Employee communications looked for a while, during the Covid pandemic, to have earnt a long overdue recognition. But we shouldn’t celebrate just yet.
Internal communicators can be quite repetitive; I’ve been saying it for years.
Historically, it’s one of the branches of the profession that gets overlooked. Comms directors rarely came up via employee comms and for decades, the offer from mainstream PR consultancies has been, frankly, pretty poor.
Invisible internal communicators
Which is why, over the last decade or so, IC folks have talked - a lot - about seats at tables, being taken seriously and wondering whether they should throw their lot with HR. As a group, employee comms people have often felt underappreciated and held back.
It has been a constant refrain from some practitioners that the world would be a far fairer place if people just acknowledged our superpowers and entitlement to get listened to.
The Covid effect
And then Covid happened.
Suddenly everyone wanted us in the room. There was ton of operational information to get out about a situation that changed hour by hour. This was the big chance to show leaders in our organisations what we could really do; this was the time when external comms had to take a back seat as we ensured colleagues felt safe and knew what they were meant to be doing.
As the pandemic dragged on, it was the employee communicators who had to puzzle out new ways to keep remote staff engaged and focused, in between giving lessons in advanced maths to bored teenagers and trying to explain to colleagues what this week’s government message actually meant. It seemed that, at last, the internal communications profession could stop worrying about being in the room where it matters; we were there and perched on the edge of the grown-up table.
But, the question in my mind is; are we in the room for keeps?
I ask because I’ve been there before, and my experience is that leaders quickly forget their pleases and thank yous after the moment of crisis has passed. During successive crashes from the early noughties to more recently, I’ve worked on projects where comms advice was actively sought and gratefully received; only to see those same organisations and their leaders slide back into old bad ways quicker than a chocoholic on Easter Sunday.
And as Brexit provides organisations with more and more opportunities to treat their staff badly, I expect we will see more tales of sacking by pre-recorded video. With a new economic crisis in prospect, I can well imagine leaders abandoning their recently found commitment to expensive and time-consuming communications.
Signs of hope
However, I do see hope in the form of external pressures for good practice.
We know millions of workers worldwide are debating why they need to be loyal to an old employer when their valuable skills are in demand. Employers will have to work harder than ever before to hold on to their people and make them feel part of something worth sticking with. It will be the internal communicators who will explain employer branding and the newly rediscovered concept of employee value propositions.
Additionally, organisations are wondering how to reignite collaboration in a hybrid workforce and to build a unifying culture when people rarely see each other in the flesh. This was always the domain of the internal communicator but now it seems more relevant than ever before.
IC must step forward
That ticket to the executive teams meeting will remain a temporary pass unless employee comms specialists can leapfrog into the value spaces where they can have most impact. When the crisis is past, our usefulness as message deliverers and plumbers will wane, but in the last couple of years senior leaders have got used to having us around. Now is the time to start showing the strategic impact we can have on revenue, customers, costs, reputation or whatever it is that is replacing Covid as the cause of our leaders’ insomnia.
Written by Liam FitzPatrick, co-author with Sue Dewhurst, of Successful Employee Communications
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