Review: Internal Communication and Employee 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.

Internal Communication and Employee Engagement: A Case Study Approach
Edited by Nance McCown, Linjuan Rita Men, Hua Jiang and Hongmei Shen
Routledge, 2023, 392 pages

Good internal communication case studies are often hard to find. So, this book, packed with 21 detailed cases, is a very welcome addition to the growing body of knowledge that is informed by an academic approach to practice.

You can learn a lot from reading about how other people have tackled internal communication challenges. With one very important caveat. What worked in one organisation may not always be appropriate for another organisation. One of the strengths of this publication is that each case is accompanied with analysis of theory and models that are then applied to practice.

The book is categorised into nine sections which cover a wide range of aspects, including leadership, change, internal issues and crises, activism, technologies, social responsibility, DE&I, and remote/hybrid working.

The cases cover the following broad range of sectors: non-profit, government, army, fire and rescue, healthcare, education, hospitality, retail, spirits, automotives, video games, insurance, banking, cyber security, internet providers, and news broadcasting.

Readers can either dip in to a chapter that might be relevant to their own sector, or take a topic, such as leadership communication, and then read the chapters associated with that.

Although this book is all about the cases, it also represents a burgeoning field of internal communication research. Numerous concepts are discussed. Too many to list here. But there is a mix of well-established theories (such as change, trust, transparency, listening, sense making, sense giving, and engagement) with some fresher perspectives, such as employee activism.

I particularly liked the discussion of voice and ventriloquism in Vibeke Thøis Madsen’s chapter on Internal Social Media and Employee Engagement in a Danish Bank. As Madsen explains, “Ventriloquism is especially present in conversations that develop into discussions about identity. Here employees consciously use slogans and phrases from the bank to build their arguments”.

I was also intrigued by Keonyoung Park’s discussion of Organization-Based Self Esteem (OBSE) in her chapter on building employee-company relationships through corporate engagement in the fight against Asian hate. As Park highlights, OBSE “Refers to the self-perception of employees’ competence and self-worth in relation to other organizational members. Unlike general self-esteem, self-evaluations are taken into account specifically in a workplace context”. The key point here is that “Employees’ OBSE is likely to rise when they have organizational pride and a positive self-image that is fostered by organizational membership”.

Although this book is all about the cases, it also represents a burgeoning field of internal communication research.

Back to the cases. It is always difficult to pick out specific chapters in an edited book such as this. I enjoyed every single chapter. However, two chapters resonated strongly.

Firstly, Krishna, Kotcher and Wright’s chapter on Netflix’s Dave Chappelle woes focuses on the importance of listening to employees (a topic that I have a strong interest in). The case study starts with the context for employee activism. In this example, it was the way that Netflix handled complaints about comedian Dave Chappelle’s jokes about transgender people. This culminated in employee protests and walkouts. The authors conducted research to understand public relations practitioners’ experiences related to employee activism in their organisation. What they found was that listening to employees was one of the most important activities that is related to employee activism. Support for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) was cited – especially when formed from a bottom-up perspective.

Secondly, Mazzei, Quaratino, Butera, and Conti’s chapter on rethinking the way of working, which investigates the pillars for a hybrid workplace that support sustainable engagement. It is based on three mini-case studies in Italy; the Campari Group (spirits), Sella Group (banking), and Unipol Group (insurance). In each case, the following three pillars are reviewed:

  • Competencies, leadership style, and organisational culture
  • Physical spaces and working time
  • Technology and communication processes

One key point to emerge is that “The new configuration of office spaces should be aimed at creating an environment for collaboration, brainstorming, and meeting, not at accomplishing individual tasks”.

Finally, 17 years after the Journal of Managerial Psychology published “Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement” by Andrew Saks and 14 years after MacLeod and Clarke’s “Engaging for Success” report hit the streets, it is encouraging to see that the associations between internal communication and employee engagement continue to grow and diversify.

This book is a testament to solid academic and practical underpinnings for good communication practice that is beneficial to employees and organisations.

Disclaimer: A case study based on my research in a UK Fire and Rescue Service is included in the book.

The book is available from Routledge here priced at £26.39 for the paperback version. It is also available to all PR Academy students as an e-book on our Study Hub library.


MacLeod, D. and Clarke, N. (2009), “Engaging for Success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement”, A Report to Government, UK.

Saks, A.M. (2006), “Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement”, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 21 No. 7, pp. 600-619.