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Valuing internal communication; management and employee perspectives

Kevin Ruck and Dr. Mary Welch, University of Central Lancashire, UK

Author note

Kevin Ruck, Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire;

Dr. Mary Welch, Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire.

Correspondence about this article should be addressed to Kevin Ruck, The PR

Academy, Maidstone Studios, Vinters Park, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 5NZ.




In a review of 12 leading recent academic and consultancy studies it was found that there is no consistent

approach to measuring internal communication. Underlying internal communication theory is not always

applied and emerging theory is missing from many approaches to measurement. The emphasis is on process not

content, reflecting a managerial not an employee perspective. There is a reliance on a quantitative research

methodology and outdated survey instruments. A new conceptual model is explored as a framework for a new

approach to measurement that reflects the linkages between internal communication and employee engagement.

This is supplemented by consideration of how the use of internal social media impacts internal communication

theory and measurement.


The role of communication is becoming an increasingly important factor in the understanding of the value of

intangible organisational assets (Ritter, 2003 p. 50). Communication within organizations is linked to higher

levels of performance and service (Tourish & Hargie, 2009 pp. 10-15) generating communication capital

(Malmelin, 2007 p. 298) and social capital (Lee, 2009), grounded in organisational relationships. It is therefore

important for managers to be able to assess internal communication. Many well established tools developed in

the 1970s are still used, such as the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ), the ICA Audit, the

Organizational Communication Development audit, and the Organizational Communication scale (P. G.

Clampitt, 2009 pp. 58-61). Though managers have long recognised the importance of internal communication, it

is often seen from the perspective of management rather than the employee. As Welch and Jackson (2007 p.

187) argue, “research into employee preferences for channel and content of internal corporate communication is

required to ensure it meets employees’ needs”. This is echoed by Uusi-Rauva and Nurkka (2010 p. 303) who

assert that “little research has focused on finding out what employees consider important in the internal “expert

communication process”“.

This paper is based on a review of twelve leading academic and consultancy studies representing 10,928

respondents. It argues that approaches to assessment are too narrowly focused on process, rather than content.

Assessment tools are outdated, rooted in a positivist research philosophy, and take little account of employee

communication needs and the rise of internal social media.



Communication, organisational identification and engagement

Employee communication needs

Before examining the twelve studies, this section explores the general approach to assessment of internal

communication. Goldhaber et al., (1978 p. 82) found that an employee’s primary needs include, first, more

information about personal, job-related matters, and then, information about organizational decision making and

a greater opportunity to voice complaints and evaluate superiors. According to the consultancy, Towers Watson

(2010, p. x), “Most firms do well at communicating about the business; however…less than half of firms report

they are effective at communicating to employees regarding how their actions affect the customer or increase

productivity”. Towers Watson (2010) go on to report that internal communication messages are delivered either

centrally or locally and content differs as shown in table 1 below.

Table 1

Towers Watson 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report.

Messages delivered centrally Messages delivered locally

Explaining and promoting new programs and Helping employees understand the business

Educating employees about organizational Telling employees how their actions affect the

culture and values customer

Providing information on organizational Integrating new employees into the

performance and financial objectives organization

Providing individuals with information about the

true value of their total compensation package

However, there is no evidence in the report to suggest that these topics are the most important ones that

employees expect managers to discuss. Furthermore, the conclusion that firms do well at communicating about

the business is challenged by Truss et al., (2006 pp. 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 say that

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 say that they are not kept very well informed about what is

going on in their organisation (Truss et al., 2006, p. 17) and this applies to both the public and private sectors.

An effective communication climate is, according to Robertson (2005) based on the following topics; job,


personal, operational and strategic issues. Many of these are reflected in an audit of communication in a

healthcare organisation, where the following top six topics were cited for “information needed” (Hargie and

Tourish, 2009 p. 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

These results signify the importance of upward feedback and managers “closing the loop” of concerns raised.

They also highlight an interest in “things that go wrong”, something that does not sit comfortably with a

journalistic, tell or sell approach that can be perceived as organisational propaganda.

