Valentine’s Day 2019: Why we love solving employee challenges

Tomorrow millions of people across the world will open heart-adorned cards and exchange sweet nothings across candlelit dinner tables in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Hanging pink shiney love heart decoration among other smaller hanging love heart decorations

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Whether you’re celebrating with your special someone or engaging in some self-love practices, it’s hard to deny the good feeling that comes from being in love. Whether that’s with another human, your pet, your ‘rare’ keyring collection (just me then!) or your career.

My love for studying human behaviour in the workplace led me to internal communications (IC). But this isn’t solely IC’s domain. Like it or not, we’re part of a wider community of professionals who, like us, love solving employee-related challenges.

To celebrate the Day of Love, I spoke to three fellow People-focused professionals – working in IC in the US, work psychology and HR – to learn more about what they do and why they love it so.

Dania Frink, Internal Communications Manager based in the United States

Meet Nikita Mikhailov, Psychometrician

Meet Natalie Ellis, HR Consultant


Dania Frink – Internal Communications Manager, Adecco Staffing, US (a subsidiary of The Adecco Group)

Dania Frink Internal Communications Manager, Adecco Staffing U.S.

Dania Frink (IC in United States)

Tell me about your current role

I’m primarily responsible for informing and empowering our almost-1,700 employees. This can include anything from advising senior leaders on their internal and external communication strategies, to designing professional development resources to partnering with HR on our talent acquisition strategy. The list is truly endless!

What do you love most about your role? 

I get to touch every aspect of our business – from executive leadership to field sales and everything in between. This gives me a comprehensive view of the business and means I’m learning new things every day. Being a natural storyteller, I love the fact that I get to tell Adecco Staffing’s story and amplify the diverse voices of our employees. I also like the unpredictability of my role.  No two days are the same which keeps things exciting!

What fascinates you about humans in the workplace?

The notion of work/life balance really interests me. Although I understand why people choose to separate their work persona from their ‘true self’, I’m a strong believer that our personal motivations and passions outside of work can enhance what we do on the job.

Take the accountant who uses the communication skills gained from writing science fiction in her spare time to come up with a clever solution to communicate a complex budget formula to her team. Or the executive assistant who through his work as a youth basketball coach is able to resolve conflict in the office and on the court.

Multidimensional employees who feel able to bring their whole selves to work are an invaluable asset to the business and are a key component of an authentic and positive company culture.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted a job in your field?

  1. Listen more than you speak
  2. Write often, even if it’s short journal entries

By practicing these two tasks in tandem, you’ll learn how to synthesise important information and communicate it clearly and concisely to your audience.

  1. Be flexible.

Technology is constantly evolving the way that people communicate. Mastery in this profession is possible, but you must commit to being a lifelong learner.

Self-portrait by Dania Frink using watercolours

Self-portrait by Dania Frink using watercolours

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

I’m a visual artist [Dania studied Animation & Studio Arts at university] so enjoy making things. Painting, drawing, graphic design, animation – I love it all and wish I had more time for these things. I also like spending time with my loved ones, travelling, learning more about the African Diaspora, listening to live music and cooking.

Connect with Dania:


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Nikita Mikhailov – Psychometrician and Explorer of the Human Condition

Nikita Mikhailov

Nikita Mikhailov (Work Psychology)

Tell me about your current role

I apply psychometrics* in an occupational setting with a special focus on Personality Dynamics. I work with individuals and teams across various industries, including the financial sector, charities and start-ups.

*Psychometrics is “the branch of psychology focusing on the design, administration and interpretation of qualitative tests for measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude and personality tests.” (

What do you love most about your role? 

I love how through my knowledge of psychology, I’m able to identify areas of leverage that my clients can use to help overcome their challenges. I also love the variety that comes from working with people – everyone is different and sees things in a unique way. Hence, a little bit of psychological insight can be very valuable. It can help organisations select better talent and help individuals better understand themselves and better navigate their world.

What fascinates you about humans in the workplace? 

It’s ‘human’ which means everyone has their own take on reality. Leadership, stress, the workplace – we think these are objective concepts experienced in the same way but they’re very subjective. Once we bring people’s subjective realities to the fore, we can have better conversations about where we are currently and where we want to get to in say 6 or 12 months’ time. This is particularly true when thinking about company culture.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted a job in your field?

Organisational psychology is very broad – it covers anything from employee engagement to recruitment. Identify and explore key areas that interest you. Be as specific as you like. For example, you may be interested in the stress levels of ambulance drivers, or you may want to know more about employee engagement levels among professional services employees. Just take your time to explore.

