With hybrid work environments becoming the rule, not the exception, it’s time for a reminder about what’s appropriate to put in writing. The informality of email and digital channels permits communications to be fast, funny, and even sarcastic. Most of us would never take this approach in a formal letter or document.
Content shared via email, texts, or through team collaboration channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat, can become problematic in litigation, particularly if it involves an employment situation. There are countless stories of people who thought their business emails were private. They’re not. They may be discoverable if relevant in a lawsuit.
Here are five tips to ensure a quick and “harmless” message doesn’t become a future problem.
1. Choose the correct channel. Would a call or an in-person meeting be better? Emails can be forwarded to individuals they were never intended for and anyone with a smartphone can take a screenshot.
2. Watch your tone. Email is eternal. Business communications should be appropriate, safe for work, and inoffensive. Don’t write anything that you’d be uncomfortable with others reading. Including your grandmother.
3. Is it clear? Read it over. Could anything be misconstrued or taken out of context? If you enter litigation, your intent will be analyzed closely by the other side.
4. Don’t begin or continue an argument. If someone shares incorrect information, it’s OK to clarify and provide the facts, but don’t debate or argue through email.
5. Avoid irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration. A message dashed off in a hurry often falls into this category. So does humor. But these are exactly the communications that can be problematic if a lawsuit occurs.
The office setting may have changed, but the risk has not. It’s even more important now to raise awareness about appropriate workplace communications so everyone understands what’s at stake.
Investors and stakeholders are showing increasing interest in responsible business practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 52% of public companies surveyed publish voluntary corporate sustainability or ESG reports outside of their SEC filings. While this type of reporting is currently voluntary, the SEC is expected to propose mandatory reporting rules this year.
The ESG report shines a light on the strategies and activities a business undertakes to be accountable and responsible. While the annual report may have captured some of these elements in the past, the ESG report focuses on making a positive impact on society.
Implementing an ESG reporting process entails extra work and coordination across business functions. For corporate communicators, the challenge is to hit the right balance of content and to transform data into compelling, human stories.
What is an ESG Report?
An ESG Report (and accompanying website) captures the environmental, social and governance impacts that arise from company business activities. Before embarking on ESG reporting, the strategy, framework, selected metrics and tracking plan must be in place.
What should be included?
Right now there’s flexibility in the scope and content of ESG reporting, but investors and rating agencies typically want to see decision-useful information. It’s tempting to cram the report full of success stories. Remember, longer does not mean better. Content will vary by industry, but may include:
Environmental: Climate change; waste reduction; sustainable supply chain; Green initiatives
Social: Community engagement and philanthropy; diversity, equity and inclusion; corporate values: health and well-being
Governance: Corporate governance; ethical business practices; information security and data privacy; board diversity
Telling the story with impact
Evaluate the ESG issues that are most material to your company and be transparent about performance and opportunities for improvement. Then show how and why your business operates with integrity.
The Great Resignation has hiring managers on edge and recruiters working around the clock to fill ever-growing vacancies. With turnover reaching new highs, organizations are scrambling to implement systematic changes in compensation, remote working, and rewards to boost retention.
Recruitment marketing is now a hot topic. As options for job seekers increase, it’s more important than ever that recruitment channels and materials are relevant, concise, and refreshed. Think sleeker, more digital, and more engaging. If you’re not refreshing your content, you’re likely to lose out in the Great Talent Hunt. These three steps are a good place to start.
Audit your online presence
What does your recruitment marketing say about your business? When was the last time it was refreshed? Take a sharp look at your marketing materials the way a potential hire would, focusing on the areas listed below. Then develop a plan to address any gaps.
Does your messaging explore why your company is a great place to work?
Is the design vibrant and engaging? Does it feature your employees?
Does your careers site look like your workforce? Does it support multi-dimensional diversity–age, race, gender identity, disability?
What’s your social media mix? LinkedIn is still the world’s largest professional network, but Gen Z job seekers prefer Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Expand your social mix and reach, but ensure you have the bandwidth to produce fresh content.
Lean in to an employment brand
Potential candidates want a simple answer to a simple question: What makes your company a great place to work? If you can’t answer that succinctly, it’s time for an employment brand. An employment brand builds clarity, quality and consistency in the way you describe what it like to work at your business. It helps you stand out from the crowd in the race to recruit the very best talent. To be successful, it should be clear, concise, relevant, relatable, and memorable. For current employees, an employment brand supports building a One Team culture, bringing your values to life, and recognizing and celebrating team members.
