Adding some love to internal communication

A short overview of a Special Edition of the Journal of Communication Management

About the author

Kevin is the other half of the husband and wife team behind PR Academy. Along with Ann Pilkington, he set up the business in 2007. After a career in BT that spanned customer service, community engagement and internal communication, he developed his special interest in internal comms and employee engagement. He saw the need for a qualification in this topic and initiated and developed both the internal comms certificate and diploma courses for the CIPR. He also leads our CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

The recently published special edition of the Journal of Communication Management focuses on internal communication during the pandemic.

Guest edited by myself and Rita Men from the University of Florida, it includes six papers that examine the ways that internal communication became prominent for organisations as they tackled the impact of Covid-19.

I’ve been tracking the rise and rise of internal communication for some years now. Its evolution from internal journalism to a recognised management function has been quite slow. So, in many ways, the past 18 months have been something of a watershed moment.

Internal communication will never quite be the same again.

Some of the papers in the special edition comment on a lack of prior scholarly focus on internal crisis communication. It is certainly the case that this was little studied until Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen’s work in 2011. Indeed, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) recently reported that issues/crisis management and internal communication were the top two public relations activities that practitioners focused on most during the pandemic. Combining these two activities is a field of fruitful future research that will extend the existing extensive literature on external crisis communication.

Other themes that emerge in the papers in the special edition are sensemaking and sensegiving narratives (and antenarratives), empathy, benevolence, reassurance, transparency, reciprocity, social resources, leadership communication, listening (and pseudolistening), long-term relationship management, employee advocacy and negative megaphoning. Many of these are not new to internal communication scholars and practitioners. However, the authors explain how they have to be adapted and re-considered through the lens of the pandemic.

For example, Liz Yeomans and Sarah Bowman stress that the antenarrative of uncertainty and speculation requires sense to be continuously “re-made” or re-framed as events unfold, reflecting a messy, non-linear, process view of reality. However, as Mats Heide and Charlotte Simonsson found in their study, managers tended to deal with ambiguity by providing more information rather than by initiating and facilitating conversations where they listen to coworkers.

Sabine Einwiller, Christopher Ruppel and Julia Stranzl argue that an informational communication strategy, which includes information about the effects of the crisis on the organisation and employees’ work situation is important during the acute phase of the crisis as it significantly fosters acceptance of managerial decisions. Sarah Ecklebe and Natascha Löffler highlight the importance of providing quality information at the start of a crisis, rather than involving employees in what is going on (which may be more important in subsequent stages).

Marlene Neill and Shannon Bowen highlight the ethical responsibilities that organisations have towards their employees in a crisis. They argue that listening is inherent in fulfilling the role of an ethical conscience, requiring listening, dignity and respect for employees. In addition, they note that listening can provide emotional support and help to identify the resources that employees need during challenging times.

Finally, Myoung-Gi Chon, Lisa Tam and Jeong-Nam Kim found that situational perceptions of the pandemic would exacerbate the effects of negative megaphoning and turnover intention in highly conflict-prone workplaces.

Of all the findings in the papers, one theme struck me most; love.

This featured in Sabine Einwiller, Christopher Ruppel and Julia Stranzl’s paper which identified three specific social resources; information (advice, opinions, instruction, enlightenment), status (an expression of evaluative judgment conveying regard or esteem), and love (an expression of affectionate regard, warmth, or comfort).

One of the conclusions that Rita and I draw from the research is the obvious point that employees are creatures of emotions, and their emotional reactions are more prevalent in turbulent times such as the pandemic.

This raises fundamental questions such as:

  • How can internal communication help employees cope with negative emotions such as anger, sadness and fear and harness the power of positive emotions in the workplace, such as companionate love, joy, pride and gratitude?
  • How can organisations and leaders communicate to nurture a positive emotional culture?
  • How can we communicate warmth, affectionate regard, care, support and reassurance?

Essentially, how do we add even more love into internal communication practice?

The full introduction the special edition is free to access here.

The papers in the special edition are:

Ecklebe, S. and Löffler, N. (2021), “A question of quality: perceptions of internal communication during the Covid-19 pandemic in Germany”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 214-232.

Einwiller, S., Ruppel, C. and Stranzl, J. (2021), “Achieving employee support during the COVID-19 pandemic – the role of relational and informational crisis communication in Austrian organizations”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 233-255.

Heide, M. and Simonsson, C. (2021), “What was that all about? On internal crisis communication and communicative coworkership during a pandemic”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 256-275.

Neill, M.S. and Bowen, S.A. (2021), “Ethical listening to employees during a pandemic: new approaches, barriers and lessons”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 276-297.

Chon, M.-G., Tam, L. and Kim, J.-N. (2021), “Effects of organizational conflict history and employees’ situational perceptions of COVID-19 on negative megaphoning and turnover intention”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 298-315.