Employee Communications Should Never be an Afterthought

I got a call from an old friend today, someone who is a member of a large corporate communications team inside an even larger corporation.  Like most businesses during this period of economic recovery, her company is watching expenditures and stretching budget dollars as far as possible.

Mind you, Company X wasn’t doing so well before the recession hit, and over the past three years “X Corp.” employees have done without salary increases and bonuses, cut back on “extras” such as training and professional development, and have bid farewell to thousands of their coworkers due to wide-spread layoffs.  These employees have been through the wringer, yet they continue to bring their best to their job every day.

That’s why, for my friend and many of her Corp Comms teammates, the poorly worded (or to use a term coined by our President, “inartful”) memo announcing changes to the list of approved travel expenditures hit such a nerve. 

In essence, the memo stated that an audit of expense reports revealed that employees were requesting reimbursement for an afternoon coffee, soda  or bottle of water, fruit and/snacks, and food to take on the plane — expenditures that were pushing the boundaries of the travel policy.

Included in the memo was the assertion that the department head had never expensed such items himself (perhaps because he had access to them in the executive offices or on the company plane?), and offered his opinion that while a coffee and muffin when consumed in the morning are considered breakfast, at other times of the day they are considered a “pick-me-up” and a part of a “lifestyle” rather than a meal.  The staff was reminded that the travel policy reimbursed only for meals, not lifestyle purchases.

To add insult to injury, the memo was drafted by a staff admin on behalf of the head of corporate communications.

Do I have an issue with a company restating its reimbursement policy?  Not at all.  Such reminders are just good business, and when worded correctly, can serve as a unifying message to the entire team.

My issue is that, instead of reaching out to a professional on his own team for assistance,  this seasoned PR executive tapped an admin assistant who has little or no understanding of the basic principles of communicating change in an environment of uncertainty.  Or any sensitivity to the challenges of business travel, where 12-hour days are the norm and in-flight meals are practically non-existent.

But I don’t blame the writer.  I blame the senior communications executive who felt it was appropriate to have his admin deliver this information – to his staff of communications professionals.

I’m mystified by the Communications team leader’s total disregard of employee communications as an executive responsibility, let alone the responsibility of the highest-ranking communicator in the company.  In light of this event, I have to wonder whether there is anyone at Company X who respects their hard-working employees and treats them as valued professionals.

In times of change and challenge, executives need to approach employee communications with the same level of care and professionalism as they do customer communications and media relations.  Instead of bleating about your employees as your “most valuable asset,” executives must start treating employees, and their communications to employees, as vital to their company’s success.


About Susan Rink

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC (www.rinkcomms.com) and a partner in Triple Play Consulting.
This entry was posted in Communicating Change, Employee Communications - General, Employee Engagement and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Employee Communications Should Never be an Afterthought

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Employee Communications Should Never be an Afterthought « Take Note: Employee Communications Strategies That Work -- Topsy.com

  2. PaulaC says:

    What a shame – a good way to increase dissatisfaction and make employees feel undervalued!

    Culture and employee communications go hand in hand, I think. This memo probably reflects the current company culture (how it values it’s employees). And if it doesn’t, it will certainly have an impact on it…

    • Susan Rink says:

      Thanks for your comment, Paula. I don’t have visibility into the company culture, so I can’t say whether or not this memo reflects a universal mindset. It’s just disappointing when the very people who run communications — the people who are tasked with making sure their own internal clients understand the importance of context — get it so wrong.

  3. commscrum says:

    From “bleating” to “treating”–what a novel transformative turn of phrase.

    Seriously, from a pure communication perspective, what this reminds us of is that (in my book) the two most important things are tone and context. It’s one thing to cut back on semi-essential travel expenditures. It’s another thing to cheap out on them, and insinuate that staff members edged on felony in borderline cases. And it’s a third thing for a comms person to have fingerprints on an atrocity like this.

    Not unusual in my experience of US organizations, but unpleasant–and well spotted.

    Mike Klein–The Intersection, Brussels

    • Susan Rink says:

      Hi, Mike! Nice to hear from you; hope all is well in Brussels.

      You are spot on about the importance of tone and context. Companies are well within their rights to redefine policies and tighten up discretionary spending when revenues are down. However, to use one of those dreaded relationship phrases: “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!” If this is how the professional communicators addressed the change, just imagine for a moment how the head of IT or accounting announced the change!


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