Information flowing from the lower levels of a hierarchy to the upper levels is called upward communication.
It transfers from subordinate to superior as that from worker to foreman, from foreman to company manager, from company’s manager to general manager and from general manager to the chief executive or the board of directors.
In this article you will learn about-
Characteristics of upward communication – 1. Ensures two way communications 2. Transmit messages 3. Freedom to communicate 4. Participation in decision making 5. Collective bargaining
Objectives of upward communication – 1. Respond to downward communication 2. Inform about commencement and progress 3. Suggest and submit ideas 4. Encourage participation 5. Improve interpersonal relationships 6. Improve interpersonal relationships
Methods of upward communication – 1. Applications 2. Complaints 3. Demand 4. Exit Interviews 5. Grapevine 6. Meetings 7. Open Door Policy 8. Opinion Survey 9. Requests 10. Suggestions 11. Reports 12. Informal Gatherings
Benefits of Upward Communication – 1. Creates insight into behavioral problems 2. Creates confidence and trust 3. Enhances learning and excellence 4. TQM and Zero-defect marketing
Effective upward communication– 1. Healthy atmosphere 2. Reward for constructive suggestions 3. Effective listening 4. Formal system for suggestions 5. Short lines of communication
Advantages of upward communication– 1. Facilitates decision making 2. Employee participation 3. Feedback machinery 4. Evaluation coordination 5. Raise employee morale 6. Control 7. Assess communication
Disadvantages of upward communication – 1. Hesitant to communicate with superiors 2. Lack the ability to communicate 3. Reluctant to express 4. Fear of criticism
Problems of upward communication – 1. Concealments 2. Delays and distortions 3. Bypassing 4. Poor listening.
Information flowing from the lower levels of a hierarchy to the upper levels is called upward communication.
It transfers from subordinate to superior as that from worker to foreman, from foreman to company manager, from company’s manager to general manager and from general manager to the chief executive or the board of directors. In this way, the upward communication makes a chain.
Upward communication is the interpersonal process, which is a response to the downward flow of communication. Upward communication consists of messages from subordinates to superiors.
Characteristics of Upward Communication
The characteristics of upward communication are as follows:
1. It ensures two way communications between superiors and subordinates.
2. It is a means to transmit messages relating to displeasure.
3. The workers may present their grievances to the superiors.
4. Employees have the freedom to communicate the facts, feelings etc.
5. Worker participation in decision making is encouraged.
6. Collective bargaining can be achieved through upward communication.
Objectives of Upward Communication
The objectives of upward communication are:
- To respond to downward communication like orders, directives and instructions.
- To inform about commencement and progress of departmental activities.
- To suggest and submit ideas for organisational development.
- To encourage participation of subordinates in the decision making process.
- To improve interpersonal relationships.
Upward communication will depend on downward communication. The response to orders and instructions will be positive only if they have been conveyed clearly.
Subordinates can improve their performance if they are guided and helped to overcome their weaknesses periodically. Inculcating in them a sense of belonging to the organisation makes them more responsible.
They must be encouraged to give suggestions especially on matters related to their work. It is the attitude of the superior towards his subordinate that will decide on the quality of upward communication in an organisation.
Purpose of Upward Communication
(i) to give information to the management;
(ii) to enable the management to learn about and understand the concerns of the subordinates;
(iii) to enable all employees to contribute ideas and make suggestions;
Methods of Upward Communication
The different methods through which information, ideas or messages is transferred from subordinates to their superiors are:
It is a written request to a senior authority for any matter giving complete details and supporting documents. Example- Leave Application, Job application, etc.
A complaint is an expression of discontent. It is a message to senior management about dissatisfaction, discontent, discomfort or grief regarding any matter. Complaints can be written or oral.
A demand is formal and usually asked for collectively (trade union, employee union, etc.). A demand is mostly in writing and has to be supported by proper reasons and arguments.
4. Exit Interviews:
An exit interview is an interview conducted by an employer of a departing employee to get feedback. The purpose of an exit interview is usually to gather data for improving working conditions and retaining employees.
Common questions include reasons for leaving, job satisfaction, frustrations and feedback concerning company policies or procedures.
