This article first appeared on the Insitute for PR blog
Globally, organizations struggle with bridging the reputation divide and trust deficit among employers and employees while striving to improve engagement. According to a brand credibility gap study, just 19% of employees feel aligned with their employer’s brand.1 Worldwide, the state of employee experience is eroding due to a multitude of factors – macroeconomic reasons, a slowdown in jobs, the increase in automation, the growing expectations on employees to do more with less and heightened cross-border trade confrontations.2 Likewise, employee engagement is waning across the world, and it is attributed to the slew of changes and technology interventions at the workplace.3 This reflects in the state of global employee engagement; just 13% of employees are engaged in the workplace.
Due to this, employee trust is a casualty with no entity, among businesses, NGOs, government, or media, viewed as both competent or ethical. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, “83 percent of employees fear losing their jobs, attributing it to the gig economy, a looming recession, a lack of skills, cheaper foreign competitors, immigrants who will work for less, automation, or jobs being moved to other countries.”4
To make matters worse, companies’ actions are further aggravating trust and engagement concerns. Organizations are resorting to surveillance and infringing on employees’ privacy and rights, resulting in alienation and discontentment. Recently, a global bank installed snooping software on their employees’ desktops to monitor productivity, which resulted in employee backlash.5 There is also a spike in employee activism globally, and employers are clamping down on dissent. In a recent example, a global technology giant fired employees for organizing and participating in events.
While a lot of emphasis is put on studying employee engagement and employee experience, organizations are probably missing a fundamental issue – personal engagement of employees and involving them as partners in communications. Personal engagement is when employees feel they are given a voice, listened to, and actively invited to support the organization’s goals while fulfilling their own ambitions.
A study by Weber Shandwick indicates that 4 in 10 employees are activists in some form or the other – supporting or protesting employers on actions that impact society. Also 1 in 5 are defending their organization online and on other forums.6 Brands are ‘owned’ by shareholders, employees and customers. This is why the approach of involving and co-creating solutions with employees, not just for organizational performance but also for organizational communications, needs to be revisited. 7
While employee involvement from a human resources and business perspective meant participation and collaboration through quality circles and natural work teams, this trend has evolved over the years to include co-determination and equal rights in terms of information access, performance management, and remuneration. Some organizations, such as Adidas, have Works Councils to facilitate smooth and transparent dialogue with management. 8 Involving employees in the communications process can have manifold benefits if addressed honestly and transparently. The Communication ROI Study indicates that the most effective communicators involve and pre-test their communications.9 Also, trends indicate that the future human workforce will be more decentralized and globally distributed. Therefore, internal crowdsourcing will be more valued than external crowdsourcing as organizations attempt to maximize the power of employee knowledge and expertise.10 Despite this, employee representation in high-involvement areas remains inadequate. Organizations expect employees to conform at work and not be their best selves.11
Therefore, what must communicators do to involve employees even more as partners and advocates of the brand? Here are a few suggestions:
Co-create content. Brands are realizing the power of employee-led storytelling. To be authentic and share credible stories, making employees the ‘stars’ of your organizational communication is now more important than ever. In a study of 30 brands on the power of storytelling, one of the key trends is co-creating brand content alongside users.12
Invest in involving employees in communications. Very often, trust-based issues come in the way of employees contributing fully to organizational communications. According to the 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study, highly effective communicators benchmark and use advisory groups to gain communication insights. Internal and corporate communicators’ role is to build trust, help employees understand their role as brand advocates, and tap the potential of their talent.
Empower employees to share. Employees are credible sources of information and, therefore, more believable. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, people are 3X more likely to trust company information shared by an employee than that shared by a CEO. A study by Cisco indicates that conversations with company employees are more trusted, highlighting the need to encourage them to be active participants in organizational communications.14 Employees also bring out the “human” aspect of a brand.
Reinforce connection to the company’s purpose. Over 20 years, Gallup looked at the 12 engagement elements and consistently discovered that employees are their best when they have clear role expectations, are equipped to deliver on the job, are shared communication on their organization’s direction, and provided opportunities to learn and develop.15 Communicators need to continually engage employees on the organization’s purpose and invite them to participate in its progress.
Give employees a voice. According to the Workplace Employment Relations Study in the UK, one in three employees feel their managers provide them with a voice and influence decisions at work.16 The trend has shifted from negotiation and consultation towards an emphasis on communication. Communicators can seek inputs and involve staff in defining how communication is created and shared for improved retention and recall.
Overall, employee involvement in communications is crucial for the success of organizations. The critical role of an employee in public relations is gaining attention. One of the key principles that the Arthur Page Society advocates is that an organization’s image and culture is shaped by how employees express themselves. Corporate communicators have a responsibility to enable “employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials.” 17
Aniisu K Verghese is an award-winning internal communications leader, author, speaker, trainer and blogger with over 22 years of experience. His mission is to help individuals and organizations discover and develop their sweet-spot through effective communications. He is the author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices and Models and is passionate about engaging communicators and students through workshops, speaking engagements, teaching assignments and blogging. He can be contacted on Linkedin and via e-mail at [email protected]
1. Research, K. (2017). The Employer Brand Credibility Gap: Bridging the Divide. Weber Shandwick.
2. Analytics, I. (2016). The Employee Experience Index. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute & Workhuman Research Institute.
3. Crabtree, S. (2013). Worldwide, 13% of employees are engaged at work. Gallup, last modified October, 8.
4. Edelman (2020). Edelman Trust Barometer. https://www.edelman.com/trustbarometer
5. Silvester, A. (2019, February 19). Barclays installs Big Brother-style spyware on employees’ computers. Retrieved from City A.M: https://www.cityam.com/exclusive-barclays-installs-big-brother-style-spyware-on-employees-computers
6. Weber Shandwick (2014). Employee Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. https://www.webershandwick.com/news/employee-activism-the-next-frontier-of-employee-engagement
7. Accenture (2018). To Affinity and Beyond. From Me to We. The Rise of Purpose Led Brands https://www.accenture.com/in-en/insights/strategy/brand-purpose
8. Employee Involvement. Adidas Group. Retrieved: https://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/people/employees/#/
9. Communication ROI Study Report (2009/2010)
10. Defining workforce 2025 (Vodafone) http://www.vodafone.com/business/news-and-insights/blog/gigabit-thinking/defining-workforce-2025
11. Rebel Talent – The Big Idea, Harvard Business Review, October-November, 2016
12. Ideas, D. (2017). From “Storytelling” to “Storydoing” What 30 brands have to say on the emergence of stories.Madrid: AMO-Global.
13. (Forrester, 2018). How Human Is Your Brand? The Importance And Impact Of Human-Like Brand Communication
14. Petra Neiger, “I [HEART] Our Employees: From Employees to Social Brand Ambassadors,” Cisco, February 2013 (http://blogs.cisco.com/socialmedia/i-heart-our-employees-from-employees-to-social-brand-ambassadors)
15. Gallup Employee Engagement https://www.gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.aspx
16. Workplace Employment Relations Study(WERS), 2011
17. Arthur W. Page Society. The Page Principles. https://page.org/site/the-page-principles