Employee engagement has long been “the goal” in internal communications. We want to give our people the chance to ‘have their say’ to ‘contribute to the conversation’. We want to create dialogue, not a one-way information flow.
Then we got a pandemic, and the world and work has changed.
Once upon a time long ago (think 2019), our employees were all in an office, working from their desks, with face-to-face meetings, all staff events and posters on the walls. That is not how we work anymore. Most of us work in a hybrid environment with more Microsoft Teams and less chats in the kitchen. We have new ways of communicating and engaging within our teams and organisations. We had to pivot (so 2020) to adapt to our new normal.
I was talking to an in-house internal communications specialist who said this to me last week.
The ultimate goal has shifted beyond simply being engaged to creating a sense of belonging.
And it hit home. The role of internal communications has fundamentally changed with the pandemic.
It happened subtly over the past two years. What we do has changed. Where once the focus was on engaging employees, it is now bigger than that. We now need to create a culture where our people feel like they belong.
The role of internal communications professionals has finally been recognised with increased access to executives elevating the position to a trusted adviser. In this role, there is a higher expectation to not only communicate business critical changes to staff but also to help reinvent the culture of the workplace.
Over the past few years, we consistently saw people at work more than our friends or family. For months on end, our only consistency was our daily or weekly catch-ups with teammates. We all needed that place where we felt connected and belonging. That is now our teams and organisations.
This is a significant culture shift – from employer to family. Staff don’t want to work somewhere they feel no connection. A place where their values align with the work they do. They want to feel like they are contributing and are surrounded by people they want to spend time with.
In the period of the so-called “great resignation” and an employee’s labour market, if you don’t feel connected to your employer, you can look elsewhere for a place where you do feel a sense of belonging. An employer that aligns with your values or your lifestyle.
Internal communications now has a critical role in building this sense of belonging and developing a more inclusive workplace culture. We must move beyond two-way engagement to creating conversations with peers, moving from top-down cascade messages to an inclusive bottom up approach.