Grapevine is an informal way for the senior management to gather information, ideas and understand the general attitude and feelings of the lower management.
Meetings are formal or informal gatherings of senior management with the lower management to discuss or debate certain issues, problems, and to make decisions. Companies use business meetings to review company information or establish new operating principles and also to understand the issues of their subordinates.
7. Open Door Policy:
An open door policy means that every manager’s door is open to every employee. The purpose of an open door policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee. When a company has an open door policy, employees are free to talk with any manager at any time.
Companies adopt open door policies to develop employee trust and to make certain that important information and feedback reach managers who can utilise the information to make changes in the workplace.
8. Opinion Survey:
Management sometimes may conduct opinion surveys to solicit opinion or feelings on a particular matter. Questionnaires may be circulated among the respondents. While giving answers to specific questions the employees can freely express their feelings and opinions.
Requests are made by the lower management to senior management for various kinds of favours or permissions.
Suggestions by subordinates to superiors ensure a two-way communication. The employees can offer suggestions to the seniors on matters relating to improvement of business or rectifying errors.
Subordinates are required to submit periodic reports (oral or written) on various tasks that have been assigned to them.
12. Informal Gatherings: Usually informal gatherings like get-together parties or picnics are organized on certain eve or event that provide ample opportunities for employees to share their feelings with their boss.
Some of the more commonly used methods of upward communication are discussed below:
(i) Direct Correspondence: Sometimes the manager may directly write to an employee and ask him to communicate with him. Or the employees may write to their higher-ups at their own initiative.
(ii) Social Gathering: Social gatherings are frequently arranged in different departments. These gatherings offer a very informal atmosphere in which the employees shed their inhibitions and feel free to talk about their problems.
(iii) Counselling: In some organisations, workers are encouraged to seek the counsel of their superiors on their personal problems. What they think to be their personal problems are often a conglomeration of domestic and official problems.
In the office, they often feel stifled because of lack of promotional avenues or offended by the officious or unduly meddlesome nature of their superiors or even their colleagues.
As they feel encouraged to talk about themselves freely, they provide the managers with valuable information. While counselling helps the employees to solve their problems, the information provided by them is utilised by the managers to give a better shape to their future policies.
Benefits of Upward Communication
The upward communication has the following benefits for the organization:
1. Creates insight into behavioral problems: The upward communication provides management the advantage of greater insight and penetration into the behavioral problems of employees.
The management can know the attitudes, opinions and feelings of the workers regarding organizational matters. Accordingly they can mould and motivate them better or introduce other plans and packages depending upon the situation.
2. Creates confidence and trust: The upward communication creates mutual confidence and trust among executives and employees.
Employees can convey their feelings, complaints, grievances, etc. to bosses and feel released from the pent up negative emotions or attitudes. By carefully and compassionately listening to employees, executives can ensure their commitment to the welfare of the organization.
3. Enhances learning and excellence: As employees come up and convey new innovative ideas to the management, they feel themselves esteemed high and motivated if they are listened to and rewarded properly. Thus healthy upward communication encourages and enhances their learning and excellence.
4. TQM and Zero-defect marketing: Upward communication is imperative for TQ organization and organization’s marketing of zero-defect products. These practices are possible, only if the upward communication is there as employees who have to deal directly with customers, can convey the attitude and expectations of customers.
Effective Upward Communication
1. Healthy atmosphere: First of all, a healthy and congenial atmosphere for communication should be created and maintained. If there are behavioral problems among executives and employees they will spoil the communication flow.
2. Reward for constructive suggestions: Constructive suggestions by employees should always be rewarded so that they feel it is prudent to initiate and innovate new ideas and communicate them to the top management.
3. Effective listening: The executives should always listen to the subordinates both emotionally and intellectually. With this, the subordinates will feel that management is genuinely concerned with their problems and grievances.
4. Formal system for suggestions: There should be some formal system to handle the suggestions of the employees.
5. Short lines of communication: The lines of communication should be kept as short as possible to avoid the delays and distortions in the messages being communicated.
Importance of Upward Communication
To improve the upward flow of communication, organisations should create a climate and an environment that helps junior employees communicate freely. The responsibility for a free flow of upward communication largely rests with the superiors.
