A mistake that public relations professionals and/or organisations (and PR researchers/academics?) make too often is ignoring employees when it comes to the application of two-way symmetrical communication. Manifestations of practical outcomes where public relations should be achieving outcomes for employees include them having more control over their work activity, varying tasks, their work being respected and work expectations being clear.
Some of the most important reasons why PR/organisations should place a premium on employee communication include:
- Employees have the potential to be an organisation’s/product’s/service’s/brand’s greatest advocate (i.e. salesperson). (In a sense, employees are actually 3rd party advocates for the organisation, as most of them are not in management positions and not, therefore, inherently expected to ‘toe the corporate line’.) One outcome of this is increased sales
- Interpersonal communication is the most influential of all communication modes on other individuals, underlining the importance of point one
- Happy employees who trust their employers are more productive, thus helping an organisation achieve its business objectives.
Ideally, employees should be placed at the top of the tree in regard to organisational stakeholders, yet whilst the talk is talked often enough in this regard, I think we’d all agree it doesn’t translate into the walk as often as it should.
Happier employees work better
I was prompted down this line of thinking by a typically astute and interesting article by economics journalist Ross Gittins, who has a strong social seam running through his conscience and attitude to finance.
His article makes a number of points which I echo above, whilst he also points out research undertaken by two Canadian economists that shows, “life satisfaction – happiness – is significantly higher among workers who work where they rank management trustworthiness highly.”
This finding underlines what a serious responsibility all organisations have to the social fabric. Like it or not, organisations where people work impact on the holistic life of individuals and, by extension, those who they interact with and/or influence – i.e. society.
Organisations cannot rely on government regulation alone to guide them in the way they operate. Nor can they pretend they exist in a vacuum where their objectives and values operate in a ‘special’ sort of isolation from society.
Managers who are able to generate trust from their reports are more likely to be acting as a leader, rather than being a more process-defined ‘manager’. Perhaps a larger selling point is that improved trust in management, basically, ends up, having a greater impact on employees’ life satisfaction than an increase in income.
Public relations’ critical importance to employees and change management
Public relations has a profoundly important role to play in organisations behaving appropriately in regard to their employees.
The reason why advocating for employees is a fundamental part of public relations is that our role includes:
- making organisational decision makers aware of its stakeholders’ perspectives
- providing advice to organisations to help them evolve – both in the sense of what its objectives are and how to achieve them
- communicating strategically on behalf of an organisation so that its operations and positions are understood, empathised with and, hopefully, subscribed to by stakeholders.
Underpinning this, of course, is the reality that communication is inherently two-way. Taking the perspective that communication is all broadcast/one-way is a dinosaur attitude. In our complex, hyper-connected stakeholder world an organisation cannot take a high and mighty-disconnected position. This is pure hubris and, in western democratic civilisations at least, a certain road to ruin.
We can’t rely on the process-driven human resources departments to instigate or cultivate changes within organisations that lead to the best possible culture. It’s actually within public relations remit so we need to fulfil our potential and run with it:
- Find where relevant research exists, like that referred to in this post, that informs, influences and shapes cultural change processes
- Undertake internal market research; identify issues, blockers and where opportunity lies
- Present the information in business-relevant terms and shake that tree until impact occurs – use our PR/advocacy skills!
- Instigate change management processes, which need organisational leadership buy-in.
Don’t die wondering!
Does it take effort, time and money to bother listening (i.e. short-term pain)?
Will it lead to a greater degree of engagement and advocacy from employees; to a better return on organisational investment; to a healthier society with happier people (i.e. long-term gain?).
You can bet on it.
Have you been involved in employee communication where you have applied two-way symmetrical communication? How have you advocated the position of employees? Can you tell us about your work in this area or where you think the approach espoused above should have taken place?