Internal Communications and Employee Wellness

Internal communications have a big impact on employee wellness. The abrupt move from company office to home office caused high levels of stress and uncertainty. With few face-to-face interactions, employers must take action to ensure the mental well-being of the employees. The role of internal communications as a bridge between the management and the employees is the key to long-term employee productivity.

Most nations are managing the pandemic crisis with the primary objective of the physical safety of their people.

Although this has helped save the physical health of the individuals, the impact on their mental health has been enormous. It has created an unprecedented level of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety in most of the citizens.

Fear of the unknown, information overload, confinement and quarantine, social exclusion are some of the stressors that have impacted the employees’ mental health.

Internal Communications from Home

Last year, the World Economic Forum had called out the emotional stress remote working will have on the wellbeing of the individuals. It recommended taking actions to mitigate the potentially toxic effects of the lockdown. The sudden shift in the workplace has been challenging for some of the employees mentally and physically.

For more than a year, the companies moved to the ‘new normal’ working mode. It has created havoc on the work-life balance for most individuals. It is at these times that organizations must address the fears of the employees.

But how do you ensure organizations do this? The key is having a collaborative approach between HR and internal communications. Before we formulate a plan to address the issue, we must understand the key areas where wellbeing communication is a must. 

1. Bring more transparency and build trust

Organizations need to build a communications plan that clearly outlines the management plan to ensure business continuity during these unprecedented times.

Increased transparency and building two-way communication channels will ensure that teams are building bridges and breaking siloes.

2. The stigma associated with mental health issues

Our society may have developed a lot in terms of infrastructure. Unfortunately, mental health issues are still a hushed topic. An individual faces mental illness stigma both at a personal and professional level. This stigma prevents individuals from expressing their feelings and seeking much-needed medical attention.

The impact of stressed employees is severe and may lead to low productivity and absenteeism. Name-calling or asking the person to ‘get over it will increase the stigma around it. Organizations must understand that those mental health issues are not just a ‘phase.’

The impact of stressed out employees is severe and may lead to low productivity and absenteeism.

3. Social Support network in workplaces

A social network is very vital when you are dealing with difficult situations personally or professionally. Your network may consist of friends, family, and co-workers. Today when Physical touch is missing, one is working in isolation, falling into the trap of loneliness and depression is manageable.

Several research papers have established that a weak social network can lead to burnout and depression. Companies should formulate plans that consider regular catch-up with team members to develop a sense of belonging.

4. Effect of Back to Office plans

In some countries, companies have started to talk about back-to-office plans. This is true where a certain percentage of the population has been vaccinated and has low infection rates. This news has seen a mixed response. Some of the employees are all excited to go back to physical locations and meet people. On the other hand, some of them are anxious.

They are cautious and anxious about the incomplete vaccination process, still prevalent risk of virus, and the idea of disrupting their routine.

5. How to achieve a breakthrough in these areas using Internal Communications

A well-designed people plan is required to succeed in these areas, which covers the areas mentioned above. Once the plan is defined, this is where internal communications come into the picture, as it is this department that will amplify the message strategically. The internal communications in conjunction with HR can formulate a calendar that covers the different work units and determine the tonality and frequency of the messaging.

6. Open new avenues for conversation

We human beings are social animals; we need the in-person to connect to perform and succeed. In physical offices, water cooler chats, lunches, celebrations are different ways to connect.

Apply the concept in the virtual world. The need to ‘connect’ is even more relevant in the virtual world. There is a latent need for more transparency and open dialogue between management and employees.

To make this a reality, the messaging should come from top to bottom. The IC team can initiate portals like Virtual Town Halls, Coffee Corners, Informal Virtual connections. The IC team can ask the leadership to send out video invites or small notes.

Working from Home

This will encourage the audience to participate and open up about the issues that they may be facing. Share a form where the employees can ask questions anonymously.

You may start informal connects at the leadership level monthly and team catch-ups weekly. You can keep the invite funny and clearly state the to keep the conversation light. The mandate can be to talk about anything but work. We did a 30-minute catch-up call weekly, and it did wonders for the team morale.

7. Patting team’s back more often for good work done

Studies have shown that making the employees feel more valued and appreciated is a morale booster for employees. Employees perform better when their contribution is acknowledged and appreciated in different ways.

Due to the current economic situation, monetary rewards may not be possible for all companies. Here the internal communications team can play a role.

Introduce different award sections during internal official events to reward the employees. Ask a senior leader to give the award. This step will provide employees with much-needed social elevation.

Draft small appreciative cards and name them for different scenarios. Circulate them internally, and employees can be encouraged to use them. The leader can also send words of appreciation on occasions like the end of the quarter, highlighting the achievements and contributors, or when a project has gone live successfully.

Commemorate a particular day for appreciation and start sending out messages to reach out to your subordinates, peers, leaders and send badges of appreciation.

8. Take steps to address social stigma against mental health issues.

As mentioned earlier, even today, stigma against mental health issues is prevalent. To address this, I wrote an executive communication about our struggle to maintain the work-life balance, handle kid’s online classes, sales forecasts call, and other activities.  

Start an internal campaign calling out people to share their stories of resilience. Incorporate a segment on human success stories of triumph against depression or anxiety in your virtual employee engagement events. I invited a Salesperson who was fighting cancer when the pandemic started. She spoke about treatment, bouts of panic attacks, the counseling, and also commented on the support of the peers and leaders.

Emloyee Wellness

After this session, people came forward and shared their success stories. The managers gave positive feedback and added this activity boosted morale in the team. 

9. Work with HR to have a proactive approach

Prevention is better than cure. This saying also applies to mental health. Check with your HR to see if an in-house counselor can be hired and communicate about that in subsequent mailers. You can start a video series where a counselor/expert shares simple tips on how to take care of your mental health.

Create a calendar to disseminate communications, including tutorials on what to do when you have a panic attack or how-to-do yoga asanas to reduce stress levels.

Send out communications about what employees can do at their homes to reduce their stress. It can include reminders on staying away from media to avoid information overload, take a break, and walk around.

Preach and practice switching off from work. It is quite easy to get embroiled in the loop of constant checking of emails and calls with digital tools. Talk about the need to switch off. Work with your HR and IT to automatically reduce the duration of meetings by few minutes.

With this practice, the employees will have some additional time in their day. Start a campaign around this, call it #Keepitshort, and communicate about this.

10. Communications about back to the office

Before deciding on the back to the office, the leaders must do a pulse check to understand employees’ feelings. The feedback will help organizations address anxiety and tailor the internal communications accordingly.

Depending on the remote working policy of the company, they can tailor their communications. Companies planning to go back to the office can communicate about the measures that are in place to ensure the safety of the employees.

Meaningful messaging along with clear guidelines will help to build trust in the leadership. Also, using the various available communication modes, the company will ensure that the communication reaches everyone.

In Summary

Mental health is one of the challenges the corporate world faces today. Organizations need to get the messaging right and create mediums that will support the employees.

Carry out surveys to gauge their underlying feelings in the employees and tailor the communication strategy accordingly.

With the constant changes around us, the company should use a tone that portrays empathy, warmth, and care. 

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Shweta Sharma on Linkedin
Shweta Sharma
Shweta Sharma is a communications professional who has handled digital communications for SAP, Tata Group, and others. When not handling her day job, Shweta enjoys cooking and reading.
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