Realising the importance of this form of communication, nowadays, some companies are taking the following steps –
a. Hiring communication coaches to train their employees,
b. Asking employees to report customer complaints,
c. Encouraging regular meetings with the staff,
d. Ensuring a non-threatening environment for staff and
e. Offering incentive programmes which encourages employees to collect and share valuable feedback. They are also setting up hotlines for anonymous feedback and recruiting ‘ombudsmen’ (mediators who hear employees’ complaints), to investigate and resolve problems impartially and objectively.
Thus, both the upward and the downward flow of information constitute vertical communication that is an internal system of communication in organisations
Advantages of Upward Communication
- Facilitates Decision Making: Valuable information is received by the top management which helps in good decision making.
- Employee Participation:Upward communication facilitates active participation of the employee in the growth of an organization which gives them a sense of belongingness.
- Feedback Machinery:Upward communication helps the top level management get feedback on their policies and other decisions which helps them to improve.
- Evaluation: The top management comes to know the ideas and achievement of each individual in the organization.
- Coordination: Upward communication helps coordinate efforts at different levels of the organization by avoiding duplication of work. Hence, it increases the efficiency and productivity of the organization.
- Raise Employee Morale: Upward communication in an organization shows that the top management is interested and concerned about their employees. This gives the employee morale a major boost.
- Control: Proper reporting through upward communication helps keep a check on the workings of the lower management.
- Assess Communication: Upward communication also helps evaluate the efficiency of the communication network of the organization.
Disadvantages of Upward Communication
The disadvantages of upward communication are given here:
(i) Subordinates may not provide the entire information as required by the superiors; The subordinate will be hesitant to communicate with superiors.
(ii) A lot of distortions have been arising by subordinates; The subordinate may lack the ability to communicate to the superior.
(iii) There are several problems and obstacles like inaccuracy and incomplete messages have been arising in this method; The employees are reluctant to express themselves.
(iv) Superior usually does not encourage the subordinate to transmit the information to them;
(v) Subordinates tend to communicate those information which are more favourable for them;
(vi) The employees may have fear of criticism. There is a lack of common sharing between superior and subordinates.
Merits of Upward Communication
i. Feedback: Upward communication provides the top management with necessary feedback. The top management is able to understand whether the directives issued by it to the lower level workers have been clearly understood and followed. It also gets feedback on what the employees think of the policies and procedures formed and issued by the top management.
ii. Constructive Suggestion: The lower level employees know the working conditions of the organisation more closely. In this regard, they can give very constructive suggestions to the top management on how to improve the production process, how to avoid material wastage, etc.
iii. Greater harmony and Cohesion: Upward communication develops confidence among subordinates that they can convey their feelings, grievances, complaints, suggestions, opinions, etc., to the top management. This makes the organisational atmosphere more congenial and creates greater harmony and cohesion between the management and the employees.
iv. Release of Tension: Under upward communication, subordinate employees succeed in forwarding their grievances to superior officers. When the managers listen to their grievances sympathetically and seek solutions of the same, then the employees are relieved of their tension and feel satisfied. As a consequence, they work hard and efficiently.
v. Change: When employees communicate freely with their superior officers, they do not oppose new ideas. They adopt a positive attitude. They not only accept new plans but also endeavour to make them successful.
vi . Positive Recommendations: A positive suggestion given by the employees helps the organisation to grow. In turn, it promotes the welfare of the employees as well.
vii. Conducive and Healthy Organisational Environment: Upward communication creates harmony and improves employer and employee relations in the benefit of the organisation.
vii. Channel for Unexpressed Emotions: Upward communication provides an opportunity to the employees to express their grievances. The management has to consider the employees problem for smooth functioning of the organisation. The authentic and critical grievances are redressed because of upward communication.
It has been found that the flow of upward communication has several barriers. It is possible to overcome these limitations if the management provides employees the right environment for communication.
Demerits of Upward Communication
It is not very easy to have a smooth upward flow. Moving against the force of gravity, which seems to be rather difficult, upward communication suffers from a number of limitations, more prominent of which are discussed below:
(i) Upward flow of communication is more prone to distortion than downward communication. In downward communication, distortion is often unconscious. But upward communication is deliberately distorted.
