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Sense and Senstivity in Internal Communications

Your leadership wanted to beat the recession. We had layoffs. We were pressurized to revisit our operating expenses. That led to a wave of reforms (pay cuts, reduction in benefits among others). You (the HR and Communications teams) believed it was necessary and you communicated it the right way.

Or did we? Were we sensitive to those employees whom we had to say goodbye? Did we treat them fairly?  What makes us sensible and sensitive to the needs of our employees – with or without a downturn?

In the article ‘HR in the times of e-slowdown’, some interesting viewpoints from leading HR professionals drew my attention.


In this freewheeling debate, one calls for “sensitivity training for many of our people in HR”. Quite an honest statement and I appreciated the directness.

Yet another said – “We (HR) are not there for doing our processes; we are only there to support the business.” Equally powerful. To view your function as a business enabler is a fantastic mind shift and can open so many avenues.

I also was impressed by the fact that internal communications as a necessity getting a mention!

Read on: “HR has to set up its own internal communication game-plan. It has to really set the vision, firm up processes, have a series of FAQs, handhold line managers through whom they have to communicate hard decisions down the line. So, we should handle internal communications as a mission and with a system and purpose.”

And finally – this individual went deeper into the mind frame of those who quit.

“Why do people leave an organization? People leave for lack of feel. They don’t feel valued.”

The writing is clearly on the wall. If we want our employees and stakeholders to perceive us as credible people, get real about how you handle your communication and your interactions. Never before have organizations and support functions like the human resources and the communications been so closely watched by employees. Forget your annual surveys and pulse checks. It is time to relook at what and how you inform and engage your employees.

Thankfully, sensitivity can be taught and practiced. But, before that you need to understand the consequences of the not being so and how to change your communication.

Consistency is so crucial. If your HR professionals are rude or distasteful in their interactions, no amount of finely crafted mailers can get your employees to accept you.

Get everyone aligned. Are you all singing the same tune or are some speaking in tongues? In one instance, employees went from town hall to town hall and found senior leaders speaking different messages to similar questions on a business crisis.

Demonstrate your commitment to sensitivity. How often have you taken action on a staff that wasn’t courteous with employees? Show that you personally care about it first and that you mean business. When was the last time a request from an employee for fair treatment was addressed and communicated?

Involve your employees in crafting the communication. Share rough outlines and messages with a few employees to get a sense of what works and what may not. You will be amazed at what employees can spot which you overlooked. They are the consumer of your communication – who else can get it right?

Keep in touch or be known as a ‘hire and fire’ employer. The word spreads however hard you try and control it. You haven’t let go of doves – but people. They are and can be just as useful when the economy revives.

2 thoughts on “Sense and Senstivity in Internal Communications

  1. Great post which addresses the new role of the HR function and the challenge it faces. In times of a down-turn it is tested all the more. However HR needs to change its own mindset and get its act together.

    It must have a clear vision of the company’s future direction. Understand the business plan by getting into the trenches rather than a arms-length approach. To do this HR has to fall in love with the business and not HR itself and learn to add value to all the stakeholders.

    The good news is that things are happening slowly but surely!

    Thank you!

  2. Hi

    There is no nice way of telling someone that he/she is getting chucked out. Especially when the company doing it has several billions of dollars of reserve capital in the bank.

    Today, laying off people has more to do with overfed CEOs and management ensuring that their fat paychecks keep coming without interruption, and also to ensure that their stock options remain bloated.

    Like everything else in life it is not so much about what you communicate, but how you do it. Having the courage to call the employee into your office and telling him/her in the face is the correct thing to do. But most HR managers avoid this and leave it to the security. So when the employee comes to work on Monday morning his/her access card is disabled and security escorts him/her to his/her desk so that they can clean out their personal effects.

    We all know MNC companies in Bangalore who have done this. I don’t want to mention names. I think Indian companies are a little more sensitive about this.

    And what about the people left behind? Of course they will initially be upset, but this lasts for a very brief time. Soon, they are glad they still have their jobs and they get on with their lives.

    I think companies, MNCs especially, display cowardly behaviour during bad times. And the HR departments in these companies are usually the “face” of this bad behaviour. They too are scared of losing their jobs!

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