Once you know your areas of interest, use relevant keywords to find people already doing what you find interesting and reach out to them on LinkedIn. You’ll most likely strike up a bond based on this shared interest – which is much better than sending them a cover letter or CV.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I don’t see what I do as work. I’ve always followed my interests and whatever I find intrinsically meaningful. Getting paid simply allows me to do this.

Connect with Nikita:


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Natalie Ellis – HR Consultant, AHR Consultants

Natalie Ellis HR Consultant

Natalie Ellis (HR)

Tell me about your current role

It’s different every day. I can be advising on anything related to employment relations one day and then giving our clients strategic support the next.  It all depends on what the client needs. I’ve no idea what I’m walking in to when I arrive at the office – and I love that!

What do you love most about your role?

I love the variety of my role. I’m really lucky that I can advise clients in different industries and environments, so there’s never a dull moment.

What fascinates you about humans in the workplace?

When you’re involved in working with and managing people, it presents many challenges and that’s what fascinates me and keeps me interested in my career. Most HR professionals would probably agree with that. It’s great to figure out solutions to complex challenges which help employees and their employers.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted a job in your field?

Make sure you’re certain that a career in HR is what you want. It takes a lot of hard work, focus and commitment to succeed in the field. Also, HR isn’t all cozy chats and cups of tea (sadly!). We face some incredibly difficult situations at times so you need to be resilient and remember to not take things too personally!

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I blog, blog and blog some more! I also love to help inspire others to build a career in HR – I’m speaking at a few events this year to do just that. I’d like to speak at more conferences in the near future and, of course, continue to spread more HR acts of kindness!

Connect with Natalie:

Her Twitter: @natalieellishr

Her blog:


Thank you DaniaNikita, Natalie and for sharing your career love stories with me.

If your work focuses on People, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Wishing you a lovetastic Valentine’s Day – whatever you do!

5 easy-peasy ways to make your intranet irresistible to employees

Happy New Year!

I hope, like me, you’re still filled with Christmas cheer and excited about what 2019 has in store.

This year, I’ve decided to continue focusing on my 2018 goals – one of which was to incorporate more academic insights in my internal communications (IC) practice and this blog.

I made some great progress with this goal last year, including presenting academic insights into factors influencing intranet usage to digital communication practitioners at an event run by Advatera, an international business networking company.

Cover slide for my presentation on using academic insights to improve your intranet

If your 2019 goals include launching or relaunching your intranet, here’s 5 practical tips from my presentation to help you build that all-important business case.

1) Secure senior management buy-in and ongoing support

Despite recent reports of declining trust in business leaders among employees, it’s difficult to deny the power and influence of those at the top. The behaviours of senior leaders signal to employees what is (and is not) acceptable within an organisation and are a key component of the company culture. If your intranet is to be a success, your leaders not only have to see it as an important communication tool, they have to allocate sufficient resources to help maintain it and consistently promote and use it.


A study involving nearly 400 employees at four Malaysian companies showed that high levels of senior leadership support were related to intranet use (Masrek et al, 2008).

A study examining intranet usage in the UK building surveying sector found that firms with the highest level of intranet usage had high levels of perceived senior management support, in the form of funding and promotion of staff training (Wilkinson et al, 2002).

2) Invest in a collaborative and integrated platform

As IC practitioners, we’re often responsible for facilitating collaboration between colleagues from across the business. We’re also privy to employees’ complaints about having to navigate several siloed digital tools to complete simple tasks, either by themselves or in their teams. Humans are hardwired to choosing the least effortful option when making a decision – the ‘path of least resistance’ – so make choosing your intranet a no-brainer for employees by ensuring it’s easy to connect and collaborate with colleagues and move between existing web applications.


In an international benchmarking study involving 6,000 employees across 22 companies, an intranet’s collaboration quality – the extent to which it enables user collaboration – was the only factor to influence intranet use and user satisfaction (Urbach et al, 2010)

The extent to which an intranet provides easy access to existing information systems was found to be a stronger predictor of intranet quality and usage than other technological features like integrated search and notification alerts in a study exploring intranet usage in 168 organisations (de Carvalho et al, 2008).

4) Regularly collect user feedback 

The saying “feedback is the breakfast of champions” – often attributed to leadership expert Ken Blanchard – is as true for IC as it is for business management. Evaluating how messages and communication outputs are received by employees is a key part of effective IC. Through continuous monitoring, we can make the necessary tweaks to our communication channels and content to ensure future success.


A study involving intranet users at a New Zealand university found that the perceived usefulness of the intranet positively influenced users’ intentions to use the intranet, which is a strong predictor of actual intranet use (Neill & Richards, 2011).