The dominance of process and the individual

The general focus of internal communication audits tends not to be on content so much as process. For example,

Tourish and Hargie (2009, p. 31) state that audits typically focus on who is communicating with whom, the

issues that receive attention, the volume of information sent and received, levels of trust and the quality of

working relationships. Valuable as these perspectives are, this highlights the general starting point for internal

communication audits and research; the managerial perspective on process rather than individual employee

expectations of content. In the review of studies conducted for this paper, little research could be found that

specifically tackled what employees would like their organisation to communicate. As Chen et al., (2006 p. 242)

argue, “A review of the research on organizational processes concluded that member satisfaction with

organizational communication practices has been ignored”. D’Aprix (2006 p. 238) does place an emphasis on

the employee perspective in his model of the employee questions that line managers must answer (see figure 1).

This is similar to Robertson’s proposal (above) with a primary focus on the individual’s role at work. This is

indicative of work conducted in the practitioner survey field on employee engagement (for example, Gallup)

that suggests that it is an individual’s role and work that are the most important engagement


factors. This represents an individual, cognitive psychological, perspective on communication and engagement

and underplays the pivotal role that social connection to and involvement with the wider organisation has for

engagement. It is not enough only to know where the organisation is heading, that is just a starting point. As

Truss et al., (2006, p. 45) report, the three most important factors for engagement are much deeper:

1) having opportunities to feed your views upwards

2) feeling well informed about what is happening in the organisation, and

3) thinking that your manager is committed to your organization.

Figure 1. D’Aprix’s (2006) employee communication model

Furthermore, it could be argued that job responsibilities, performance feedback, and individual needs are purely

hygiene factors for engagement; if they are not satisfactory then employees will be disengaged. If they are in

place, then social identification with the organization, reinforced by informed employee voice, is what leads to

higher levels of engagement. This concept is explored in more detail in the following section.

Content and organisational identification

Miller (2009) suggests that the content of internal communication is dependent on the approach to management

in the organisation. For example, in a classical organisation it is argued that “communication about task is very

narrowly focused” (Miller, 2009, p. 29). However, in human relations organisations “the innovation content of

communication is critical” (Miller, 2009, p. 50). Sluss et al., (2008 p. 457) point out that although a myriad of

potential exchange relationships exist within and between organizations, all employees have two seemingly


preeminent relationships at work; one with the immediate supervisor, and one with the organization.

Organizational identification, based on social identity theory, is the degree of oneness with the organisation and

has been found to be associated with job satisfaction, job involvement, turnover intentions, and in role and

extra-role performance. Leiter and Bakker (2010 p. 2) suggest that “Employees’ responses to organizational

policies, practices and structures affect their potential to experience engagement”. This is illustrated in a social

identity theory approach to organisational identification adopted by Millward and Postmes (2010, p. 335) in a

study of business managers in the UK. They reported that “The fact that identification with the superordinate

grouping of “the organisation” was particularly relevant to performance is important for theoretical, empirical

and pragmatic reasons”. This reinforces research by Wieseke (2009) that found the higher the level of

organisational identity of sales managers the greater the sales quota achievement. Furthermore, a lack of

organisational identification has, according to Knight and Haslam (2010, p. 721) been associated with increased

stress and burnout, withdrawal, and sickness. These are powerful drivers for an organisation’s investment in

what Welch and Jackson term “Internal Corporate Communication” (2007, p. 186) defined as “communication

between an organisation’s strategic managers and its internal stakeholders, designed to promote commitment to

the organisation, a sense of belonging to it, awareness of its changing environment and understanding of its

evolving aims”.

