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Trust and influence: how internal communication is responding to Covid-19 challenges

Recent research says that trust in government is rising higher than trust in businesses during this crisis, how are internal communicators approaching this challenging time? IoIC President, Suzanne Peck, reflects on the IoIC's own recent Covid-19 comms survey.

At the start of the crisis, a colleague warned that how organisations communicated with their people at this difficult time, how they treated them and made them feel, would be the biggest influencer in the future relationship with that employer.

We're already hearing shining examples of how organisations are putting employees first, supporting them with initiatives such as topped-up furlough pay, free mindfulness apps, wellness programs, relief support funds, flexible working hours to fit around home schooling, and textbook crisis communications.

But equally there are emerging tales of total silence from leadership, no consultation, no transparency re job uncertainty and finances, and lack of crisis planning that put employees at risk by insisting they travel to work.

Business has moderately benefited from increased levels of trust in institutions among the general public, but has failed to keep pace with trust in government.

Trust in business grew by eight points since January, but is trusted by just 55 per cent of the UK public, compared with 60 per cent for the Government, says Edelman's latest Trust Barometer, carried out during the pandemic.

The survey found that business underperformed on 'putting people before profits' (32%) and 'helping other small businesses in need' (29%).

What will these employees feel about their companies once the pandemic is over? How will performance be impacted when the business needs them to work over and above?

Communication is the glue that binds an organisation together and I suspect that internal comms has probably been lacking at those businesses 'underperforming' when it comes to treating their people well.

Trust and influence

The IoIC ran its own survey in March and April to develop a current picture of internal communication during the Covid-19 crisis. Almost 500 internal communication professionals responded, answering questions on what they are working on, their challenges, and how are they influencing and proving value.

Communicators said that their comms around Covid-19 is having a positive influence on employees' trust in communication (83%) and leaders (76%).

However, the expected impact on trust of line managers is less stark, with only 53% believing it will improve (42% were neutral).

The current crisis is also positively affecting IC practitioners' roles. Yes, there's a hugely increased workload (71% of practitioners registered this as a change), but two-thirds say leaders are looking to IC more for guidance, and half note improved engagement with colleagues.

"So many non-IC people have become aware of the importance of our role," said one respondent. "Some didn't even know what we did four weeks ago. So, it is critical that we make sure everyone knows who kept the news flowing, the troops informed and the morale buoyant."

Top challenges

Almost one-third of respondents said "cutting through communication noise" is their biggest challenge, closely followed by 'consistency of message'. Several noted that keeping on top of the speed that information is changing was also a headache.

Many referenced the growing impact on mental wellbeing, caused largely by the increased workload and working from home with a young family. There are other factors causing anxieties, including long-term isolation, concern for their own health or that of family members, and delays to business-as-usual projects as crisis comms takes over.

Despite the challenges, internal communicators are confident that their work in recent weeks has increased their presence and improved their reputation, with 90% believing the situation will have a "very positive" (32%) or "positive" (58%) impact on the IC profession.

When we return to our 'new normal' it's to be hoped that businesses recognise the difference that great communication made in these stormy times, building stronger connections, trust and relationships with the business.

Support from IoIC

In the survey, we asked what more IoIC could do to support internal communicators.

Respondents asked for more resources and to read more best practice – whether through webinars, case studies or articles and for increased network opportunities, such as virtual coffee chats, for people can share opinions and experiences.

IoIC's support for communicators during the crisis includes offering free six-month membership to people who have lost their jobs, increased number of webinars and online training, a Covid-19 advice centre, and working with the Government Communication Service as a member of its communication industry-wide advisory panel. This will drive support to IC practitioners, as we share insight and contribute to the development of a job portal, where those whose roles have been impacted by the crisis can register.

Read the full survey report here.

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