Internal communications professionals are working hard to keep employees informed about the COVID-19 crisis, a new survey shows. More than half of communication executives said employee engagement (63%) and collaboration (58%) have increased at their companies since the start of COVID-19, according to a new global survey by the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm.
Respondents reported employee trust (49%) and satisfaction (32%) increased as well. However, 40% of leaders said productivity declined while 25% said it increased.
“With lives at stake, companies had to ramp up their communication efforts significantly and quickly, including being flexible and introducing new tools at a rapid rate for a wide range of employees,” said Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. “Companies also appear to be more empathetic toward workers who are stressed, many of whom are living in highly uncertain times while juggling multiple responsibilities.”
Employees May Not Agree
While communications executives generally give their organizations high marks for employee communications, many employees may not agree. Only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization, according to a recent Gallup survey.
Ineffective employee communications can let rumors about COVID-19 spread, especially since many employees are working from home or are furloughed and are worried about their health and their financial futures. Placing a priority on open communications and debunking rumors are key to countering the spread of fake news and misinformation about the coronavirus, Gallup researchers argue.
How Companies Communicate with Employees
Two-thirds of communication leaders said they were sending their employees information about their physical (70%) and mental (65%) health, according to the IPR survey. One company instituted a staff-morale committee. Virtual happy hours, wellness programs, mindfulness apps and resources, and even digital hubs with interest/support groups were all mentioned.
Companies offered programs to help decrease loneliness and anxiety as well as resources to help working parents. Most companies are helping external stakeholders affected by COVID-19; 61% engaged employees directly in these initiatives.
Communication executives said consistent key messages across functions, and frequently communicating with employees from a consistent source was critical to their efforts.
The most popular employee communications channels include: emails (99%), supervisors/managers (91%), and one-on-one check-ins (85%). They called direct communication through supervisors/managers and one-on-one check-ins “very effective” channels.
For more information, communication leaders most frequently refer stakeholders to internal executives (69%), federal agencies (66%), and internal media platforms/sources (64%).
Measuring Internal Communications
The top methods communication executives use to track results of internal communication or seek employee feedback are informal listening tools and methods, such as check-ins, web visits, email open-rates and HR feedback. Nearly one-in-four organizations were not tracking at all and only 28% surveyed their employees.
Although PR external communications and social media teams are increasingly benefiting from advanced data and measurement tools, internal communications teams have been slower to measure performance and effectiveness, say measurement experts such as Katie Paine of Paine Publishing. Internal communicators may be unaware of sophisticated measurement tools and techniques now available.
Yet internal communications is more important than ever to retain desirable talent, to keep the workforce informed, and to boost morale. Measuring results of effectiveness of employee communications and presenting that information to senior management is critical if internal communications is to retain a respected position in the overall corporate hierarchy.
Bottom Line: Internal communications professionals are dedicating extra effort to keep tabs on the well-being of employees, offer them help, and keep them informed. However, many companies don’t bother measuring their employee communications efforts.
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Michael Kling is manager of public relations, marketing and social media at Glean.info, a media monitoring and measurement service that provides customized media monitoring and PR analytics solutions.