Corporate vision, values, image and identity

Although D’Aprix includes organizational vision, mission and values in his communication model, the detail of

the content in these categories requires deeper consideration For example, corporate image and identity is not

prioritised in the literature on internal communication as it is often seen more as the realm of external

communication. However, Cartwright and Holmes (2006 p. 200) suggest that it “can matter a great deal to an

employee as it represents their assessment of what characteristics others are likely to ascribe to them because

they work for a particular organization”. Holtzhausen and Fourie (2009p. 340) argue that “the non-visual

elements of the corporate identity impact on employer-employee relationships and thus need special attention

when managing employer-employee relationships”. Although employees are interested in knowing about

organisational strategy, it is how it is discussed that is critical. Daymon (1993 p. 247) suggests that the reasons

why employees give up on the communication process is the failure to connect strategy to people:


I think people didn't go . . . because the first one that [the chief executive] held was all financial. . . . It

was all money, money, money, and it meant very little to a lot of people. He wasn't talking about

realities. He was talking about fiscal policies. . . .

Sluss et al., (2008, p. 458) suggest that, in terms of values, perceived organisational support is a key factor. This

is defined as the subordinate’s perception of the extent that ‘‘their work organization values their contribution

and cares about their well-being”. It is especially important as many more people today “are seeking a greater

sense of meaning and purpose in their extending working lives” (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006 p. 200).

Review of approaches to assessment

Shortcomings in establishing theory in internal communication have often led to a predominance of the

assessment of channels used, or volume of information generated (the what); essentially process explanations

rather than the content of the communication itself, how well it is provided, or understanding. The well

established International Communication Association (ICA) survey is a comprehensive approach made up of

eight main sections. In an adapted version set out by Hargie and Tourish (2009, pp.420-437) one of the sections

explores content and another channels, four are more generally about processes and volumes of information sent

and received and two can be tailored to specific organisational issues. The range of content topics is mainly job

related; pay, performance, promotion, development, with only one question in the set related to wider

organisational goals. Respondents use a five point Likert scale to rate the topics according to the how much

information is provided. The balance of job related questions and organisational related questions is skewed

towards the individual job level and this underplays the importance of organisational identification.

Furthermore, some important topics, such as job security and the general support provided by the organisation,

are omitted. In terms of channels, the audit provides a list of channels and asks the question, “how much

information are you receiving through these channels?” This may provide a useful snapshot of channel use in a

given organisation. However, it does not explore what content is provided through specific channels and

whether or not this is appropriate from an employee perspective. The overriding focus on the volume of

information within the ICA also suggests that internal communication can be reduced to a transmission process

and this ignores the question of how well the information was provided, including tone, clarity and


appropriateness of the medium used. It also fails to address questions of credibility of the information provided

and how far it led to two-way dialogue.

Another well established survey, the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ) takes a different

approach to the ICA and focuses on primary dimensions of communication satisfaction that include: general

organizational perspective, organizational integration, personal feedback, relation with supervisor, horizontal-

informal communication, relation with subordinates, media quality, and communication climate (Downs &

Hazen, 1977). This focuses mainly on information specific to an individual but also includes some wider

organisational aspects, such as clarity of communication and openness to ideas (Pincus, 1986 p. 399). It is

grounded more in general satisfaction than volume of information. The findings of the studies that have used the

CSQ indicate that the areas of greatest employee satisfaction are the supervisory communication and

subordinate communication, while the area of least satisfaction tends to be the personal feedback factor (P.

Clampitt & Downs, 1993). The shortcomings of the CSQ are, according to Clampitt (2009 p. 58) the omission

of top management communication and decision-making. Other surveys often explore preferences for channels

and as White et al., (2010, p. 78) explain, e-mails are appropriate for quick notices and updates, printed paper

signifies importance, and web sites are archives for retrieval-as-needed information. However, interpersonal,

dialogic communication remains important to employees at every level of the organization.

Review of twelve leading studies

An analysis of twelve recent leading academic and consultancy studies of internal communication is provided in

table 2 below. What emerges from this analysis is a disjointed picture of the assessment of internal

communication. Despite the existence of well established tools, these are not always used. Consultants and

academics use different question sets and approach the topic from different perspectives. This analysis reveals

an overwhelming reliance on a positivist position, using questionnaires to ascertain the state of internal

communication. It is not clear what validated approach to the subject these are based on, though there is a

tendency towards a paradigm that is focused on messaging rather than dialogue and relationships. On the other

hand, some themes do emerge, such as the reliance on newsletters and email and the decrease in print channels.

