Some people in internal communication are uncomfortable with the ‘engagement’ word, believing that it confuses the rationale for effective practice.
This may have something to do with a strong journalistic heritage for internal communication that emerged from a study of the history of internal communication that Heather Yaxley and I completed in 2013. This approach is focused on the story and messaging rather than taking an employee-centred perspective where employees have a say in what goes on in the organisation.
The Engaging for Success report and other more academic studies have shown that there is a clear link between internal communication and employee engagement and fewer practitioners now challenge this.
This is important. In fact, it can save lives as a new Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) report indicates. The report, based on studies at eight high performing NHS trusts, shows that employee engagement in the NHS is linked to staff wellbeing, patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes such as mortality.
When it comes to engagement in the NHS, the following key points are highlighted in the IPA report:
- High performing trusts tend to have a strong set of organisational values, developed in partnership with employees. Trust values should be consistently communicated to employees and mainstreamed throughout the organisation.
- Senior leadership play an important role in setting the tone at the top of the organisation. They need to be visible and approachable throughout the organisation, and to ensure there is regular and effective communication between senior leaders and employees, using a variety of channels.
- Line managers are the people who really make the difference to engagement. They need to coach and support employees, helping remove the barriers that get in the way of their teams doing their jobs.
- There must be a strong employee voice throughout the trust. Employees need to be able both to raise concerns if they have them, to offer suggestions for the improvement of their services, and to be involved in decision-making across the trust as a whole.
- Finally, given the high level of union membership, partnership working is also important in providing the foundations for employee engagement in the NHS.
The role of internal communication is a vital component of employee engagement, especially in communicating values, coaching senior managers and facilitating employee voice. Getting this right in some sectors is quite literally a matter of life or death.