Connect with specialized talent
While an employment brand sets the look, feel and strategy for recruitment marketing, segmentation will help you attract key audiences. This will support distinct marketing strategies, allow you to create targeted content, and improve visibility for your business within each segment. Review your careers website and social channels to identify opportunities to connect with specific audiences like military veterans, interns/early careers, and experienced professionals.
Gallup’s latest study on employee engagement revealed the awful truth that only about 3 in 10 American workers are truly engaged in their work and workplace. Following the havoc of the pandemic, leaders are struggling to inspire team members to take initiative, commit to their company’s success, and be more productive.
The long-running survey on engagement has shown that employees are engaged when their deeper needs to feel valued, grow and develop, maximize their strengths and make a meaningful contribution are fulfilled.
The results of Gallop’s studies point to three specific things employees need to feel good about their jobs and be fully engaged. Here are some suggestions communications teams can use to make these three elements work for your company:
Employees want a leader and a company who care about them and their development– When you truly believe employees are the company’s most valuable asset, it shines through in the frequency and manner with which you communicate with them. Let them know specificallyhow the company is working hard to ensure their success. Share information about important changes and initiatives as freely as possible to show employee how their contributions matter to overall business success.
They’re looking for a role that matches their strengths– Every job presents interpersonal and character growth opportunities. Help employees see what mountains they can successfully climb right now and show how they can gain skills and experience on their career journey.
They want to know that their contributions matter– Chances are, your employees believe—or once believed—in your company’s mission and values—what you contribute to the world at large. Keep this purpose at the core of your communications. Be sure you regularly articulate the relationship of the work employees do every day to your mission.
What’s the connection between all of these elements? Proactive, inspiring, and consistent internal communications. It’s the most productive way to get everyone focused on priorities and engaged in their work.
While your office may reopen soon, the pandemic is not over for many employees. Return-to- office communications should help employees feel safe, seen and supported. Their needs have shifted during the long work from home period. That’s why effective communications can go a long way to build trust and let them know their health and well-being is important to you.
Whether you’re moving to a hybrid work arrangement or expect employees back at their workstations in-house, the way you communicate will impact employee engagement. We’re counseling our clients to focus on the Big Three for re-entry communications: safety, well-being, leadership.
Make your commitment to safety visible
Employees can’t perform if they don’t feel safe. Be clear about steps undertaken to maintain a safe in-office experience, including the deep cleaning of the facility, protective equipment availability, or health checks. Are masks required? What changes are coming to the break rooms? Set up an online Coronavirus Info Hub where employees can get information, news or policy changes. Being specific about this is more important than ever before.
Many companies are broadening their wellness programs to focus on mental health maintenance and self-care. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), often an under-utilized resource, are being more urgently promoted within benefits communications. Consider providing access to guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm. Mental health apps, like Sanvelo and Moodfit, provide support for stress, anxiety and other issues.
Train and support front-line leaders
Train your managers and front-line supervisors with a comprehensive workplace re-entry plan. Ensure they understand any key changes in policy as well as safety protocols. Equip them to support team members with empathy. Supply guidance on regular check ins as well as fun activities like safe team bonding experiences, virtual happy hours and curated playlists. And don’t forget to praise good work and say thank you to managers. This group has been through a lot too.
During graduation season, you can count on speakers, the profound and the superficial (I’m looking at you reality show celebs), to make a connection. Their goal is to inspire others to reflect or take action or celebrate.
As leaders and communicators, we’re also looking for a spark to lift and embolden us in our work. Here are some of our favorite quotes. Take a break from Zoom call fatigue and use them to jumpstart your storytelling and communications.
“Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”
“I believe in the power of storytelling because stories open our hearts to a new place, which opens our minds, which often leads to action.”
“Be unafraid to be completely you, and accept all those other individuals you meet as they are.”
“Before dreaming about the future or making plans, you need to articulate what you already have going for you—as entrepreneurs do.”
“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”
“Failure is not something to be ashamed of; it’s something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You got to learn to make failure your fuel.”
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”
While the best practices for business writing have changed over time, the need for clear, communications is as important as ever. If you dread the thought of writing anything from a blog to a business letter, use these four tips as guide to more effective writing.
1. Use the simplest language possible
Leave out unnecessary words.
When common, ordinary words will do the job, don’t use fancy ones. That includes high dollar words, foreign words, and jargon.
When possible, keep sentences and paragraphs short.
2. Write vigorously
Use active instead of passive voice when possible.