In terms of content, where this is assessed, there is a focus on job related topics and wider organisational

dimensions are often marginalised.

The techniques used in the majority of the approaches reviewed in table 2 paper are questionnaires, many based

on scales that were developed in the 1970s. The advantage of using such well developed tools is the potential


benchmarking of data on a significant scale. The disadvantages are that the tools do not reflect a broad, current,

range of theories. They also reflect a narrow, positivist, worldview approach to the complex field of human

communication and do not take account of the changing world of work that is resulting from the introduction of

social media. It would be more meaningful to work towards assessments that reflect a combination of positivist

and interpretivist approaches in the future.

Table 2

Review of approaches to internal communication and engagement assessment

Source Content Channels

Towers Watson Understanding the business Social media – less than half of

(2010) 60% effectiveness respondents are using this channel

Organisational performance and Electronic communication – substantial

328 organizations that financial objectives increase in use

collectively represent 56% effectiveness Face to face communication – significant

5 million employees Rewards (health care, bonus, pension, increase in use

in various regions pay) 45% effectiveness Print – increase in use in some areas but

around the world. Actions affecting customer significant decline in other areas

45% effectiveness

Job security

24% provide no information on this topic

IABC Research Formal list of values or description of Frequently used channels, ranked in

Foundation the desired culture published – 74% order

and Buck Involve senior leadership in orientation Emails (83%)

Consultants programs to transmit vision, values, Intranet (75%)

Employee and culture – 54% Face-to-face meetings (54%)

Engagement Survey Consistency between a manager’s Website (47%)

IABC behavior and the cultural values of the Print employee newsletters or newspapers

(2010) organization checked – 30% (32%)

877 respondents from Posters/flyers (28%)

various regions Town hall meetings (27%)

around the world. Virtual meetings (21%)

Videos (19%)

Social media (12%)



Business television (8%)

Home mailings (5%)

Podcasts (4%)
White et al., (2010) Even when respondents said they had Employees who were most satisfied with

sufficient information to perform internal communication were those

147 interviews their job and sufficient information about who received information from a variety of

conducted in a large, policies and goals of the sources, including interpersonal

multicampus, organization, they still wanted channels. Despite the convenience of e-

geographically information about administrative mails, a high value was placed on

dispersed university decisions, budgets, face-to-face communication, even though

in US. personnel decisions, pending changes, many employees noted that meetings are

goals, and future directions, etc. time-consuming.

Melcrum Social Not assessed. Newsletters and emails

Media Survey (2010) 68.8 per cent of leaders use online

More than 2,600 newsletters and companywide emails to get

internal messages out to their staff.


professional Online video was chosen as the most

respondents; 1,800 popular "social media" tool with 52.6 per

from organisations cent, with blogs (51.9 per cent –

with more than respondents were told they could tick all the

500 employees. tools that applied to their use of social

media), instant messaging (47 per cent) and

social networks, including Twitter,

Facebook and Yammer, in fourth place with

37.6 per cent.

Marques (2010) Criteria for successful communication: Several participants listed the aspect of

timely, clear, accurate, credible, pertinent, execution or delivery format of the

A qualitative study responsible, concise, professional, and message, stressing that communication

(entailing a sincere. should be delivered in a responsible format

phenomenological given its content. Not every message lends

approach) with 20 itself for email, but not every message



subjects. requires face-to-face settings either.

CIPD (2009) Employees are most likely to say their Not assessed.

A representative managers rarely/never coach them on the

sample of more than job (44%); this is particularly the case

3,000 people in with larger organisations. They are also

employment in the more likely to say their managers

UK. rarely/never discuss their training and

development needs (35%) nor provide

them with feedback on their performance


More than one in five (26%) are either

dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the

opportunities that exist within their

organisation to feed their views upwards.

