Briefing: Internal communication, employee experience and engagement

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

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Internal communication has long been associated with employee engagement and more recently with employee experience. But how do these connections work?

Defining internal communication

Let’s start first with definitions of internal communication. Although there is no universally accepted definition, Welch and Jackson’s overview from 2007 is widely cited in academic research:

“The strategic management of interactions and relationships between stakeholders within organisations across a number of interrelated dimensions including, internal line manager communication, internal team peer communication, internal project peer communication and internal corporate communication”.

This was an important development at the time as it shifted the emphasis from information delivery to relationships. Internal corporate communication is what most practitioners spend their time on, with a focus on purpose, strategy, values, change, plans, progress and operational updates.

Since 2007 other definitions (including my own research) emphasise the twin fundamentals of informing and listening to employees. The addition of listening is important as communication without it can be seen as management propaganda which is disengaging.

Employee experience

Employee experience is a concept borrowed from consumer and IT domains. It is, in essence, the entire lived experience of an employee which can be affected positively or negatively by multiple factors, both personal and organisational. It includes a wide range of concepts such as culture plus technology and physical space, meaningful work, positive work environment, belonging, appreciation, community, understanding, and unity. It’s about the whole experience of being at work, rather than discrete events.

Empathy is at the heart of employee experience, which extends to support for all employees, inclusion, and psychological safety to speak out which permits questioning of expectations.

The diagram below takes some of the often-cited components for employee experience and segments these into local and corporate level experiences. Although this is not an exact split, it demonstrates how internal communication broadly maps into either a focus on line manager communication or senior leader communication.

Despite some challenges in defining employee experience and varying perspectives on it, there is a growing interest in how internal communication managers can be more involved in developing a positive employee experience. For example, in the 2021 Gallagher State of the Sector (SoS) report, 58 percent of respondents named “broader employee experience themes (recognition, compensation, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion)” as one of the skills that internal communication professionals should look at developing in order to continue their influence at organisations.

Employee engagement

Although the term employee engagement has been around for more than twenty-five years, it is still understood in many different ways. The key point is that employee engagement is multi-dimensional. As Canadian academic Andrew Saks explained in 2006, “Engagement is specific to the role that an employee is performing and most employees have at least two primary roles – their work role and their role as a member of their organisation”.

Saks differentiates job engagement with organisation engagement. Most studies of engagement (and a lot of engagement surveys) tend to focus on job engagement and include characteristics such as rewards and recognition, support, job variety, and work role fit. At this level, most of the relevant day-to-day communication is done by line managers and supervisors.

In contrast, organisation engagement refers to “Shared perceptions about the energy and involvement willingly focused by employees toward the achievement of organisational goals”.

Applying a more sophisticated understanding of employee engagement has consequences for internal communication. Communication for job engagement hinges on line managers and supervisors who can communicate effectively at an individual employee and team level. Internal corporate communication as it is mostly practiced today is therefore primarily linked to organisational engagement, which is highly beneficial in any organisation – both for the organisation and employees. In particular, strong associations have been found between senior manager communication (including listening) and organisation engagement (Ruck et al., 2017). And there is now a growing body of scholarly work that underpins the wider benefits of organisation engagement. For example, Saks (2019) reports positive associations between organisation engagement and the following:

  • Organisational commitment – the attitude that employees have toward their organisation
  • Organisational citizenship – behaviours that employees perform to improve effectiveness, including the tendency of employees to be co-operative and helpful
  • Job satisfaction

Saks also notes that “There is now strong evidence that engagement predicts task and extra-role performance as well as general health and well-being outcomes as well as stress, strain and burnout”.

As our understanding of internal communication evolves and matures from one-way transmission to incorporate listening and dialogue, this enables potential associations to become established with employee experience and engagement.

However, both experience and engagement are multi-dimensional concepts and, depending on your perspective, they can overlap and blur.

Most day-to-day, managed, internal communication operates at an organisation-wide level and so is more likely to support aspects of experience such as purpose, trust in leadership, support, connection, alignment, community and achievement. Including listening in internal communication links it to aspects of experience such as psychological safety, mindfulness and inclusion.

Internal communication is also, in itself, an important part of everyday lived employee experience. It operates at a line manager or supervisor level, a senior leader level, a corporate level and at a channel and technology level. Tone of voice, accessibility, accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of information together with compassion, empathy, openness and responsiveness all impact how employees experience their time in the workplace.


Gallagher, 2021. Gallagher State of the Sector. Available at:

Ruck, K., Welch, M., and Menara, B. 2017. Employee voice: An antecedent to organisational engagement? Public Relations Review, 43(5) pp. 904-914.

Saks, A.M. 2006. Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement, Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol. 21, pp. 600-619.

Saks, A.M. 2019. Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement revisited, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance. 6(1) pp. 19-38.

Welch, M., Jackson, P.R. 2007. Rethinking internal communication: a stakeholder approach. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 12(2), pp. 177–198.