Choose powerful verbs over weak ones like forms of “to be.”
3. Be positive, not negative
It’s more effective to say what something is instead of what it is not. For example, use “The procedure will be relatively comfortable,” instead of “The procedure will be pain-free.” Your audience will unconsciously focus on the word “pain” and the rest will lose power.
4. Put the audience at the center of your plan
Know your audience, your purpose, and the value of your message before you create the key points.
Revise and simplify
Fortunately, most of us aren’t required to write even one page of a masterpiece, but the writing we do is no less important. Effective writing can impact employee morale and the bottom line. But you’ve got to get your readers all the way through the message first in order to educate, inform or inspire.
February is Black History Month, a time to reflect, celebrate and learn about the heritage and significant contributions of Black Americans. Although many businesses are operating in work from home settings, there are many ways to engage employees in programming and spark meaningful conversations about racial justice that extend well past February.
Educate and spark dialog. Host a conversation series with guest speakers on topics such as Black culture, trailblazers and social justice. Encourage all employees to live your corporate values by educating themselves on racial injustice. Invite Black leaders within your company to share their career stories and talk about leadership development.
Connect and engage. Establish Employee Resource Groups, employee-led organizations focused on fostering an inclusive workplace and aligning with business objectives. ERGs are a powerful tool in employee retention, engagement, and development of future leaders.
Involve employees in brand and internal storytelling. Do your communication channels, recruiting and marketing materials look as diverse as your employee population? Employees are the most credible brand ambassadors, both internally and externally. Create new ways to showcase your employees and their stories.
Start a Leadership Book Club. Use the Lean In model as a template for a Company Book Club. Select at book, and create a company-wide reading event culminating with a moderated discussion with a company leader. Looking for inspiration? Here are some amazing books:
How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
“Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso
The NAACP offers guidelines on what brands can do for Black History Month . This includes focused recruiting efforts of diverse leaders, supporting diversity and inclusion programs within your business and engaging with local social justice organizations.
You’ve been called by the press for an interview. You’re a subject matter specialist and the thought of a mistake unnerves you. How can you deliver a result that makes you proud?
There’s always an advantage to getting your message out through the press. Preparation is the key to any successful interview. Use these secrets from public relations pros to help you achieve the results you seek.
Stay focused on your message. Rough out some bullets before you return a call. What is the main point you want to address? Prepare for anything that may be negative or controversial.
Be concise. Use plain language. Reporters will purposely pause to get you to say more, so don’t just talk to fill space. Don’t make “off the record” comments or saying “no comment.”
Be memorable. Use statistics, comparisons, examples and anecdotes to make your points.
Correct misstatements. The reporter will not know the information as well as you. If they make a misstatement, correct it quickly. Do not repeat an inaccuracy but clarify and accentuate the positive.
Remember that you are in control. Just because a question is asked, you’re not required to give an answer. If it’s something you can’t or don’t want to discuss, change the conversation. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Ask the interviewer if you can get back to them later with accurate information.
Over the past decade, technology has facilitated a major shift in how we do business. Many workers have moved from office settings to remote working. In 2020 this shift accelerated even more rapidly due to COVID-19 and the need to adopt social distancing for the health and safety of employees and their families. Companies are adapting on the fly in the ways they communicate and conduct day-to-day operations. While this shift has helped businesses stay productive, the sudden change has left some employees feeling less engaged.
Managers are suddenly faced with the question, “How do we support our employees who are now forced to work remotely?” Sudden changes like this can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan in place. In order to make sure you are doing all you can to support your remote employees here are a few internal communications best practices to keep them engaged:
Keep in Contact
This seems simple but it’s easy to miss the mark. Make sure your employees feel supported and connected to their peers and managers. Host virtual team meeting and check-ins multiple times a month. Keeping employees in the loop about the company’s big picture and their role in it helps them feel valued and included, promotes a healthy attitude toward otherwise stressful changes, and ensures everyone is aligned and headed in the right direction.
Celebrate your Employees
People want to feel that they are valued. Introduce an employee recognition program to celebrate when your team members go above and beyond. Everyone appreciates a pat on the back for a job well done. Also small things like calling out work anniversaries and birthdays will make your employees feel appreciated and let them know that you’re thinking about them.
Ramp up Training
Give your employees the tools to be successful. Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense. When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence. Make sure your employees feel prepared to work remotely and promote continued growth and development. Implementing training programs for video conferencing, webinars, and any new programs will help employees feel assured.