If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.
That 1980s catch phrase used to describe the go-go mentality of businesses' relationship with employees. Some would argue that it's still true. Employees are encouraged to work harder, faster, smarter, better. But now, organizations are also paying attention to the softer side of employee life. Employee satisfaction is fast moving up the list of corporate objectives. For communicators, employee communications is the new sweet spot.
Human resources and communications have always been linked, as evidenced by the perennial debate over whether internal communications should be located within human resources or with external communications. What's changed is that the focus has broadened beyond sharing information to figuring out how to energize employees.
There's been an emergence of research showing how increased employee satisfaction levels can directly contribute to the bottom line. David Maister provides such a model in his book Practice What You Preach. In research conducted of 29 firms in 15 countries, Maister found that positive employee attitudes correlated with financial success.
There are other factors that make employee relations a more important job for communicators. Because of increased competition, narrowing product differentiation, and the demand to be better corporate citizens, CEOs are becoming as concerned about the corporate brand as they are about product brands. Organizational culture drives a corporate brand as much as a company's actions, and employees drive company culture.
That can have a positive or negative effect in the external world. In the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, one of the most chilling scenes involves a recorded phone conversation between Enron energy traders. They were gloating over the money to be made owing to the California energy crisis' harsh impact on grandmothers.
Just as the external environment is measured and solutions are crafted, communicators must know the temperature of internal audiences and include them in strategic plans. Being able to counsel the C-suite on the external impact of internal employee matters is an increasingly necessary skill. It was well reported when RadioShack Corp. notified 400 workers by e-mail that they were being immediately fired as part of planned layoffs. RadioShack had left the "H" out of HR.
Judd Warner, Freddie Mac head of internal communications, reiterates the need to keep employee views connected to the CEO's views by continually engaging both and honestly interpreting news they get from other sources. Another way to build a company's reputation is what Monster.com calls culture marketing: "identifying and distinguishing characteristics that make an organization a great place to work and packaging these in an intriguing and appealing message."
In the past, employee communications wasn't as valued or as sexy as external communications. Times have changed. Employee communications has now moved from stepchild to golden child.
Lisa Davis is VP of corporate communications at AstraZeneca. Each month, she'll look at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions, e-mail her at email@example.com.