Written by: Nick Claydon, Brunswick, London Catherine Hicks, Brunswick, London
Recessions invariably test the quality and consistency of how companies communicate with their employees. But experts at large organisations tell us that the combination of fast moving events and round-the-clock external news commentary has proved to be a tough challenge in the current environment.
Collapsing share prices and a growing information “gap” between managers and the rest of the workforce, they add, have threatened to fuel employee paranoia and compromise the clarity of corporate messages.
Successful internal communications requires an appropriate balance between reassurance and reality – and between transparency and the necessary degree of news management.
The severe impact of the external media on employee engagement and commitment is a striking and not always understood phenomenon of the current crunch. The consensus of our internal communicators is that any hope of maintaining an exclusive employee communication channel free from external media “noise” has now vanished. Those responsible for communicating with staff need to cite, acknowledge and even comment on this coverage to remain credible. Employee communications disintermediation is here to stay.
In this context, participants pointed out, the links between internal and external communications teams must be made stronger; companies ignore the timing and alignment of messages at their peril. In the current environment, of course, job security is paramount for most employees – acknowledgment of that survival instinct therefore has to be built into all internal communications.
An interesting question is whether this concern can be used for mutual benefit. One argument put forward is that organisations should link cost-saving initiatives to job savings – every penny saved is a penny towards keeping someone in employment. This can motivate staff to deliver on a cost programme. Successful internal communicators say they work hard to ensure that employees draw this inference from forgone executive bonuses and cuts in travel and entertainment.