Opinion: European law makes business sense

As a new EU directive on informing and consulting staff comes into force this year, the public sector should welcome the new legislation

From this April, the EU's new directive - the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 - provides a legal imperative for investing in good internal communications.

As most high-performing organisations already know, the directive gives employees a right to be informed and consulted on management decisions affecting their future. Companies who do not comply with the new regulations may face fines of up to £75,000.

But even regardless of the legal constraints, there is a strong business case to be made for effective internal comms.

Research by MORI and others shows a direct link between well-informed staff and happy, more productive staff. There’s no rocket science in this – treat staff well and they perform better. Organisations that ignore the importance of internal communications often struggle with poorly motivated staff, high sickness absence rates and a weak corporate culture.

While many public sector organisations have learned the value of good PR, it amazes me how many still treat internal communications as the poor relation. Many organisations simply fail to devote the same strategic thinking (or resources) to their internal communications and hope that the staff newsletter and intranet will suffice.

Many PR professionals working in the public sector have been struggling to move internal communications higher up the corporate agenda. With the new EU directive, internal communications can no longer be ignored.

To prepare for the new legislation, organisations will need to have a variety of effective two-way communications tools in place. In general, the public sector is already ahead of the game, with good consultation processes in place with trade unions. But that should be supported by an internal communications strategy which could include:

Face-to-face communication

Surveys show that most staff prefer face-to-face communication, so ensure that along with any paper or electronic forms of communication, you have a cascade team briefing system and/or regular team meetings. Staff conferences and roadshows can also be useful.

Meaningful consultation

Encourage staff involvement and participation through consultation, staff panels, staff suggestion schemes etc – and remember to give feedback on the results. Staff will only believe their organisation values their views and ideas if they can see that it has acted on them.

Evaluation

Evaluate all your internal communications to ensure they are effective. If your staff survey reveals that the grapevine is the best way to receive information, you’re in trouble! When issues affect staff, they need to hear about them from their line manager first. Timeliness, honesty and openness are the key to ensuring news isn’t distorted by Chinese Whispers.

And finally, don’t forget to celebrate staff achievements. Most public service workers aren’t in it primarily for the money – but we all want to feel valued. Make sure your organisation visibly values the contribution of its staff through the staff newsletter, praise at team meetings and staff awards events.

For further information see www.dti.gov.uk/er/consultation/proposal.htm

Marina Pirotta is managing director of Tribal MPC

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