Views: Wellbeing, growth and engagement central to IC

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WE all hope and no doubt aspire to be good bosses, nurturing teams so everyone is fulfilled, reaches their full potential and is proud to work for an organization that looks after its staff, writes Zaiba Malik

A recent McKinsey report concluded that 55 per cent of employee engagement is driven by non-financial recognition, a finding that’s supported by plenty of other research. It’s the stuff of wellbeing, growth and engagement that current and potential workers are looking for, sometimes over and above the size of the pay packet. 

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The stark reality, however, is that both the employee experience and the way it is imparted through internal communications is very difficult to get right. On numerous occasions I’ve seen first-hand how businesses, charities and organizations can tie themselves in knots by not fully considering the implications of what they offer employees and how they convey that.

I’ll focus on three areas that provide some consideration of what to look out for in today’s internal communications.

Firstly, with the overall move towards employee engagement that is personalized and holistic – recall the ‘Bring your whole self to work’ mantra – the fundamental question of how far your internal comms should be focused on individuals rather than the larger workforce is very tricky to navigate. Put quite plainly, if you are encouraging each employee to be the unique person at work that they are outside office hours, can one internal comms strategy fit all and can it be effective and cohesive? Are you inspiring individuals or are you shepherding teams towards a common goal? If your true intention is to, say, maximize revenue but you do this under the guise of caring for the welfare of each and every staff member, there’s a good chance the wheels will come off at some point. If there’s no genuine integrity in your internal communications, your employees will be the first to notice. 

Discussions on LGBTQ+ and DEI have brought to the fore just how complex and sensitive some internal issues can be. It can’t be assumed that all those who happen to share the same employer have the same attitude and approach to fundamental policies to the point where significant divisions have developed in some companies on what constitutes progress.  

Secondly, does the internal match the external? With the much-used tactic of town hall meetings, CEOs and senior leaders have the opportunity for some regular face time with staff, sometimes to reassure, other times to motivate and rally the troops. But if what the CEO is saying in this forum is at odds with what he’s saying to journalists, investors and customers then that will only diminish confidence in the leadership. It shouldn’t be taken as granted by execs that employees want to only hear what will keep them productive and in their jobs i.e. a speech that’s been carefully scripted so as not to alert and Q&As that have been selected so as not to embarrass the boss. Internal audiences are critical audiences that deserve to be treated with respect and honesty. 

Finally, I couldn’t get to this point and not mention that elusive concept – culture. We can’t always define it or say where it’s coming from but we seem to have a strong sense of it in the workplace. So does your internal communications sit comfortably within your culture, i.e. do you practice what you preach? With the expectation that organizations, small or large, profit-based or charitable, have some level of commitment to some type of purpose, failed pledges in mental health, sustainability goals or diversity for example, can impact negatively on employees. They can view their employer as jumping on to an opportunistic bandwagon with no real intentions to serve that purpose. Likewise, if the employer promotes and embodies a culture of speaking up, campaigning and pushing for change to the outside world then that may be taken as a green light that they are also willing to invite introspection and investigation internally. Not so. It’s more likely a case of “judge us by our words, not our deeds”. As an employer, if you’re thinking about imbibing a strong culture in your organization, are you willing to accept any challenges from disillusioned staff or will you use legal tools such as NDAs and injunctions to silence them?

As much as I recognize that internal communications has come a long way over the last decade in empowering and respecting employees, I also see that much thought and care needs to be given in this area. The demise of ‘jobs for life’, the move to flexible working and portfolio careers, greater focus on wellbeing and an overall desire to be happy at work all mean that internal communications has an increasingly important part to play in the success of any organization.  

Zaiba Malik is founder and director at Coppergate Communications Ltd. She is a highly experienced strategic, crisis and reputation communication consultant and media/presentation trainer who operates at UK, European and global levels. She works with clients and spokespeople across all sectors. 

Malik is an award-winning former journalist with over 20 years’ experience in news and current affairs, including BBC News, Newsnight, Panorama, Radio 4, Channel 4 News, Dispatches, Guardian and Sunday Times. Her reporting has been nominated for the Royal Television Society and BAFTA Awards and she has received the Women in Film and Television and Asian Women of Achievement Awards. Malik has been named as one of the twenty most influential black and Asian women in the UK and is a regular media commentator and public speaker. She is also a bestselling author and Chair of the John Schofield Trust to promote diversity in newsrooms.