In Urbach’s (2010) study, user satisfaction predicted intranet usage and individual performance.

5) Seek out your digital natives and tech enthusiasts

The rise of digital technology is a phenomenon that continues to divide public opinion. For some people, it’s a nightmare realised; for others, it’s a necessary and welcomed evolution. For those under 25, it’s just life. Employees in the last two groups are key to generating enthusiasm about your intranet, so it’s worth taking the time to find them and get them involved where possible.


Employees who are experienced Web users are more likely to use the intranet, according to a survey of 3,000 intranet users in Korea. Web experience was also linked to the intranet’s perceived ease of use (Lee & Kim, 2009).

In Masrek et al’s (2008) study, employees who were confident in their ability to use the intranet to reach their goals and were willing to embrace new IT were more likely to be frequent intranet users.


Now it’s time for you to make your 2019 intranet goals a reality!

Let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below or contacting me using this short form. I’m also happy to share my presentation and copies of the studies listed below.

Find out more about Advatera

5 easy ways we can become more inclusive internal communicators

inclusionDiversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of the hottest topics in business at the moment, thanks in part to recent high-profile initiatives such as gender pay gap reporting, #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement.

And with increased diversity in the workplace being linked to enhanced financial performance, team problem-solving power and employee engagement, it’s no wonder companies are keen to create environments where employees’ differences are respected and celebrated.

For many of us internal communicators, this shift has led to us doing more D&I comms. But does internal communications, as an industry, have a diversity problem?

The Diversity & Inclusion problem

A lack of D&I research focusing specifically on IC means we must look to PR for insight. According to the PRCA’s 2016 PR Census, men hold 64% of Board-level positions but women outnumber men 3:1 in more junior roles. Things look even worse when you consider other key D&I categories. A recent CIPR report suggests the UK PR industry is overwhelmingly white (93% on average), heterosexual (85%) and without any disabilities (93% without any physical disabilities/conditions; 80% without any mental-health conditions).

IC may not have any D&I data, but the importance of an inclusive mindset in IC is clear. We play a vital role in helping to create and convey company culture through internal messaging and activities. We listen to and elevate the voices of employees and help them understand how what they do contributes to their company’s strategy and future. To do this well, we need to reflect, or, at the very least, understand our employees.

Here are 5 ways we can become more inclusive internal communicators:

1. Listen to employees

Sounds simple enough, but when battling a #busybusyverybusy in-house role, employee research is often the first task to get dropped from the to-do-list. Try not to let it. After all, employees are often our key audience. If we don’t know who they are or understand their communication needs and preferences, how can we produce IC outputs that drive behavioural and emotional change?

The benefits far outweigh any time and financial costs, and with so many employee feedback channels now available – engagement surveys, focus groups, IC audits or champion networks – there’s really no excuse. Informal chats with colleagues before or after meetings, or in the kitchen area, can also provide invaluable insights if you’re low on budget or time.

2. Confront our biases

Tackling cognitive biases, especially unconscious biases, in the workplace is becoming a top business priority, and for good reason. A 2017 US study found that employees who feel negatively judged by their managers are more likely to withhold their ideas and solutions, talk negatively about their employers on social media, and quit their jobs within a year.

It’s important that we’re aware of and challenge our biases if we’re to be effective corporate storytellers, internal connectors and strategic advisors. One way to do this is to take our time when making key decisions – from the employees we choose to feature in our stories to the people we recruit into our teams – and ensure our choices are based on sound evidence and reasoning. I find it helpful to note my rationale for significant decisions when I write and update communication plans, in case I’m asked to explain my choices in the future.

There’s a wealth of learning resources available online, including some inspiring TED talks. You could also commit to spending time with colleagues you wouldn’t usually interact with (think Coffee Roulette). Not only will it help you gain a better understanding of different types of people in your organisation; you’ll also be expanding your internal network.

3. Don’t be afraid to challenge our stakeholders

I’ve heard a few internal comms pros refer to IC as the ‘corporate conscience’, and I couldn’t agree more. IC has evolved from exclusively serving as the managerial mouthpiece to a valuable strategic function capable of driving positive business outcomes. With this elevated position comes great responsibility, including challenging managers on behaviour, policies and practices which could alienate employees.

This can be a tough and thankless task, especially when you have to balance the needs and values of your employers with that of employees, including yourself. It’s the ultimate ethical dilemma but one that can be resolved, in part, through developing positive relationships with people in all layers of the business and having the confidence and mandate to challenge stakeholders when necessary.