Some managers lose their cool if they are confronted with unpleasant or unpalatable facts. So information, particularly of the unpalatable sort, is suitably ‘edited’ before it is passed on to them.
(ii) Sometimes in the process of upward communication, workers become too bold, ignore their immediate superiors and directly approach the top most authorities with their suggestions or complaints. This proves harmful in two ways.
The officers who have been bypassed feel slighted, while the higher-ups get suspicious of the workers’ intentions. The relations between the workers and their immediate superiors get strained and work suffers.
(iii) Employees are usually reluctant to initiate upward communication. The managers might keep their doors open, but they cannot force the employees to walk into their room.
(iv) Employees often feel that if they communicate their problem to their superiors, it may adversely reflect on their own efficiency. If a supervisor experiences some difficulty in getting cooperation from his workers and points it out to the departmental manager, the latter might feel that the supervisor himself is incompetent.
If a clerk who has just joined the office complains that the filing system of the office is in total disarray, his supervisors might conclude that the clerk himself is not efficient enough to handle filing properly.
Problems of Upward Communication
The various problems encountered in upward communication are:
(a) Concealments: It has been noticed that the immediate bosses actively conceal the problems of employees from the top management because they fear their power and position.
(b) Delays and Distortions: Usually in upward communication delays and distortions take place, specially when the lines of communication are long.
(c) Bypassing: Sometimes it happens that the workers bypass their immediate boss which results in resentment.
(d) Poor listening: Poor listening skill of the superiors discourages the subordinates from coming up with innovative ideas. The superiors with poor listening cannot understand the problems of subordinates.
(e) Hesitation of Employees: Some employees hesitate to come to the boss and convey their problems because they fear that they will lose the boss’s favor.
Limitation of Upward Communication
1. Fear of Criticism: To avoid criticism, lower management is hesitant to send upward any controversial or negative message.
2. Distrust of Superiors: If an employee believes that disclosure of certain facts and figures could invite trouble from seniors, he/she could conceal or distort information
3. Lack of Communication Skills: Most of the subordinates lack good communication skills and have to plan and work very hard to present a proper message. Hence, they hesitate to communicate.
4. Perception: The employee’s perception of their boss’ attitude and open mindedness can affect up-ward communication.
5. Lack of Self Confidence & Incentive: Lack of incentives like personal recognition, approval, advice, etc. may hamper effective upward communication. This arises as the employee lacks self confidence and craves for reassurance.
6. Status: Often it’s been observed that top management feels shame or insulted when listening to a subordinate’s advice or accepting suggestions. Hence, hampering smooth upward flow of information
7. Distance: Long physical distance between top and lower management also affects upward communication adversely.
8. Self Esteem & Ego: In order to impress superiors, employees provide them with information that may not be completely true.
9. Attitude of the Subordinate: There is always a tendency on the part of the subordinates to transmit those messages upwards; that they feel will improve their standing with their bosses and to withhold information that will damage their image.
Thus, there is deliberate distortion of information. Stronger the interest in advancement or promotion, greater is the chance for distortion. Subordinates are also reluctant to be bearers of unfavourable information, as they fear it will reflect negatively on them and their performance.
10. Attitude of the Superior: Superiors are also responsible for this distortion of upward communication. They maintain threatening, mistrustful and distant relationships with their subordinates. They do not encourage subordinates who are willing to face them with challenging or unpleasant information. They perceive such subordinates as ‘troublemakers’.
11. Organisational Structure: Some organisations follow rigid structures and procedures. They could block upward communication. The physical distance between superiors and subordinates also restricts upward communication. In some larger organisations the senior executives could be functioning at the corporate/ divisional headquarters while workers are in field offices or retail outlets.
On the other hand, within the same office, superiors remain inaccessible to subordinates. There may be some subordinates who decide what information should reach these superiors. They ensure that only pleasant messages reach the superiors.
12. Skipping Ranks: Subordinates find it convenient to relate to superiors who are friendly. They ignore their superior and approach the more senior person who may be friendly but is not their boss. For e.g. a junior executive who is not friendly with the officer above him approaches the senior manager with a request.