Al-Ghamdi et al., Not specifically assessed. The eight highest rated methods used by

(2007) employees to learn about their

firm’s strategy were:

187 responses from (1) Plant Manager meetings

employees in one (2) Group meetings conducted by

company based in employee’s immediate supervisor

Riyadh and Jeddah. (3) Employees’ immediate supervisor

(4) Information placed on bulletin boards,

posters, and signs in the plant

(5) E-mail

(6) video

(7) Tele/Video conference

(8) The firm’s Division management in

employee groups.
Truss et al., (2006) Training and development Not assessed.

32% rarely/never discussed

Stratified sample of Performance

2000 employees in the 30% rarely/never discussed

UK. Vision

48% say senior managers have a clear




Well informed about organisation

42% say they are not well informed


37% satisfied with opportunities for

upward feedback
Byrne and LeMay Information Lean/Rich media


Satisfaction of company wide information Satisfaction with lean media 3.43

598 fulltime 3.2

employees from the Satisfaction of business unit information Satisfaction with rich media 3.76

US based offices of a 3.05

high technology Satisfaction of job information Response scale of (1) strongly disagree to

oriented organization, 3.37 (5) strongly agree

using an adaptation of

the International Response scale of (1) strongly disagree to

Communication (5) strongly agree

Association (ICA)

Communication Audit


Akkirman and Communication Satisfaction Not assessed.

Harris Questionnaire (CSQ)


Survey in a Turkish Communication satisfaction 3.66/3.24

subsidiary of an Personal feedback 3.38/2.92

international company Organizational integration 3.57/3.12

based in Germany. Relationship with supervisor 4.02/3.73

Virtual Communication climate 3.69/3.26

office workers Horizontal communication 3.66/3.17

returned 46 surveys (a

response rate of 70.7 Results are shown for virtual



per cent) and workers/traditional workers

traditional office

workers returned 22

surveys (a response

rate of 62.8 per cent).

Clampitt and Downs Communication Satisfaction Not assessed.

(2004) Questionnaire (CSQ)

Around 1300 people Supervisor communication – 34.18

from organisations in Subordinate communication – 33.43

different countries. Horizontal communication – 31.81

Organizational integration – 29.62

Media quality – 29.17

Communication climate – 26.56

Corporate information – 26.35

Personal feedback – 23.99

Scale of 0-50, (50 is max satisfaction)

Quinn and Hargie ICA questionnaire ICA questionnaire

(2004) Information - respondents thought they Information received through various

were receiving between “little” and channels - these results were the only ones

Interviews, “some” information, but wanted a “great” that showed a statistically non-significant

questionnaires and amount of information. result, in that respondents did not wish to

critical incident receive any more information through the

analysis in a police The greatest shortfalls related to: grapevine and did not want to receive very

force in Northern how decisions that affect my job are dealt much more via the media.

Ireland with131 with;

respondents to the self development opportunities;

survey. major management decisions;

development and changes in policing;

things that go wrong in the organisation.

A summary of the key findings from the data is summarised in table 3 below. This analysis suggests that

satisfaction with organisational information ranges from 53% to 64%. As a basic employee requirement, this

indicates there is still much to be done for employees to feel that they are well informed. In terms of


understanding the business strategy, values and goals, 60% of employees understand where the organisation is

headed, though this is undermined by senior manager clarity (48%) and minimal senior management

involvement in telling the story (54%). Most concerning is the very low (30%) level of consistency in behaviour

to match values. At an individual level, 30% of employees do not have any discussion about performance at all,

job information satisfaction is around 67%, and personal feedback satisfaction ranges from 48% to 58%.

Satisfaction with opportunities for upward feedback varies in the two studies highlighted, nevertheless it is clear

that at best there is still a large number of employees who are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with this (26%).

Taking the three key drivers for employee engagement highlighted earlier; feeling well informed, line manager

commitment, and employee voice, it is not surprising that given the data summarised here that engagement

levels are often stubbornly low, around 35% according to Truss et al., (2006, p. xi). In terms of new and social

media, it is clear that electronic communication is replacing print, though use of social media is still at an

embryonic stage with less than half of organisations using it at best. Finally, questions about satisfaction with

content are rarely asked and it is worth noting that employees do, naturally, expect channels to be used

appropriately for the information provided.