4. Follow the news and public debate

We often hear the phrase “what’s internal is external” but the opposite is also true. Internal communication does not take place in a vacuum – political, economic, social, technological and legal factors external to an organisation can influence if and how employees process and respond to communication within it.

Take the #MeToo movement. The revelation of widespread sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood last October – and the resulting public outrage – forced many organisations to review their internal culture and reiterate their approach to sexual discrimination and gender equality. It’s likely that news stories such as these will be front-of-mind for many employees, so it’s worth keeping an eye on news and public opinion on popular topics (particularly around D&I issues) to prevent your internal communications from seeming out-of-touch.

5. Aim to represent and inspire

IC’s influence on D&I strategy is partly limited by the fact that it sits outside the function. One way we can really have impact is by ensuring our content and activities represent the majority and the minority groups within the employee base (however this is defined). It’s worth reviewing your teams’ outputs through a D&I lens when measuring the message or campaign impact. If you spot an unintentional trend (eg. senior leaders being over-represented in an around-the-company opinion article), challenge yourself or your team to include different people next time.

This won’t always be possible – sometimes content relates to specific people, or it may seem disingenuous to feature someone from a particular (often under-represented) social group. However, being open-minded about whose voices you elevate through your outputs can, at best, help employees to better identify with and feel supported by the organisation or, at worst, reflect D&I issues back to senior leaders spurring them into action.

Read more: 7 essential internal comms best practices every internal communicator needs to know

Recognising and catering for a diverse workforce is no easy feat, especially for internal communicators. Workplace D&I is a moral maze – no one has all the answers and we’ll all make mistakes along the way. The key is to keep talking, challenge your own thinking and be brave. And remember that despite our differences, we all want to be treated with kindness and respect.

This blog post was first published on H & H Agency’s website (5 September 2018) –


Black History Month 2018 – My Black Sheroes

October is my favourite month. Not only does my birthday fall within its 31 days (yay me!), it’s also Black History Month in the UK.

For those who don’t know, Black History Month (BHM) is an annual celebration of the experiences and contributions of Black African and Caribbean people in the UK.

As a Black Briton of Caribbean descent, BHM is a sacred time for me. My people’s history isn’t part of the UK school curriculum nor is it typically depicted on TV or in the cinema.* Considering the increasing hostility towards minority groups in the UK and US, reversing the erasure of African-Caribbean history and present-day contributions from UK discourse is more important than ever.

So, to mark this year’s BHM, I’m giving a shout-out to four of my Black Sheroes – Black British and African American women who I admire and who give me hope that great things are possible if you believe in you.

1) My mum

**WARNING: if you don’t like family-based gushing, skip to the next Sheroe now**

Smiling mixed race mother with child crouched down in street

This is clearly a stock photo – my mum hates the limelight!

Why I love her: As a first-generation immigrant in the UK, my mum had the almost impossible task of navigating two opposing worlds: her traditional Jamaican home and the often hostile and alien British society. Despite these obstacles, she’s achieved so much – from raising two high-achieving daughters single-handedly to changing careers twice to performing her first dance show well into her 50s. I’ve learnt so much from her: how to be resilient and brave; the power of forgiveness; the importance of living a life filled with laughter, love and fun. Lessons to live by!

She says: “If you know better, do better.”

2) Diane Abbott MP

Portrait of Diane Abbott MP

Why I love her: Whether you love or hate her policies, you can’t deny that Diane Abbott MP is a political trailblazer. Not only did she go to Cambridge at a time when few like her were admitted (what’s new?), she was the first Black woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the UK in 1987.

Despite facing a torrent of racist and sexist abuse throughout her 30+ years in Westminster, Diane has carved out an impressive political career while serving her Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituents and the Black British community well.

As a recipient of the London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Awards – which Diane set up to recognise and improve academic achievement in Black students – I’ve seen how much she cares about inspiring and celebrating young Black people. And for that, she’ll always have a special place in my heart.

She says: “In the novels I read, people tended to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Nobody told me that working class or black children didn’t go. So I thought, why not me? Going to Cambridge gave me the sense that obstacles were there to be overcome.”

3) Serena Williams

Serena Williams playing tennis

Why I love her: Anyone who knows me, knows my love for Ms Serena Jameka Williams runs deep. She’s got it all – strength, grace, power, beauty and a career record that most can only dream of. To date, she’s won 97 career titles, including 39 Grand Slam titles, and is a four-time Olympic gold medallist. Yes, you read correctly.

