MONDAY 3 OCT 2022 1:55 PM


Last month's PRCA Employee Engagement Conference 2022 covered everything from addressing hidden disability and mental health, to the value of simple small talk and the 'frazzled' epidemic.

Last month's PRCA Employee Engagement Conference 2022 was every bit as engaging as its name suggests, with a succession of passionate speakers covering topics from acquired disability, to hybrid work and mental health. The virtual conference, held on Wednesday, 21st September, was hosted by Annabel Dunstan, CEO and founder of Question and Retain agency.

First speaker was Mike Adams OBE, CEO at Purple, who spoke about the importance of ‘shifting the dial’ on conversations around acquired disability. Adams emphasised how, in the UK, 17% of people are born with a disability and 83% acquire one throughout their lifetime. Despite this, both visible and hidden disability remain widely misunderstood, with a lack of clear or helpful discussion around the subject. Only 10% of businesses have a strategy in place to access the disability market, meaning a wealth of talent is being missed out on. Upcoming Purple Tuesday, being held 1st November this year, is an initiative launched to raise awareness to the disabled customer service experience.

“The first thing people this of when they hear ‘disability’ is wheelchair users,” Adams said. “If you take one thing away from this talk, make it the ‘six-second rule’, which allows people with a hidden disability, such as autism, time to think before answering a question.”

The following panel-discussion segment of the conference included speakers Chris Lees, head of internal communications and engagement at Côte, Claire Morisot-Siebenthal, senior communications leader at Ikea, and Dan Hare, chief operating officer at e-shot. The panel covered the importance of a solid ‘storytelling’ element embedded into internal communications to emphasise ‘company purpose’. While PR has traditionally had the ‘sexy factor’ over internal comms, Morisot-Siebenthal at one point observed, external campaigns should be introduced internally too.

“What does ‘good comms’ look like?” Dunstan asked the panel. Morisot-Siebenthal responded by stating: “Nothing is more valuable than walking around a shop floor and simply talking to store workers.”

And what about ‘bad comms’? Malcom Sparkes from Blacksmiths Group gave a fascinating talk on one of the most serious consequences of poor internal engagement: ‘insider threat’. When probed by Sparkes, almost all conference attendees admitted to never having considered the phenomenon in their employee engagement strategies. However, with deliberate sabotage or data leaks often resulting from employee disgruntlement, Sparkes advised internal comms professionals to work closely with wellbeing and HR bodies. “We must create an environment where people feel obliged to intervene and to look out for the individual,” Sparkes cautioned.

According to next speaker Suzanne Peck, managing director at Sequel Group, there has been an “increase in employee power” because of hybrid working. Peck explored the possibilities of internal communications in a hybrid world, emphasising three critical issues: reconsidering audiences, rethinking interactions with employees, and resetting the role internal communications has in organisations. 

And finally, how frazzled are you feeling today? The conference wrapped-up with a talk on mental health by Michelle Morgan, founder of Pjoys sleepwear. Morgan opened up the discussion to attendees, asking people to be candid about how they were feeling: “I, personally, am feeling quite frazzled,” she said. It was a refreshingly honest conversation, with attendees empathising with Morgan’s experience of remote working. In the new, hybrid workplace, these critical check-ins are much less frequent than in the office environment.

Morgan stressed the importance of making mental health an everyday conversation, whether at the office coffee machine or in a Zoom break-out room. “My belief in terms of mental health narrative is: ‘it ain’t gonna work if we’re working in silos',” Morgan stated.

Sometimes, ‘good internal comms’ really is as simple as: “how are you feeling today?”