Employee Communications Best Practices: Showcasing Your Organization’s Culture, Strategies and Benefits Offerings to Demonstrate Value to Your Workforce

One of the things I try to do as a communicator is stay engaged with the latest digital channels and improve upon existing ones that I believe are still relevant. So I often like to look back at old work to see whether it stands the test of time or how I might approach that same piece years later.

The other day I was looking at my archives of past work samples and came across some old employee newsletters from 2004. At the time I oversaw employee communications for a Chicago energy company and the newsletter was a big deal for employees.

The Evolution of the Newsletter

Before I had come to the energy company, the employee newsletter had already been revamped. It had previously focused on the fun aspects of employee life like birthdays, family photos and service anniversaries. The newer version now included information about strategic direction, business updates, preventative healthcare plan offerings and corporate social responsibility initiatives — but some information like anniversaries still remained.

As I looked through my stack of eight-year old corporate newsletters and content, much of which became incorporated into the company’s intranet, my impression is that they are still relevant in terms of the messages and approach:

First, we didn’t lose sight of what was important to employees, which was the personal touch. The culture of long-time employees meant that most of them had in a sense grown up together. They knew each other’s families and deeply felt connected to the success of the company. If the newsletters had focused exclusively on strategy, employees might have stopped reading it. So the revised version was thoughtful.

Second, employees still needed to be told about the realities of the evolving organization, that, like most companies over the last ten years, downsizing and cost savings were the new reality. Employees needed to understand what steps were being taken to maintain the health of the company, what that meant to the company’s operations and how they could be part of the transition.

Overall, the new version of the newsletter was an excellent compromise of the old and the new.

The Next Generation

When I took over internal communication efforts the employee newsletter remained an important communications tool for us. We continued to use it to share important business information, but we also told a lot of personal stories that made the information more engaging. We established good relationships with managers in other departments, especially Human Resources and Health & Wellness, so that finding the stories became easy.

Here are some examples:

From a benefits perspective, employees had seen their healthcare costs increase just like everyone else in America. At the same time, the company started offering other creative benefits focused more on prevention and healthier lifestyles. We wanted employees to learn more about these programs and how they were benefiting their co-workers. We also wanted them to take a more active role in living healthier lives. For one article during heart health month, we featured an employee who had heart surgery and how preventative screenings caught the problem early on. He wanted to share his personal story of survival in order to help others.

Also, community giving and employee volunteer efforts were common and something that everyone could come together on. These more grassroots efforts were a strong complement to the company’s overall corporate social responsibility efforts. We were able to talk about these efforts at the corporate level while featuring the individual efforts at various facilities. Assets like photos and video helped to document and promote these efforts and could be used beyond the newsletter.

In the end, my assessment is that this particular employee newsletter did a good job of communicating holistically to employees about the business and the people. Today, it could be even more aligned around company values and programs that define the organization.

Today’s Corporate Newsletter

Even in the digital age, employee newsletters, whether they are still printed on paper (for employees without email access) or available as intranet content, continue to be valuable internal communications tools. If you’re challenged to revamp an existing newsletter or create a new one, here are some general rules for content in today’s business environment:

Align with the Business Strategy – If your company has a specific list of operating principles ensure there is a section specifically dedicated to providing news and updates that relate to each principle. Employees will gain a greater understanding, in very tangible terms, of how your business is being run in relation to your goals.

Don’t Lose Sight of People – This is probably the most difficult thing for companies to accomplish. All too often I hear that employees feel like they are viewed as just a number. The best way to show employees what it means to be a success there is to find stories about employees who live the business strategy and have passion for their jobs. Again, it’s about turning high level business concepts into the tangible.

Celebrate Successes – This also focuses on people. All too often, companies forget to celebrate because if they tell employees the company is doing well, there’s the assumption that everyone will want raises. Well, of course they will! But that’s no excuse for failing to deliver some good news and possibly a small gesture that celebrates an achievement like a pizza party at lunch.

Tell them How You’re Really Doing – Financials provide a definitive insight into company performance and should be delivered in a comprehensive and sophisticated manner. But depending on the types of employees and job functions within your organization you might need to break it down even further. A simplified rating or color system (red, yellow, green), or a three line explanation about “what does this mean” can go a long way to reaching employees who don’t understand investor speak.

Showcase Your Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts – More and more companies are doing a better job of talking about their overall CSR efforts. But including stories about employees who are leading these efforts helps to put more of a face on these efforts.

Partner with Human Resources – For companies where the internal communications function is not part of Human Resources it’s incredibly important to partner with this department. In fact, I’ve often said that employee engagement is really a marriage between the functions. So be sure to communicate benefits, compensation and professional development information in the context of the operating principles, especially when changes are made to each.

What Do I Do With a Communications Degree?

When first beginning our college careers, some of us were faced with this dreaded question:

“So, what do you exactly do with a communications degree?”

If asked, you probably felt a little embarrassed because you didn’t quite know what you wanted to do. Some of us know right from the start, but as our education and experience progresses, we tend to change our minds. Maybe you were thinking about public relations in the fashion industry but discovered your true calling is community relations. Maybe you discovered your passion is in production. Maybe you just weren’t sure if your focus wanted to be marketing instead of advertising.

That’s the beauty of a career in communications. Unlike many other industries, you have choice and a variety of focuses in which you can stretch your legs and develop your talents. As a young professional, the job outlook may be competitive, but it’s most definitely varied.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the most common career focuses in communications:

Media Relations: This is the area of communications that most people associate with public relations. Media relations involves developing strong connections with the media on behalf of your client in order to secure coverage. You’ll pitch, write, and pitch some more as you look to gain exposure for your client’s brand, products, or services.

Government and Community Relations: Facilitating two-way communication between a government and the community it serves can be difficult, but that’s the beauty of government and community relations. If you’re passionate about civic involvement and want to serve your country, state, or local community, this may be a strong fit for you.

Public Affairs: Relaying policy messages and serving as a bridge between the organization and the media is the chief function of a public affairs communicator. Governments, non-profits, universities, and many businesses use public affairs officers to ensure that the right information gets to the right destination.

Crisis Communications: BP and Toyota have something very much in common: the need for professionals in crisis communications. Should you choose to focus yourself in this high intensity area of communications, be prepared to communicate with a variety of constituent groups under pressure to minimize damage to your client’s brand. Organization and a cool, clear head will be key.

Digital Media: Are you passionate about technology? Then digital media might be the best fit for you. In this area of communications, be ready to engage and interact through video, web, podcasting, interactive advertising, and other various media.

Social Media: If you’re the kind of person who loves to have conversations, then you’ll love taking part in the social media sphere. Should you choose to engage yourself in social media communications, you’ll need more than just savvy with the platforms. You’ll also need to know how to build, engage, and grow a community around a brand.

Marketing Communications: Communicating to consumers is the chief function of a marketing communications professional, so it’s important to know how to best convey the brand itself, value propositions, and other important information through a variety of media channels to drive sales. You’ll use a blend of marketing, advertising, and public relations to get your message across.

These are just a few fields one could go in with a communications degree, so feel free to explore them and more to find the one that’s best for you. But no matter which field you choose, it’s important that you have the right skills to get the job done. Every communications professional who wants to succeed must have:

Having all of these skills will give you a competitive edge when it comes time to enter the professional world.

So, in the meantime, if you’re not quite sure of where you want to land when you hit the ground running, continue to develop these valuable skills. No matter where you end up, they’ll undoubtedly make you a valuable asset to any organization.