The business case for IC, Part 2: The chaos around COVID-19 is past us. That’s why internal communications is even more vital
Even after we have settled into a new way of working, executives must double down on Internal Communications. That’s because employee engagement will determine whether your organization thrives during the Covid-19 pandemic or simply limps along.
According to Gallup, in May employees were experiencing the highest level of engagement with their work in the past 20 years.
But but … one month later, Gallup revealed “the most significant drop we have recorded in our history of tracking employee engagement in the U.S.”
This dramatic rise and fall occurred during May and June when, arguably (in the U.S.), the most difficult months of the pandemic were in March and April when most of the country was on lockdown.
- Employees were disengaging at a time when we thought we were hitting our stride in this whole work-from-home thing.
- Employee engagement and (very closely related) emotions are still on a months-long roller coaster ride.
Throughout the pandemic, Internal Communications has kept suddenly frayed fabrics woven together. They have done a remarkable job. Still, the business case for why the function remains vital needs to be made.
Disengagement is a disadvantage
According to a Gallup survey, U.S. employees and managers are about 20% less likely than they were in May 2020 to strongly agree that:
- They feel well prepared to do their job
- Their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to Covid-19
- Their immediate supervisor keeps them informed about what’s going on in their organization
- Their organization cares about their overall wellbeing
Only about one-third of American workers — and only about 15% of the global workforce – are engaged with their company.
Why does this matter? Because a highly engaged workforce means higher profitability, as much as 21% more in profits than peers with disengaged employees.
A disengaged employee is one who is looking for another job. During the pandemic the threat of your employees leaving for greener pastures will become more real. As Derek Thompson argues in The Atlantic, the future of remote work means employees may gain a new sense of independence and agency. He says:
- By degrees, the remote experiment can weaken the bonds between workers within companies and strengthen the connections between some workers and professional networks outside the company. [my emphasis]
- As people realize that their connection to the office is virtual, more Americans may take on side gigs and even start their own companies. The very tools that co-workers use to stay connected… can be repurposed to go solo.
- Ambitious engineers, media makers, marketers, PR people, and others may be more inclined to strike out on their own, in part because they will, at some point, look around at their living room and realize: I am alone, and I might as well monetize the fact of my independence.
If your company wants to prevent brain drain, you need to step up your game around employee engagement. Internal Comms is fit for that purpose.
What can comms propose?
Remember to stay focused on what Internal Comms can meaningfully contribute to and manage. Many solutions to employee disengagement are within the realms of other departments, like Talent Development, Diversity & Inclusion, Benefits, Information Technology, and other support groups.
- Allow those functions to take the lead where it makes sense.
- Internal Comms will be in the mix anyway, so don’t spread your team too thin.
Here are a few things Internal Comms can do to make the business case for supporting engagement as the pandemic simmers.
- Measure employee engagement. You need to understand – now – the level of employee engagement. Without a base of understanding, you won’t know if any of your comms activities in the ensuing months have worked.
- Survey employees about their needs. Add this effort to your engagement survey and get a two-for-one. You need to know what is making your employees mad, frustrated, disappointed, and unproductive. At the same time you’ll also discover a few things your company is doing well to keep employees happy (do more of that!). Once you have this understanding, move to the next step.
- Involve employees in decision-making processes with leadership. To what degree and how is up to you, but giving employees a chance to weigh in on options that affect the way they work is a huge motivating factor. This can be done simply through online voting for a decision or setting up committees and workstreams with senior leaders.
- Develop a holistic communications plan that will help improve employee engagement. Base it on the survey results, so you have goals to work toward. Your approach will involve input from many internal stakeholders (e.g., HR, subject matter experts), require pushing content through several different channels (e.g., newsletters, Slack channels), and have a mechanism for capturing feedback and metrics. Several tactical measures should be put into place. For example, plan an editorial series (Tech Tips) that targets a pain point around technology and connectivity. (See here for more on setting up content series.)
A process for all of this needs to be created. Internal Comms is rightly positioned to establish the framework and manage the execution.
Anything less than a full assault on improving employee engagement and job satisfaction is short-sighted. The very success of the organization is at stake.
In the final part of tour three-part series on making the business case for investment in employee communications, Shaun Randol will focus on employee comms in The merging workplace of the future. It will be published on Wednesday, September 16.