What Is Upward Communication? Definition and Examples
Updated March 10, 2023
A company's employees gather to listen to an announcement.
Upward communication can increase workplace productivity as well as employee satisfaction. Regardless of your role within an organization, it’s essential to understand how upward communication affects a company's overall success—at every level. Being able to communicate within an organization effectively requires employees and upper management to find new and innovative communication methods they can apply to their business practices.
In this article, we define upward communication, describe how it differs from a downward communication process, highlight its advantages and review a few examples of upward communication within the workplace.
What is upward communication?
Upward communication is the process by which lower-level company employees can directly communicate with upper management to provide feedback, complaints or suggestions regarding the day-to-day operations of the company. Upward communication is increasing in popularity among organizations to encourage a participative work culture. Companies that foster upward communication are better able to make decisions that positively impact their employees.
How does upward communication differ from downward communication?
Here is how you can distinguish between upward communication and downward communication:
Bottom-up vs. top-down communication
Whereas upward communication focuses on lower-level employees disseminating information to upper management, downward communication focuses on a transfer of information from upper management down to the employees.
Upward communication is participative because it encourages lower-level employees to voice their opinions. In contrast, downward communication is directive in nature as it allows upper management to instruct employees on particular company matters.
The purpose of upward communication is to allow employees to give feedback or suggestions to authoritative company figures, whereas the use of downward communication is to give orders to lower-level employees about their job responsibilities or company policies.
Advantages of upward communication
Here are some advantages to incorporating upward communication into a business:
Increases mutual trust
Upward communication can instill a sense of mutual trust between upper management, lower management and employees. This is because lower-level employees trust that company officials will consider their suggestions. In contrast, upper management believes that employees use this direct communication method to be proactive and positive.
Example: Company executives allow employees to give feedback or advice during a company-wide meeting. They trust that their employees take the opportunity to make honest suggestions, while employees trust that upper management will use their ideas to improve the company.
Improves workplace procedures
Using upward communication creates the opportunity for improvements to workplace procedures and, consequently, workplace productivity.
Example: An employee notices that a delay in communication between upper and lower management limits the amount of time they have to complete a marketing campaign for the company. They suggest a direct email channel where upper management can send information directly to the marketing team. This action helps increase productivity by 25%.
Helps managers identify areas for self-improvement
Managers need to strive to improve just as their employees do, making upward communication a constructive mode for employee-to-employer feedback.
Example: A department manager sends out an email survey to their department to gauge their strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Results suggest that they have excellent communication skills. However, they could improve their motivation tactics.
Makes employees feel valued
Upward communication encourages employees to communicate directly with upper management. This creates a sense of value in employees since they realize that upper management cares about their input, especially when they make changes in response to employee suggestions.
Example: An employee wishes that upper management would make more of an effort to engage with lower-level staff. They voice their concerns to their direct manager, who then discusses this issue with company officials. A month later, upper management creates an email newsletter highlighting how the efforts of lower-level employees contribute to the organization. The team member who initially voiced their concerns now feels like they work for a company that values its employees.
Creates an inclusive environment within an organization
Integrating upward communication practices into a business can help create an inclusive environment. What this means is that every employee, regardless of their role, feels like they are an important contributor to the company's success.
For example: Company executives encourage employees to voice their opinions about a slogan for a new product. They decide to create a slogan-writing contest to use in the promotional stage, and an employee's slogan wins. This helps employees feel like they are a part of the decision-making process.
5 examples of upward communication
Here are five examples of upward communication:
1. Performance reports
In upward communication, performance reports allow lower-level employees to rate the performance of their direct managers and other company officials. Performance reports of upper management could take place at the same time as employee performance reviews to demonstrate that company officials know they also need to strive to improve, just like their employees.
2. Focus groups
Focus groups typically comprise company employees accompanied by an HR specialist or company official. During focus groups, employees can discuss reoccurring issues at the department level, or company officials could use these sessions to ask employees how they would feel about a new policy. Officials record these sessions for other executives to view later on and aid in their decision-making.
3. Employee satisfaction surveys
Companies use employee satisfaction surveys to gauge the degree to which employees enjoy their daily job duties, workplace culture and the overall company itself. Surveys are a great example of upward communication because they encourage employees to rate their personal experience working for the company.
Related: How To Measure Employee Satisfaction
4. Company meetings
Company meetings are an example of upward communication because they encourage upper management and lower-level employees to interact with one another in person. These include one-on-one meetings between employees and their direct manager or company-wide meetings where all employees and executive personnel gather to celebrate an important milestone or address major changes.
5. Suggestion boxes
Companies can either use an actual suggestion box where employees place written feedback, complaints or advice for upper management to review, or they can use an online format. Company officials can create a "suggestion box" email address to which employees can send their digital feedback, complaints or advice.
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