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) – https://handhcomms.co.uk/5-easy-ways-we-can-become-more-inclusive-internal-communicators/

 

Employee engagement and personality: all for one and one for all?

As some of you know, I was recently awarded a distinction for my CIPR internal comms certificate course (yay!). For my final assignment, I explored the various tactics that internal communicators can use to help employees physically, cognitively and emotionally harness themselves to their individual roles and organisation (i.e employee engagement).

But what if some people are just un-engageable?

We each think, feel and act in our own unique way, so it seems logical that we’ll react differently to attempts to help us connect with our CEO or commit to organisational change. Emerging research suggests that our personality traits the ‘relatively stable cognitive, emotional and behavioural characteristics that help establish our individual identities’ – can predict our level of engagement at work. Here’s how…

Conscientiousness

Neuroticism

Extraversion

Agreeableness

Openness to Experience

 

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the five basic personality traits – or factors – proposed by psychologists Robert McCrae and Paul Costa in their influential Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. The other traits are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. According to FFM, these factors capture the essence of all human personalities; we differ only in terms of the amount/level of each factor, as determined by personality assessments.

Behaviours: the epitome of an ‘ideal employee’, people with high amounts of Conscientiousness are efficient, dutiful, deliberate and achievement-striving.

Evidence: Studies consistently show that employees with high levels of this trait are more likely to be engaged at work. For example, work psychologists Ilke Inceoglu and Peter Warr explored engagement levels in over 700 employees from several countries, including the UK, and found that Conscientiousness – particularly the achievement orientation subcomponent of the trait – was a better predictor of work engagement than the other Big Five factors, age and gender.

Underlying mechanism: One suggestion is that employees high on Conscientiousness are motivated by the need to achieve goals which is also a core component of the work engagement concept. It may also be that conscientious workers have a strong sense of responsibility and therefore are more likely to absorb themselves in their job tasks.

 

Neuroticism

Behaviours: people with high levels of Neuroticism tend to be tense, irritable, shy, and lack self-confidence.

Evidence: Researcher Saar Langelaan and colleagues analysed the personality and engagement survey scores of 205 Dutch employees, and found that those high in Neuroticism were low in work engagement. This finding has been replicated in several other studies.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan, work engagement is a positive affective-motivational state characterised by high pleasure and high energy use. Neuroticism is strongly linked to negative affect (NA), a short-term mental state characterised by fear, nervousness and anger (or low energy use). Highly engaged employees tend to report low levels of NA.

 

Extraversion

Behaviours: people high on Extraversion are generally sociable, enthusiastic, energetic, adventurous and outgoing

Evidence: Studies exploring the link between Extraversion and engagement has produced mixed results, with some showing Extraversion to be as good a predictor of engagement or weaker. However, researchers Stephen Woods and Juilitta Sofat found that the Assertiveness sub-factor of Extraversion – characterised by being driven, competitive and energetic – was more strongly associated with engagement than the Gregariousness sub-factor (being sociable and chatty) and the broader Extraversion trait.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan and colleagues, people high on Extraversion are more likely to experience positive emotions and are therefore more likely to experience the positive state that is engagement. Another explanation centres on the psychological condition of meaningfulness, an important predictor of engagement defined as the positive feeling that one’s work is worthwhile and important. According to Woods and Sofat, employees high on the Assertiveness sub-factor are more likely to be engaged because their high energy and ambitiousness leads them to attach greater meaning to their efforts at work.

 

Agreeableness

Behaviours: people high on Agreeableness tend to be forgiving, warm and flexible.

Evidence: Along with Openness to Experience, this trait has been found to be a weaker predictor of engagement than the other three factors. However, leadership expert Andrew Wefald and colleagues tested several personality-engagement statistical models using survey data, and found Agreeableness and two other personality traits – Conscientiousness and Extraversion – were linked to engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to business psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, and colleagues, engaged employees tend to be efficient task-completers. Since most work tasks require teamwork and agreeable employees encourage teamwork, they’re more likely to be engaged.

 

Openness to Experience

Behaviours: the quintessential creative, people high on Openness are intellectually curious, imaginative, artistic and excitable.

Evidence: Pakastani economist Nayyar Zaidi and colleagues found that employees with high levels of Openness were more likely to be engaged than their conscientious counterparts. Likewise, Dr Chamorro-Premuzic and colleagues (2015) found that openness was the second best predictor of engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to Zaidi, William Kahn, the so-called ‘godfather of employee engagement’, saw engaged employees as innovators within their organisation; therefore, employees high on Openness – who are naturally innovative – are more likely to be engaged.

 

Implications for internal communicators

At first glance, it’s not good news for us IC bods. If, as the abovementioned research suggests, an employee’s unique and enduring personal characteristics significantly influences their level of work engagement, the task of driving up employee engagement (a staple in many IC job descriptions) may be trickier than we thought. Personality traits are thought to be consistent across time, and so if people who are low on Conscientiousness or high on Neuroticism are recruited into an organisation and then become disengaged, attempts by internal communicators to help them connect with their roles and the organisation may prove futile.

However, before we all tear up our engagement strategies and go on a well-deserved holiday, it’s important to note that while the findings presented suggest that some personality traits are better predictors of engagement than others, none of the studies concluded that having high levels of one trait would prevent you from being engaged full stop. That’s because, even though our personalities cause us to view our work, colleagues and employer in a unique way, we’re all capable of being engaged at work.

Professor Brad Shuck and colleagues propose that communication within an organisation can help engagement develop in each employee, irrespective of their personality make-up – via two routes:

  • It can motivate employees to be engaged by aligning their values with the organisation values
  • It can give employees the freedom to engage, achieved by creating trust and integrity within the organisation through transparent and consistent communication.

This cuts to the heart of what we do as internal communicators. We live for providing line of sight to employees and removing communication barriers between senior leaders and employees.

So there you have it. We’re all engageable. But we’re also brilliantly unique, with our own life experiences, views and set of personal characteristics which influence our behaviour at work. As internal communicators, it’s important that we remember this when trying to help our people engage with our organisation.