COMMUNICATING IN UNCERTAIN TIMES: THE ROLE OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS BECOMES MORE COMPLEX
Lottie Bazley, senior strategic internal communications adviser at Staffbase, explores how internal communications can remain reliably consistent during times of complexity.
Post pandemic, in the face of the cost of living crisis and mounting socio-economic issues, every organisation is under pressure to keep their employees happy and engaged amid times of uncertainty. This involves being mindful of the global issues impacting their workforce – and reacting appropriately.
Against this backdrop, internal communicators (ICs) have more responsibility than ever. They play an integral role in responding to today’s tumultuous external landscape, making sure information is disseminated to employees in a timely and sensitive way. It’s no surprise, then, that our new research found that 76% of ICs believe they are valued within their organisations post-pandemic.
At the same time, though, the role is becoming increasingly complex. Almost all (98%) ICs admitted they are facing key barriers around executing their internal comms strategies, with “responding authentically and empathetically to external events” cited as a top challenge.
As the cost of living crisis shows no signs of abating going into 2023, reacting to global events will continue to be a key responsibility for ICs. In fact, great communication will be essential for building resilient organisations, helping to create a shared understanding of how change is affecting employees and cultivating an all-important sense of trust.
So how can ICs support employees and foster an empathetic environment next year?
Don’t shy away from discussing hard topics
When something significant happens in the world, there’s now an expectation on employers to talk about it in an unbiased and empathetic way. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, for instance, found that people now trust businesses more than NGOs and the government.
Today’s leaders cannot shy away from talking about important issues. ICs need to ensure that organisations are communicating with their employees sensitively, which requires facilitating two-way conversations with the workforce, listening to individual employees and sharing their thoughts with senior leadership.
This also means educating ourselves on external factors and their potential impacts, so that we are consistently speaking from a place of knowledge. Recognising the link between financial difficulties and mental health problems, for example, is crucial. Those struggling to pay bills may also be experiencing symptoms of anxiety and stress, which could also impact their work performance.
Collaborate with HR and external comms teams
Communicating through uncertainty requires a massive team effort. Listening closely to other departments is just as important as listening to and communicating with employees.
As part of this, ICs need to work closely with HR, setting up regular catch-ups to ensure they have sight of all initiatives. This way, ICs can effectively communicate new HR policies and help to direct employees to wellbeing programmes.
The same goes for external comms. As the expectation to respond to global events increases, the style of the IC role will become more journalistic in focus. Lines between internal and external comms teams will therefore continue to blur, and both teams will need to work together to react to breaking news in a timely, sensitive and informed manner.
Reach all internal audiences
Effective communication also requires being mindful of different segments within the workforce and where they are working – whether they are at a desk, on the road or in a factory.
Selecting the correct technology, such as employee communication management solutions, will help organisations reach all employees with the right information at the right time. In practice, this could be through implementing an employee app for frontline workers, rolling out an intranet for employees in administration, or deploying digital signage in production halls for those working on the factory floor.
Going into 2023, the importance and potential of ICs has never been clearer. By focusing on understanding internal audiences and the outside pressures they face, ICs can ensure all employees feel supported, helping organisations to keep the workforce engaged amid times of adversity.