If the senior manager accedes to the request there are bound to be breaks in the communication channels – between the officer and the junior executive and between the officer and the senior manager.
Improving Upward Communication
The management should take an initiative in removing barriers experienced in upward communication through such actions as better listening, building trust, and quick response to the messages received.
In addition, the management must lay down a general policy defining what kind of upward messages are desired.
The following may be adopted as an ideal upward communication policy:
(i) The workers shall keep their immediate boss (supervisor) informed about the following subjects:
(a) any matter in which the supervisor is held accountable by those at the upper level. Such matters may be regarding the performance of a subordinate in his assigned job.
(b) any matter causing disagreement, or likely to cause controversy, within or between different units of the organisation.
(c) any matter requiring advice by the supervisor of coordination with other units or persons.
(d) any matters involving recommendations for change in, or departure from, established policies or procedures.
(e) any other matter that will enable the higher management to improve the economic performance of the organisation.
(ii) Besides these, other practices such as counselling, grievance systems, consultative supervision, meetings, suggestion systems, job satisfaction surveys, etc., are also helpful in improving upward communication.
Upward Organizational Communication
Messages moving upward are usually information and reports. But many organisations are using the upward channel to understand the concerns of the subordinates, to encourage them to contribute ideas, and to make them feel a part of the organisation.
Communication does not —move upward easily. Fear and shyness often prevents subordinates from conveying messages to higher authorities. Impatience or arrogance may prevent superiors from listening to their subordinates. The resulting gap in communication can be harmful to the organisation.
Good staff relations are an important asset of an organisation; and one of the best aids to good relations is free upward communication. Employees are happy and work better when their ideas are heard and respected. Besides, persons at any level can have good ideas and suggestions for the improvement of the organisation.
Organisations set up special formal and informal channels to encourage and ensure upward movement of communication.
(a) Regular reporting systems exist in all organisations. There are forms for periodical reports and progress reports of different activities in the organisation. They convey factual information to the management.
(b) Periodical review meetings with individuals and groups are arranged systematically, and conducted in an informal style. They provide an opportunity for review of work, problems, solutions, ideas, budget allocations, etc.
They give an opportunity to subordinates to talk to the superiors. Opinions, views and attitudes are conveyed upwards by this channel.
(c) Suggestions scheme is a formal system for making ideas move up from the lower ‘level employees to the management and decision makers. A suggestion scheme requires elaborate set-up, committee meetings, a well-planned award system, and a good deal of time and energy.
The company benefits from the ideas of people who are actually on the job, and the employees feel happy when their ideas are respected and valued.
(d) “Open door” policy provides an informal upward channel. It gives every employee an access to higher authority. Managers allow free, direct access to anyone, without prior appointment, during a fixed hour every day, or on a fixed day of the week. This system prevents distortion by avoiding the chain of authority. Feelings and attitudes of staff are observed this way.
(e) Informal gatherings, picnics or weekly team meetings bring together all members of the organisation. Some organisations call it the “Happy Hour.” There is opportunity for socialising and getting to know one another more closely.
Such occasions encourage employees to overcome their shyness and talk freely about their work and their ideas and their life. Closer relationships are built up and there is better interaction among all levels.
(f) Standing Committees (like grievance committee, welfare committee, counselling committee) provide a channel for problems, unhappy feelings, troubles, complaints and grievances to be made known to the upper level of the organisation where they can be given serious attention.
(g) Exit interviews with employees who are leaving the organisation provide much useful information about attitudes and views of the employees.
When there is open and effective upward communication, unpleasant types of communication like warnings, demands and complaints are minimised
Difference between Downward and Upward Communication
There are some differences found between downward and upward communication.
1. Nature – It has an ordering form by nature.
2. Media – It is mostly written as media.
3. Direction of Flow – It is the direction of flow from upper to downward.
4. Responsibilities – It is the responsibility of higher authorities to follow it.
5. Effects – It is more effective.
1. Nature – It has suggestive or reporting form by nature.
2. Media – It is mostly oral and verbal as media.
3. Direction of Flow – It has the direction of flow from lower to upward.
4. Responsibilities – It is the responsibility of lower ranks of employees to follow it.
5. Effects – It is comparatively less effective.