I’m particularly inspired by Serena’s discipline and drive; her willingness to show her emotional side and her commitment to speaking out against injustice both on and off the courts. She has broken through several glass ceilings in the very white world of tennis, and in doing so has made the game more accessible to younger players (especially Black and Brown ones) and spectators. And that’s why she’s the GREATEST ATHLETE OF ALL TIME (aka GOAT). Period.

She says: “I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how he teaches us.”

4) Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes smiling while sat on chair on stage

Why I love her: Last, but by no means list is the creative badass that is Shonda Rhimes. When it comes to storytelling, she’s one the best, as evidenced by her runaway success as showrunner for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and as an executive producer on How to Get Away with Murder. Through these shows, Shonda has gifted us with multi-dimensional characters who not only reflect the diversity found in real life but are defined by their personalities rather than their visible ‘otherness’.

Reading Shonda’s memoir, The Year of Yes, and listening to her Dartmouth Commencement Speech were two life-changing moments for me. Here was a highly influential Hollywood executive inviting you to laugh with her as she recalls memories of her geekier younger self and encouraging you to live your best life. And after having recently revealed that she’s the highestpaid showrunner on earth after years of dominating the coveted Thursday primetime TV slot in the US, Shonda is doing just that.

She says: “Cynicism is a choice. Optimism is a better choice.”

Which Black women would make your Shero list?

Leave a comment below or Tweet me @annique_simpson

For more info on the UK’s Black History Month, visit

*The two exceptions to this ‘rule’ are the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Civil Rights Era in the US which have been covered extensively in the arts but make up only a small fraction (less than 500 years) of African and Caribbean history.

The Big Yak 2018: what I learned connecting with other internal communicators

Like Charlie Bucket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was one of 160 internal communication (IC) professionals lucky enough to bag a ticket to this year’s .

Run by comms veterans Rachel Miller, Jenni Field and Dana Leeson, the unconference brings together IC pros from different orgs, sectors and geographies to share best practices, views on the profession and, occasionally, war tales.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my first Big Yak in 2016, I had high hopes for this year’s edition – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s my key takeaways from the breakout sessions I attended:

IC crowd intro

“There’s over 1,000 years of communications experience in the room today. Make the most of it.” – opening speech by Benjamin Ellis, tech expert and Big Yak advocate.

IC measurement

“Be kind to yourself – we can only pull some of the levers for action and change. The rest is up to employees.”

(Tip: some people suggested the AMEC Framework as a good way to help track how well you’re pulling said levers)

Getting ahead in your IC career

“Your career is distinct from your role or the company you work for. Don’t let your frustrations with the latter drain your passion for the former.”

Here’s some of my go-to resources for my IC questions and professional development:

How to cultivate champions

Comms champions: “It’s not just about the evangelists – you can learn from the naysayers, too.”

Employee advocates: “Let employees know they can share corporate news as they see fit, and trust they’ll do good.”

Working smarter in IC

“It’s about being more corporate connector and less corporate news hound.”

Managing an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) community

“Don’t be thirsty (for users) and ignore the haters.”

IC and diversity

“We’re all learning and that’s OK.”

“IC may not own D&I but it is responsible for creating inclusive comms strategies and content.”

“How can orgs balance between the drive to create a ‘one-company’ culture and encouraging employees to ‘bring their whole selves to work’.”

I suggested this session (hence the multiple quotes), as I wanted to stimulate discussion on:

  • diversity in the IC profession and how this affects our IC approach and content
  • how different organisations are communicating their D&I strategy internally

It was an insightful session with honest debate which I’d love to continue online (and in person). What do you think about diversity in internal communications? I’d love to hear your views.

Big thanks to The IC Crowd (Rachel, Jenni and Dana) for organising such an inspiring and engaging event. The IC community are a great bunch and I had a blast catching up with old friends and making new ones. A special thanks go to the authors of the tweets I’ve borrowed – re-purposing is a truly a comms bods best friend!

Until next time!

For more information about the event and to catch up on all the Big Yak goss:





What Yoga Taught Me About Breathing, Sex and Everything Else

First published on Black Ballad (paywall) on 2 May 2018.

Image result for woman yoga

“Join our winter series of yoga and mindfulness classes, starting January 2018. £24 for a twelve-week course.”

Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s exactly what I thought when I saw this ad at my workplace last December.

Although I’d heard great things about yoga, it was never something I, or anyone close to me, had gotten into. This probably won’t surprise you, but there have been countless articles about the lack of diversity in the Western yoga community even though black women have noted its health and wellbeing benefits for decades.

But there was something about this ad…

To read the full article, you’ll need to become a Black Ballad member (trust me – it’s worth it!) or sign up for a free trial.


My article on Black Ballad