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Internal Communication Content From the Perspective of the Organization and From an Employee Needs Perspective

Internal Communication Content From the Perspective of the Organization and From an Employee Needs Perspective

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Published by Kevin Ruck
This paper explores what communication employees expect from organisations and what organisations provide.
This paper explores what communication employees expect from organisations and what organisations provide.

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Published by: Kevin Ruck on Jan 06, 2011
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07/15/2013

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Internal communication content: a critical exploration of whatorganisations provide and what employees require
Kevin Ruck
Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UKkevin.ruck@pracademy.co.uk
1.Introduction
Internal communication is becoming increasingly recognised as a criticalcommunication function. According to Moreno et al (2010 p, 101), respondents in theEuropean Communication Monitor, 2009, “expect that internal communication andchange management will be the second important discipline next year, right behindcorporate communication”. Organisations have long recognised the importance of internal communication, though this is often seen from the perspective of theorganisation rather than the employee. As Welch and Jackson (2007 p. 187) argue,“research into employee preferences for channel and content of internal corporatecommunication is required to ensure it meets employees’ needs”. This is echoed byUusi-Rauva and Nurkka (2010, p. 303), who assert that little research has focused onfinding out what employees consider important in the internal “expert communicationprocess”.In the wider communication field, the locus of academic debate has tended to beexternal, rather than internal. However, 26 years ago, Grunig and Hunt (1984 pp.244-5) highlighted that “A great deal of money is spent on achieving a degree of  journalistic slick which does little in communicating to employees but does much tosatisfy the egos of communications technicians”. Morris and Goldsworthy (2008 p.130) suggest that this is still the case and, furthermore, there is a dark side to internalcommunication; it is “the branch of the modern PR industry that best realises thepropagandist’s dream”. This is based on the contention that organisations have amonopoly on formal communication channels and the collapse of alternativechannels such as those provided by trade unions. In contrast, a two-waycommunication approach entails making publications “more employee-centred thanmanagement centred” although this in itself is not dialogical, so Grunig and Hunt(1984, p. 246) also argue that symmetrical programs also use many non-traditional,nonprint media and techniques that emphasise interpersonal communication anddialogue with management.
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This paper suggests that internal communication is often dominated by a journalistic“tell” approach that does little to acknowledge the communication needs of employees. It analyses the key reasons why organisations invest in internalcommunication, what the benefits are to them and what communication employeesrequire and expect from their organisations. The focus of the paper is the content of communication rather than the channels used. This is a separate, albeit closelylinked, topic that requires consequential analysis. The approach taken in the paper isto consider internal communication from three contexts; organisational identificationand engagement, change or uncertainty, and organisational learning. Organisationalidentification and engagement acknowledges the longer term relationship that anemployee has with an organisation. Change and uncertainty is a time whencommunication expectations rise (Dawson, 2004 p. 61) and organisational learningreflects the importance of knowledge for both the organisation and the employee(Easterby-Smith et al., 2000).
2.Organisational identification and engagement
There is overwhelming evidence that effective internal communication is linked toorganisational success (Byrne and LeMay, 2006 p. 152) and the key to this is to havefirst line managers who are effective communicators (Hargie and Tourish, 2004 p.247). Goldhaber et al (1978 p. 82) found that employees primary needs include, first,more information about personal, job-related matters, and then, information aboutorganizational decision making and a greater opportunity to voice complaints andevaluate superiors. According to the consultancy, Towers Watson (2010, p. x), mostfirms do well at communicating about the business; “however…less than half of firmsreport they are effective at communicating to employees regarding how their actionsaffect the customer or increase productivity”. Towers Watson (2010) go on to reportthat internal communication messages are delivered either centrally or locally andcontent differs as shown in table 1 below.
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Messages delivered centrallyMessages delivered locally
Explaining and promoting newprograms and policiesHelping employees understand thebusinessEducating employees aboutorganizational culture and valuesTelling employees how their actionsaffect the customer Providing information on organizationalperformance and financial objectivesIntegrating new employees into theorganizationProviding individuals with informationabout the true value of their totalcompensation package
Table 1
Towers Watson
 
2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report.However, there is no evidence in the report to suggest that these are the mostimportant topics that employees expect managers to discuss. The conclusion thatfirms do well at communicating about the business is also challenged by Truss (2006p. 13-14) who found that 25 per cent of employees say that their manager rarely or never makes them feel their work counts. And only around half of all employees saythat their manager usually or always “consults me on matters of importance” or “keeps me in touch with what is going on”. In general, 42 per cent of employees saythat they are not kept very well informed about what is going on in their organisation(Truss, 2006, p. 17) and this applies to both the public and private sectors.An effective communication climate is, according to Robertson (2005) based on thefollowing topics; job, personal, operational and strategic issues. Many of these arereflected in an audit of communication in a healthcare organisation, where thefollowing top six topics were cited for “information needed” (Hargie and Tourish, 2009p. 252):How problems that I report in my job are dealt with (3.8)How my job contributes to the organisation (3.6)How decisions that affect my job are reached (3.6)Things that go wrong in my organisation (3.5)Staff development opportunities (3.5)My performance in my job (3.5)
Scale: 1 = very little: 2 = little: 3 = some: 4 = great: 5 = very great
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