Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Beyond Employee Publications: Making the Personal Connection

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Beyond Employee Publications: Making the Personal Connection

Article excerpt

Beyond Employee Publications

Employee publications have been an essential communications tool since at least the late 800s, when Dayton, Ohio-based NCR introduced The NCR Factory News.

Today, more employee newsletters, magazines and reports exist than ever before--guesstimates put the number at about 25,000 in the United States and Canada, according to IABC Communications Director Clifford D. McGoon. He and others cite many good reasons for this boom: consistency of message, ability to reach all employees simultaneously, ability to clearly and thoroughly convey complex messages, relative ease of distribution and cost efficiency.

However, a growing body of evidence suggests that internal publications may have become somewhat too relied upon. The data indicates that many organizations are still underutilizing other, more personal communications methods--methods which, paradoxically, both employees and top management agree are essential, and more effective than publications alone.

Why the seeming gap between this shared perception of the importance of personal communications methods and their actual implementation? How have some organizations made the personal connection?

Defining the need

A host of changes in the makeup of the work force itself are major contributors to the need for more personal forms of communication. U.S. Labor Department statistics tell us that nearly half of the work force is under 35 years of age. Countless studies in the past decade have confirmed that those who were born after the family television set become a household fixture are more attuned to receiving information electronically or in face-to-face discussions. The printed word, for these generations, has become a secondary tool.

Few if any employers are unaware of the growing problem of illiteracy in this country. For sectors that are particularly hardhit by this problem, internal publications are obviously of limited value.

Yet, today's American employees are for the most part well-educated and seek involvement in the workplace. They need and want more information from their companies and organizations. They have far less "automatic" loyalty to a company and, according to the National Opinion Research Center, have a work ethic more driven by desire for personal success than by a strong desire to help their companies succeed.

Their hierarchy of needs in relation to their employing organization starts, according to Roger D'Aprix, practice leader at Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, with the questions: "What am I expected to do on this job?" and "Am I performing appropriately?" quickly followed by, "Does anyone care about me in the organization?" These, he writes in "Experts in Action," edited by Bill Cantor, are followed by the "we" questions: "What are we up to, and how are we doing?" "What is our charter and how does that charter match up to other functions?" Only if all of these primary questions have been answered satisfactorily will the employee ask: "How can I help?"

But changes in the demographic and attitudinal makeup of the work force itself are only half of the picture. The dramatic forces that have been affecting businesses and organizations in recent years--intense, global competition, restructing and mergers and acquisitions, deregulation, the switch to a service economy--continue to have a huge impact on employees and employee relations.

On one hand, as D'Aprix points out, employees' status has risen tremendously, as employers have recognized the costs involved in retraining for service positions and have begun to see labor shortages resulting from the "baby bust." On the other hand, employees in some ways have more reason than ever to feel insecure and to demand answers about the futures of their specific companies, the fields in which those companies operate and what this will mean for their personal employment and growth. …

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