Table 3

Summary of key findings from internal communication and engagement assessment

Satisfaction/Channel use Data

Information 74% values published (IABC), 42% not well informed (Truss et al.), satisfaction

of company wide information is 3.2 out of 5 (Byrne and LeMay), communication

satisfaction 3.66/3.24, communication climate 3.69/3.26 (out of 5, virtual

worker/traditional worker, Akkirman), media quality 29.17, communication

climate 26.56, corporate information 26.35 (out of 50, Clampitt and Downs),

even when respondents said they had sufficient information to perform their job

and sufficient information about policies and goals of the organization, they still

wanted information about administrative decisions, budgets, personnel decisions,

pending changes, goals, and future directions, etc. (White et al.).

Understanding and living the 60% understanding (TowersWatson), 54% senior manager involvement in

business strategy, values, communication, 30% consistency in behaviour (IABC), 48% senior managers

goals have a clear vision (Truss et al.).

Satisfaction with upward 26% dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (CIPD), 37% satisfied (Truss et al.),



Satisfaction with feedback on 30% performance not discussed (Truss et al.), 44% of managers rarely/never

performance coach employees (CIPD), satisfaction of job information

3.37 (out of 5, Byrne and LeMay), personal feedback 3.38/2.92 (out of 5, virtual

worker/traditional worker) (Akkirman), personal feedback 23.99 (out of 50,

Clampitt and Downs).

Content Timely, clear, accurate, credible, pertinent, responsible, concise, professional,

and sincere, but communication should be delivered in a responsible format

given its content (Marques), main shortfalls are: self development opportunities;

major management decisions; development and changes in policing; things that

go wrong in the organisation (Quinn and Hargie).

Channels, new and social Lean media; 3.43 out of 5, rich media; 3.76 (out of 5, Quinn and Hargie), email

media 83%, intranet 75%, social media 12% (IABC), email/online news 68.8%, online

video most popular social media tool (Melcrum), general increase in use of

electronic channels, though less than 50% using social media tools


Linking assessment to theory

Hargie and Tourish (2009, pp. 235-6) highlight recurring themes in the communication literature as:

• The need for adequate information flow concerning key change issues

• The central importance of supervisory communication as a preferred communication source

• The importance of inter-departmental communication in promoting enhanced innovation

• The role of participation as a means of enhancing corporate cohesion

• The notion of communication as a foundation of teamwork and positive employee attitudes, and thus

an agency for enhancing performance

• The need to maintain face-to-face communication as a primary method of information transmission

• The benefits obtained from conceptualising dissent as a source of useful feedback, rather than simply

as resistance to overcome.

They conclude (2009, p. 236) that there is a “…disabling gap between theory and practice”. This is reinforced

by the results in the analysis in table 2. Change issues are not specified in any of the assessments reviewed, the

overwhelming use of e-mail and newsletters dominates information transmission and the omission of facets

linked to participation and useful feedback is very apparent. However, the themes themselves may not


necessarily form a complete validated underlying theory of internal communication. For example, they do not

fully incorporate research findings that link internal communication to employee engagement (Truss et al.2006).

So, there are gaps at both the theoretical and practice levels. If an audit or assessment is conducted to obtain an

accurate, objective, picture of the state of internal communication, then it is clearly important to understand

what an ideal state is. Downs and Adrian argue (2004, p. 245) that communication theories are still incomplete,

and as there are many of them, “theory needs to be used judiciously”. Furthermore, Downs and Adrian suggest


The state of our art is such that no umbrella theory of communication exists. Therefore, each problem

in the organisation may require auditors to use different kinds of theories, always watching for their

contradictions and inconsistencies.

If auditors need to call upon a range of theory, then emerging public relations theories such as critical theory,

the excellence theory of public relations and rhetorical theory (Toth, 2009) could be incorporated much more

into internal communication theory. As yet, these approaches are under-explored and could be a rich vein of

research. Many of these theories point to a new direction in assessment based more on bridging than buffering,

where bridging is about relationships with stakeholders, rather than a set of messaging activities designed to

buffer the organisation from them (Grunig, 2009, p. 9). As the assessments reviewed in table 2 indicate, the

focus remains on the circulation of information; type of information, timing, and load, flow; downward, upward

and horizontal and use of channels. These are all indicative of a focus on buffering.

