Employees Perform Better if They Feel Like They Are Part of a Community.
By Thomas J. Roach
A lot of senior communication specialists got their start in public relations by taking a job as writer, editor, photographer and publisher of an employee newspaper. In the last 25 years publication methods and employee reading habits have changed dramatically. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the employee publication’s contribution to the bottom line; it helps build a cohesive business culture.
Employees perform better if they feel like they are part of a community. Unfortunately, most businesses communication is limited to email about business issues, so employees are not afforded much time to socialize. In the long run the lack of familiarity with coworkers causes problems.
Companies like to refer to their workers as team members, but a team is a social construction. In ideal conditions small workgroups naturally become team-like if they interact with one another daily, but making an entire company of workers function like a team requires a concerted effort.
Every year jobs become more specialized and more dependent on technology. As a result, workers become increasingly isolated. Social events and participative meetings are the most effective ways to counter isolation with a sense of community, but employee publications can make a significant contribution to building community if a company produces a publication that is both for and about employees.
Forget about detailing the strategic plan. The main theme in the employee publication should be employee recognition. Employee profiles, service anniversaries and entertainment should be the focus.
The employee publication should be about employees, not about the company and not about senior leadership. Stories about employees and employee events will accumulate over the months to form a healthy picture of the actual business culture. Knowing the actual texture of the culture is a prerequisite for developing a sense of belonging, ownership and pride.
Marketing departments that fill employee publications with customer-related buzzwords create a false picture. When that happens, the actual culture develops in opposition to the branded culture.
Author Their Own Story
Let employees author their own story. Ask each department head to appoint one of their employees to be the department reporter. Meet with the reporters monthly and talk to them about basic news style and tell them what kinds of news to look for.
Distribute a lined notepad with who, what, where, when and why on it so they can at least send you the facts if they do not want to write the stories. A section of the publication then can be dedicated to department reports with reporter bylines. A publication with material like this is for, about, and by employees.
Do not publish stories and pictures of senior management in the employee publication. Instead cover the lesser news. Everyone with a five-year increment service anniversary can have a picture published with a quote. Birthdays, weddings and vacations can all be treated like news briefs.
Be timely. If the grapevine has exhausted an issue, then it is not news, and it has no place in the publication. Employees read on their own time; they will not waste their efforts on old news.
Have a short approval process. If the publication has to be approved by the editor’s supervisor, the HR VP and the CEO, then it will never meet deadlines. A team of experts in HR going over photos of the holiday party will delay publication of the story until June. An employee newspaper editor who needs that much supervision should look for another line of work.
Most employee publications are online, but companies that have workers who do not have computers should print copies of the newsletter for distribution.
When one considers time and cost, employee publications are a highly effective means for weaving workers into the fabric of a community.
Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].