Unpacking 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.

Our understanding of the linkages between internal communication and employee engagement is becoming more sophisticated. But employee engagement is often used to mean many different things.

Let’s look at contemporary definitions and explore how internal communication is fundamental to a range of ways that employees are engaged at work.

Before getting into the details, it is worth noting that some colleagues prefer not to talk about internal communication and employee engagement in the same sentence. They believe that engagement is a distraction and internal communication should only ever be directed at organisational performance outcomes. But this misses the point. Engagement in itself is an enabler of better performance, wellbeing, and higher productivity.

It is important to be clear about what we mean by internal communication. Although there is no widely accepted definition most practitioners would, I believe, broadly explain what they do as providing employees with the information they want and need and, at the same time, giving them opportunities to have a say about what goes on. There is, of course, much more to the role than this, but in essence this is what is represented in the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC)’s latest Profession Map (shown above).

If we accept this broad definition, then how does it lead to higher levels of engagement? To explore this, we need to unpack what we mean by employee engagement.

The key point is that employee engagement is multi-dimensional. As Canadian academic, Andrew Saks (2006) explains, “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”.

In recognition of this, 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 is “The extent to which individuals fully invest themselves in the performance of tasks and activities that are specific to their role as a member of their organization” (Saks, Gruman and Zhang, 2021) (italics added). It can be measured using questions such as “Being a member of this organisation makes me come alive” and “I am proud to work for my organisation”.

An “Organizational engagement climate”, refers to “Shared perceptions about the energy and involvement willingly focused by employees toward the achievement of organisational goals”.

It is apparent from these definitions that an internal communication function’s work is much more likely to be linked to organisational engagement than job engagement, as content is often based around organisation-wide themes, such as purpose and values.

In my PhD research in 2016 I reported strong associations between senior manager communication (including listening) and organisation engagement.

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”.

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 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.


Kevin explores linkages between internal communication and employee engagement in more depth in Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge and in the Internal Communication Diploma delivered by PR Academy.


Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC). ND. The IoIC Profession Map: A framework for internal communication professionals. Available at: https://www.ioic.org.uk/learn-develop/the-profession-map.html

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.

Saks, A.M., Gruman, J.A., Zhang, Q. 2021. Organization engagement: a review and comparison to job engagement, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance. 9(1) pp. 20-49.