An updated conceptual model for internal communication

This paper has explored approaches to assessing internal communication and the associated links to internal

communication theory. As theory is incomplete, it is not possible to establish a definitive conceptual model of

internal communication that can be used to guide assessment. However, it is possible to outline a new

conceptual model of internal communication (figure 2) that takes more account of the individual and the social

communication needs of employees, the cognitive and social psychological aspects of communication and

identification, bridging and buffering, and the drivers for employee engagement that are missing or marginalised

in many of the assessment instruments.



Figure 2. Conceptual model of employee questions to be addressed through line manager and corporate internal


This conceptual model aims to incorporate a balance between line manager and internal corporate

communication. It incorporates the importance of employee voice, based on being well informed together with

questions of organisational support and identification. It is grounded in the argument that employee engagement

is the outcome of strategic internal communication practice. The model shows linkages between key dimensions

where these are likely to be strongest although research is required to test connection strengths. It is

conceptually possible that some aspects, such as role, are more like hygiene factors and others, such as

identification are more powerful drivers of engagement. However, this hypothesis needs to be tested as a

potential weighting has not been explored to date. Furthermore, this conceptual model is a higher level model

only that requires a more detailed and layered approach to new assessment instruments. This extends to

assessing the use of the right medium for the message and incorporation of the full range of employee

communication needs as identified in some the research highlighted in this paper. In the next section social

media and internal communication is briefly reviewed, as this will have a profound impact on theory and the

development of new approaches to assessment.



Medium theory and internal social media

Information richness and new media ages

Much of the research and assessment of internal communication includes the use and preferences of channels.

According to Daft and Lengel (1986 p. 560) this is linked to the concept of information richness and in order of

decreasing richness, media classifications are (1) face-to-face, (2) telephone, (3) personal documents such as

letters or memos, (4) impersonal written documents, and (5) numeric documents. Rich media are personal and

involve face-to-face contact between managers, while media of lower richness are impersonal and rely on rules,

forms, procedures, or data bases. Downs and Adrian (2004, p. 57) argue that communicators need to match

communication that is high in ambiguity with rich media and communication that is low in ambiguity with lean

media. As highlighted earlier, this basic principle in terms of matching content to media is not often assessed. It

is worth noting that, according to some theorists, the channel itself conveys its own message. Medium theory,

developed first by Marshall McLuhan and then extended by Donald Ellis (Littlejohn & Foss, 2008, p. 290), is

based on the idea that the media, irrelevant of the content, impacts individuals and society. As media change, for

example from print to television and more recently to internet, this affects the way people think and relate to

each other. Littlejohn and Foss (2008, p. 292) conceptualise a first, broadcast, media age as a social interaction

approach, based on transmission of information and the second media age as a social integration approach

which is more interactive and personalized. This analysis can be likened to Grunig’s (2009) differentiation

between buffering and bridging. In the second age there is less emphasis on the media and information per se

and more on the way that it creates communities. However, Poster (1995 p. 22) argues that the first age may not

have been an age at all, “Until now the broadcast model has not been a first age but has been naturalized as the

only possible way of having media – few producers, many consumers”. Relating this to internal communication

today, it could be argued that its first real age has yet to arrive, with practice focused as it is on a model of

transmission of messages from senior management (the few) using email and newsletters (broadcast channels)

to employees (the many).

A new age of social integration in internal communication

The dawning of a new age of social integration in internal communication raises significant questions about

theory and assessment. According to Poster (1995, p. 28) it amounts to “users having decentralized, distributed,

direct control over when, what, why, and with whom they exchange information”. This leads to critical thinking,


activism, democracy, and quality. Poster’s approach is related to external communication. Could it equally

apply to the world of internal communication where there is usually more control over channels? If so,

assessment approaches need to add these dimensions as they are missing from most current instruments.

