A group of diverse people in an office working and communicating in various ways, representing internal communications.
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What does internal communication have to do with employee engagement?

14 Feb 2019

Are you familiar with the internal communication within your company? Do you know how important it is for staff retention?

By now, most companies are well aware of the importance of good company culture and giving employees a positive experience.

These values help attract top talent, maintain high staff retention levels, and keep staff happy and motivated.

However, when companies are ensuring they’re giving a positive employee experience, how many take their internal communication into account?

Caroline Collins is the group head of communications and engagement at Irish Life. Her previous experience includes working at the Institute of Internal Communication and a stint as head of corporate communications and engagement at pharma giant MSD.

Collins said employee experience is everything from culture to diversity and inclusion, but it also includes the way teams work, how people are supported in decision-making and innovation, and how everyone understands the personal relationship between the mundane day-to-day work and the company’s overall growth objectives and strategy.

“It’s about how the business communicates with and to you. Do you work in a place where it’s OK to ask the tough questions and, importantly, expect honest answers? Do you trust senior management to make the right call – even under pressure and when it’s a tough decision? Can you speak up? Are there values you personally can believe in? Do they align to what and who you want to be, not just now but in an ambitious future? It’s everything from the atmosphere in the coffee docks or canteen, through to how meetings are chaired and how people are enabled to be themselves in work. It’s huge.”

Collins said that in Ireland, we still have a long way to go in terms of fine-tuning internal communication. “The large tech companies have led the way in articulating what they do around employee experience,” she said. “We’ve all heard about the pool tables and massages, beer pong on a Friday, to the ever-elusive getting to spend 20pc of your time on thinking, but I really believe that a lot of the more traditional corporates and larger blue-chip companies also have so much to showcase in the area.”

‘Your people are either your worst critics or your best word of mouth’

Collins said that while many companies have the capacity to compete in this area, it’s not front of mind for a lot of them, and this will be a problem for attracting and retaining talent.

“It’s only by attracting the right talent, keeping that talent, and aligning all that brainpower behind the business and commercial strategy that a business can succeed and differentiate,” she said. “It used to be about the best products and services, who was first to market, the USP of the offering. But for any of that to work, it has to be about the people. And their experience of the business.”

The role of internal communication

A good employer brand is essential for all companies that want to attract top talent. It’s about getting the message about your company out into the world. It’s important that employers don’t forget about their internal communication in this respect to retain their staff.

Collins said it’s important to answer certain questions within your employer narrative. “What’s the unique story of a business? How does it articulate and demonstrate culture so that you have a sense of whether or not you’ll fit in? What can the business offer you – personally, you – in terms of support to achieve your goals and ambitions? Will you have fun? Will you make friends? Will your perspective be heard and valued?”

She added that one of the major hurdles is how much employee experience has evolved, what it truly means and whose job it is to manage it.

“Professionals have crossed boundaries that used to be the sole reserve of HR, marketing or internal communications, and require a different skillset to add to that important and highly skilled mix. To work, it’s about hand-in-glove cooperation with existing functions, with additional expertise in the areas of behavioural economics, psychology, communication and talent management,” she said.

“In large organisations there will also always be a challenge around different cohorts of employees – people who want and need different things from their employer – that’s OK,” she said. “The job of employee engagement professionals is to find a way for each group to find their own unique and personal employee experience. It’s one-to-one and one-to-many communications at the same time, all in the interest of delivering business success through a community of employees.”

What does employee engagement look like?

While there is a lot of information out there about employee engagement, Collins said it’s more than satisfaction and delivery. “It’s into the really human aspect of a quality relationship – a commitment to and caring for the business, its culture and its people,” she said.

“Engagement is the outcome from a good process of two-way communication and interaction with employees. Engaged employees are those that help a business thrive, grow and succeed.”

When employers and leaders are communicating effectively with their employees, it creates positive employee engagement, which in turn creates employee advocates.

“Your people are either your worst critics (and they should know best as they’re really at the coalface) or your best word of mouth,” said Collins.

“By engaging effectively, being open and transparent about the business strategy and objectives, and honestly communicating in a two-way dialogue and in a way that respects and values all perspectives, you build strong advocates, champions, and a strong network of individuals who share the same passion and vision.”

With this in mind, leaders might want to track and measure their employee engagement. However, while employee surveys can be a useful tool, Collins cautions against relying solely on their scores.

“No matter how robust the methodology and the analysis behind the survey, it’s a lag measure. It tells you how you’ve done over the course of a year. It’s much less able to chart current factors on engagement, so pulse-tracking and, better still, more qualitative information from teams is what adds the real value and colour to assessing levels of engagement,” she said.

“Most often it’s the frontline team leads who know best how teams are doing and how their people are feeling. They’ll have an accurate read on it even if they’re not consciously tracking ‘engagement’.”

This is why time should be spent on building a better understanding of the factors that influence engagement across the organisation. That means improving internal communication, not only from the bottom to the top, but also from leadership all the way to the bottom.

With strong internal communication, leaders will have a better understanding of what drives employee engagement, and employees at all levels will have a better understanding of overall strategies and decisions that are made higher up the chain. This is what truly creates a positive employee experience.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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