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2022: The year internal communication teams need to change

Internal communications is behind the curve when it comes to measuring its success. 2022 has to be the year this changes or internal comms will drift back into the shadows and become a periphery business function once more.

Data has been king for decades and rightfully so. It is data that keeps a business moving forward. Each business function measures its success and uses that data to inform future actions. Every business function that is except internal communications.

A study* found that 48% of UK organisations are sending employee communications without knowing how effective they are. Without knowing the effectiveness of your communications you do not know if your employees are reading what you send, you do not know the impact your internal comms have on the wider business and you do not know how to improve what you do.

Whilst I breath a sigh of relief that 52% have some measures in place I just can’t move past the fact that nearly half are trundling along obliviously.

Just imagine that in any other scenario. Half of sales teams unaware of their lead conversion rate and average order value. Half of HR departments not knowing their absenteeism and retention rates. It just wouldn’t happen. Or at least if it did happen, the responsible party for the lack of insight would swiftly be extracted!

For those internal communication teams that fail to measure their success, they are standing alone. Sticking out like a sore thumb amongst their peers. Holding a beacon up that says, ‘we aren’t quite sure what we are doing’.

That, in some part, can be put down to the age of internal communication and employee engagement. After all, it was only 20 years ago that the term ‘employee engagement’ started to be more commonly used in business. But whilst the term became familiar, a dedicated function did not. For many businesses, the communication and engagement of employees was a nice to have. It was something that every business wanted to achieve but it never quite reached the top of the priority list.

This was a story that rang true for many and is demonstrated perfectly by research by Dale Carnegie. A study carried out in 2019 found that while 85% of leaders said employee engagement is a priority, only a third of organisations actually made it one.

As a consequence, we continued to see the function of employee communication banded around between HR, Marketing and Communications departments. Never quite having a home and never having the time invested to give employee engagement the opportunity to make a significant difference.

Then we reached 2020. The year that employee communication flew to the top of priority lists. Suddenly, the value of internal communications and an engaged workforce rose to a scale that none of us envisaged. Internal communicators became a vital part in keeping the wheels of business life moving.

But the vast scale of what needed to be done meant that employee communications couldn’t really evolve as a business function; it just had to work faster! There were instances of organisations investing in tools and systems to aid communicators but there was no time to pause and consider what measures could be put in place to monitor success.

In fact, based on evidence from the survey, for many individuals they still had their other job to do whilst handling the heightened demand for their communication skills. The research, which was undertaken in 2021, found that on average, just 18% of people who hold responsibility for internal communications spent more than 50% of their working time on that function.

Internal communicators were on a hamster wheel that was just rolling faster and faster.

But while the pandemic didn’t provide the chance to evolve to any great degree it did give internal communicators recognition.

History had already shown us as that employee opinions and wellbeing mattered. We knew that a motivated workforce could achieve far greater business success than a disconnected workforce. But the pandemic really emphasised these points.

As 2022 unfolds we all hope that COVID will have less of a hold over us. When this happens, I ask business leaders to give employee communication teams the space and resource to harness data and take employee engagement to the next level. With this opportunity, employee engagement will contribute a vital role in the strategic direction of businesses.

But, while I hope this will happen, in my heart of hearts I know that for many leaders ‘business as usual’ will actually result in other priorities building momentum. The spotlight that once shone on employee engagement will begin to fade and the function that was once a primary sidekick of business leaders during the pandemic, will return to the periphery.

This is why, as the reactive element of internal communications begins to ease, leaders of these departments need to make a concerted effort to move employee engagement to the next stage of its evolution. They need to hold the attention of business leaders before it is too late.

2022 is the year of opportunity. Employee engagement has reached a pinnacle moment. It is akin to the journey we take as a young adults. As a baby we had no clue how to do anything. Our childhood days were spent understanding our world and establishing how to interact with others. Then the teenage years hit! We tackled feelings of underappreciation and we were ill-equipped to find the right direction in life. But then, different experiences influence us until we find clarity of what we want to achieve and the direction we want to follow.

Employee engagement has been on the same journey. It was born during a time in which business leaders dictated to employees. It then learnt that there were other ways of doing things and found the value of connected with people. There was a period of frustration and a lack of recognition but then the pandemic brought a new meaning to employee engagement. It gave a clear vision of what needed to be achieved and it is this vision and drive that needs to be harnessed today.

2022 is the year to embrace data. We need to measure success (and failings). With insight internal communicators will know what their employees want to read, they will know which teams are engaged and which aren’t, they will know how to improve employee engagement and they will be able to demonstrate how employee engagement drives business growth.

By collating this information now, before employee engagement goes back into the shadows, there will be a far more ears willing to listen. 2022 brings an opportunity to reposition employee engagement to be on an even keel with every other department in the business. Let’s grasp that opportunity with both hands.

*Study from VRAMP

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