Bennett et al., (2010) claim that social networking sites provide opportunities for both formal and informal

interaction and collaboration with fellow employees and clients/customers which aids knowledge transfer and

communication. This, in turn, leads to a shift in culture from “information gathering” to “information

participation”. Lange et al., (2008 pp.4-5) argue that the benefits of social networking can be classified into

three broad categories: (1) Community. Interaciont with people who share your interests and passions; (2)

Collaboration. Connection to people, expertise and resources in search of solutions that cannot be created with

any one of those ingredients alone; (3) Contribution. Capabilities to make it easier for customers or citizens to

contribute their ideas, expertise, concerns and preferences. Fraser and Dutta (2010) highlight examples of

corporations which have started to adopt social networking sites as a business tool such as General Motors

which uses an internal blog and FastLane, which uses a corporate “focus group” that attracts around 5,000 daily


Assessing internal social media

The approach to assessment of internal social media has to date focused on basic techniques, using website data

and analysis or intranet traffic figures. A recent Melcrum survey (2010) involving more than 2,600 internal

communication professionals found that internal communication teams enjoy sticking to the basics with 61.6 per

cent suggesting they measure the success of social media initiatives by using website data and analysis or

intranet traffic figures. The survey also reinforced assessment from other research regarding the use of

newsletters and emails; 68.8 per cent of leaders were found to be using online newsletters and companywide

emails to get messages out to their staff. The use of social media technologies becomes increasingly important

as organisations offer different working styles, such as teleworking, hot-desking, and virtual offices.

Interestingly, despite concerns that virtual working provides a challenge for internal communicators, research

conducted by Akkirman and Harris (2005) found no evidence to support the idea that a virtual workplace would

have a categorically negative impact on organizational communication. In fact, they found the opposite, virtual

office workers experienced higher levels of communication satisfaction than office workers on all measured

factors. Currently, internal communication theory and assessment has not caught up with the impact of social

networks and media within organizations. This is an example of what Poster (1995, p. 74) refers to as


contingency in communication theory, “Communication theory begins with a recognition of necessary self-

reflexivity, of the dependence of knowledge on its context”. He goes on to argue that “The first principle of

communication theory in the age of electronic technology, then, is that there is no first principle, only a

recognition of an outside of theory, an other to theory, a world that motivates theory”. Poster warns against the

temptation, at an epistemological level, to try to secure a firm knowledge of communication theory. This is a

steer towards research and assessment of internal communication that is more grounded in a relativist or

interpretivist worldview, based on understanding more than explaining or seeking to find absolute principles.


An analysis of the studies reviewed in this paper suggests that levels of satisfaction with internal communication

are around the 50 to mid 60 percentage range. Understanding of organizational strategy is around 60 per cent.

Both these findings represent significant room for improvement and are seriously undermined by a lack of

senior manager clarity, commitment to values and integrity in upholding values. Indications are that satisfaction

with opportunities for employee voice can also be improved. Taken together this data suggests that there is a

great opportunity to improve internal communication in key areas that lead to higher levels of employee

engagement. The data also indicates that internal communication is often dominated by a journalistic “tell”

approach, or buffering, that does not necessarily meet the communication needs of employees. However, it is

not just the results themselves that are the focus of this paper. It is clear that, in a changing communication

environment, traditional approaches to assessment are themselves becoming outdated. They emphasise volume

and channels rather than content and dialogue. They also marginalize the importance of organisational

identification and are too reliant on a positivist research philosophy and questionnaires. Additionally,

assessment of internal communication should be revised to take more account of the impact of social media,

within a wider context of medium theory.

A new conceptual model of employee communication is posited as a high level framework for revised

approaches to internal communication assessment. It includes a stronger balance between communication

related to an individual’s role and wider internal corporate communication. It incorporates the importance of

employee voice, based on being well informed together with questions of organisational support and

identification. At a more detailed level of assessment the framework should be supported with instruments that

include a far greater emphasis on content that meets employee needs as this has now been ignored for far too

long now.



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