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Business in a crisis: When the going gets tough, keep in touch!

4 Mins

At the best of times, in any organisation, internal communication is very important. Add a recession, insecure employees and an uncertain future, as companies such as JJB Sports and FirstGroup are currently experiencing, and internal communication becomes paramount.

Many of us have experienced periods of economic downturn in the workplace. It’s a time when the office or factory becomes a hotbed of uncertainty and can leave staff feeling apprehensive about what’s to come. Employees need to know the short-term and long-term aims and objectives of an organisation to work to their best, so clarity and communication are a must.

In essence, employees are a company’s first and most powerful messengers – the vehicle through which messages to external audiences are relayed. So how can an organisation ensure that the message “on the grapevine” is ideally positive, or at least neutral and not negative?

An employer needs to give employees a clear picture of the future, share information as soon as it comes to hand and answer employees’ questions and concerns quickly and honestly. As we know, the recession is not usually about good news, but the messages communicated should provide the employees with a clear outlook of the future and help the organisation to:

  • Align its people and its purpose – with a common goal and unified aim, employees will not only have a clearer goal, they will feel like a team;
  • Get its employees where it wants them to go, faster and more efficiently – recession is not an excuse for employees to take their eye off development and training;
  • Shape their evolution and culture to support their goals; and
  • Build their capacity for change.

In any situation where people are liable to be concerned abut the impact of any issue on their personal future, their instinct is to want to know as much as possible on a continuing basis so they can take any action as an informed decision. Many businesses do not manage to meet this need.

Research from Weber Shandwick showed that 71 per cent of people felt that their company should be communicating more about current economic problems. It is also particularly important during times of change that employees and their management have open two-way communications. High-impact changes – such as mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, restructurings, downsizings, corporate rebranding, entering new markets or deregulation – frequently lead to employee anxiety, uncertainty, speculation, and even anger and resistance against change. 

An investment in effective internal communications is comparatively small for the value that will be reaped. It can have a positive impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain quality employees; important in times of economic downturn. 

Firms that communicate effectively are also four times as likely to report high levels of employee engagement as firms that communicate less effectively.

It seems natural – when staff are clear and comfortable about their future, they more readily commit their minds to focus on working for the business. That is reinforced by Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Communication ROI Study which showed that:

“Effective employee communication is a leading indicator of financial performance… a significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7 percent increase in market value.”

Effective employee communication during a recession can help to:

  • Maintain productivity;
  • Ensure the business remains profitable and competitive;
  • Make employees feel valued and help staff retention;
  • Protect your culture, and your internal and external brands;
  • Give clear aims and focus for the future.

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