Communication can’t fix every problem. Internal communicators need to be realistic about what we can achieve, and if communication isn’t a remedy for a problem or issue then we should back off.
As the cost-of-living crisis starts to intensify, I’m seeing more and more discourse amongst internal communicators about what ‘we’ should be doing to help employees manage and mitigate their squeezed budgets.
Now, before this bandwagon gathers pace, I think it’s worth taking a step back and kicking the tyres on this one.
Before we dive in and add yet another evangelical purpose to our to do list, we should first be asking ourselves a couple of really important questions.
Is this a problem for us to address, and if so, why should we bother at all?
Communication can’t solve every problem
Unfortunately, communication can’t fix everything. We need to be realistic about what we can achieve, and if communication isn’t a remedy for a problem or issue then we should back off.
Otherwise, our activities just look like communication for communications sake and we run the risk of making a bad situation worse for employees by offering tacit and meaningless platitudes, which they will quickly see through.
Meaningless communication devalues the internal communication brand.
So, the first thing to identify is what is the specific problem you are trying to solve by communicating about cost-of-living issues to employees?
How is the cost-of-living crisis impacting specifically on your employees in your organisation?
If you don’t know the answer to this, then you don’t properly understand the situation. And if you don’t understand the situation, how do you know if it’s a problem which can be addressed by communication, and if so, what sort of communication and messaging would help?
Maybe let others take the lead
There was an interesting finding buried in the latest Gallagher State of the Sector (2022) report. It might shock you to learn that internal communication doesn’t own, control or manage all communication channels and methods in organisations.
“Surprisingly, some of the platforms that are rated as most effective (enterprise chat tools, messaging platforms, employee portals) are not necessarily managed by internal communicators or used to cascade corporate messages.”Focus 4 – Digital Channels – Gallagher SOTS 2022, page 50.
Colleagues in Human Resources usually take the lead on financial matters relating to employees in organisations. They understand employee reward and benefits packages and the complexities that are inherent within them, including pay bargaining and benchmarking. They also control some employee facing communication and interaction channels, such as the employee portals mentioned by Gallagher.
Perhaps, this is one for the HR Team to communicate about? At the very least, if there is a reason to communicate about cost-of-living issues and mitigations to employees at all, internal communicators should be working with HR to work out what that communication looks like.
Unilaterally taking the lead, by ‘helpfully’ pointing employees at Employee Assistance Schemes and Benefit Providers in the spirit of raising awareness might feel like a slap in the face for some employees who are really struggling to make ends meet, and for whom these sorts of assistance schemes are no help at all.
Their response may be to demand a more meaningful inflationary pay rise, and you may end up being rather unpopular with your organisation’s leadership team and Finance Director for igniting industrial unrest. Were these the objectives you had in mind?
Again, if you don’t properly understand the situation and how employees are feeling about a particular issue, like salaries that no longer stretch as far as they did, find out or back off.
Identify an objective
You might think that raising awareness of the ‘help’ employers can provide to employees during the current financial maelstrom is reason enough to communicate about this.
It’s true that organisations have a duty of care for the people who work for them, and good employers recognise and foster the relationship they have with their most important stakeholder group, employees.
However, awareness on its own rarely achieves anything. Is there a deeper and more meaningful objective you should be setting for communicating about cost-of-living issues internally?
Consider how this might link to the organisation’s broader business objectives and values, and how you could measure the success of the communication in those contexts.
If you do this, you are likely to achieve a much better outcome for both the organisation and employees.