Message In A Bottle: Your New Year’s Resolutions Should Include An Honest Assessment Of Your Workforce Communication Strategy

Posted by Vibe Guest Blogger on February 1, 2019

This guest blog has been provided by Kevin Sheridan, best-selling author and innovator in the field of Employee Engagement.

I just returned from an amazing 30-day cruise of the Indian Ocean, which included ports of call in 12 different countries.  While at sea one day exercising on the cruise ship deck, and prompted by a sunlight reflection of the water, I spied a sealed bottle floating on the surface of the ocean.  It immediately made me wonder if there was a message in the bottle, and if so, pondered what the odds were that the message would ever be read.

So many organizations are mistakenly using “messages in bottle” to communicate to their employees.  As a result, these messages become “lost at sea” and never reach their intended recipients.  This new year presents an opportunity to revisit your workplace communication strategies, especially since communication is the seventh most impactful driver of employee engagement.1

Two of my favorite employee survey questions are:

  • Where do you prefer to receive your information?
  • Where are you currently receiving information?

Respondents were given answer choices like:  email, your coworkers, the company newsletter, payroll stuffers, and your manager.  Of the over 3 million people surveyed on these two questions over three years, 52% of the respondents preferred to receive information and updates from their manager and yet only 32% of the respondents said they were receiving the information/updates from their manager.1  Needless to say, employees continual feel that they are not hearing enough from their managers.  Remarkably, over my 35 years of management consulting, not one organization I worked with inverted that communication gap, where employees would essentially say “we hear way too much from our manager.”  Not one client out of roughly 10,000 clients.

If you want further evidence that managers under-communicate, carefully watch what your managers’ default actions at the end of management meetings.  Most managers’ default is too simply go back to work, as opposed to holding a “huddle” with their employees to share the news and information from the meeting.

Knowing that the aforementioned manager communication gap is the primary employee complaint about workplace communication, you should remind every manager on your team to take the message out of the bottle and deliver it in person to their employees.

On a closing note, while the exact history and origin of the “message in a bottle” placed in the sea is not definitively known, here are a couple of fascinating discoveries published in 1976 by the Reader’s Digest Association:

  • The longest bottle voyage on record was a bottle known as “The Flying Dutchman.” It was launched in 1929 by a German scientific expedition in the Southern Indian Ocean.  Inside was a message, which could be read without breaking or opening the bottle, asking the finder to report where he/she found it and throw it back into the sea.  The bottle surfed an east-bound current which carried it to the southern tip of South America.  There, it was found, reported, and thrown back into the ocean.  Eventually, it moved out into the Atlantic Ocean and then back into The Indian Ocean where it remarkably passed by the exact spot where it was originally dropped.  Its final resting place was on the shores of Western Australia.  The bottle traveled an amazing 16,000 miles in 2,447 days (a little over 6.5 years), certainly a very respectable journey.
  • In 1953, a bottle was found in Tasmania – 37 years after it had been dropped overboard by two Australian soldiers on a troopship bound for France. Astoundingly, this bottle was found by the mother of one of those Australian soldiers, who instantly recognized the handwriting of her son who had been killed in action in 1918.


1  HR Solutions Employee Engagement Research Study.


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a 
New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For six years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017 & 2018.



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