and bold. Managers can also be afraid to speak their minds, but they don’t let it show. In the same way, you should speak confidently when you need to.
  • Be sure you are going through the necessary channels.
  • Choose the right time. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, one of the best ways to effectively communicate within an organization is by utilizing upward communication. It has a significant impact on a workplace’s general innovativeness and transparency, thus allowing employees to have a say in the affairs of the organization.

FAQs

what is upward communication?

“Upward communication” simply means communication flowing from bottom to top, i.e., from subordinates to superiors in an organization.

what are the examples of upward communication?

Upward communication example(s) include the following

  • Reports on Work or Performance
  • Meetings in the Workplace
  • A Friendly Working Atmosphere
  • Opinion Box or Board
  • Focus Groups
  • Employee Satisfaction Surveys

Give the difference between upward and downward communcation?

Downward communication is from superiors to subordinates. While upward communication is from subordinates to superiors

In what ways can an organization foster upward communication?

The ways an organization can foster upward communication are the following ways

  • Keep an Open Communication Culture
  • Establish Avenues for Upward Communication
  • Establish a System for Receiving Comments 
  • Ask Strategic Questions
  • Be Open and Teachable
  • Foster a Culture of Participation
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