A (small?) shift in perspective: from organizations towards employees being affected by crises
by Christopher Ruppel & Julia Stranzl
Corporate Communication Research Group,
University of Vienna, Austria
We are both academically socialized in the functional paradigm and undoubtedly see great value in the research located there, especially in the robust analytic methods. At the same time, we feel that through an overarching heroic narrative (Winkler, Kretschmer and Etter, 2021), the research perspective within this paradigm is often narrowed to success and positive outcomes for organizations. We noticed this particularly when we were studying internal crisis communication in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no doubt that it is desirable and important for organizations to have resilient, committed and engaged employees who can support their organizations in turbulent times. But isn’t a crisis also a challenging and stressful situation for employees, in which they may need support from their employing organizations? Shifting the perspective here seems important to us and motivated us, together with Sabine Einwiller, to write a paper that has recently been published in Corporate Communication: An International Journal under the title “Employee-centric perspective on organizational crisis: How organizational transparency and support help to mitigate employees’ uncertainty, negative emotions, and job disengagement”.
Ulmer et al. (2018) state, that “(in) organizations, values concerning profitability and economic gain often conflict with values concerning the well-being of employees or the environment” (p.174) and “crises often create the need to balance competing values” (p. 175). Exactly in this area of tension, we see the overarching contribution of our study as it focuses on potential negative crisis implications for employees and asks how organizational measures can contribute to mitigate these and thereby ensure employees’ well-being. Thereby, the study aims at opening up a purely functionalistic understanding of internal crisis communication, which concentrates rather on employees’ role in protecting the reputation of an organization than employees’ individual affectedness by the crisis. Acknowledging negative crisis effects on employees’ well-being and investigating how internal communication can contribute not only to boost employees’ supportive behavior for the organization but can also ensure employees’ well-being, also accounts for the ethical responsibility of an organization to take care of its community.
PR often talks about achieving win-win situations. But in order to assess this, a comprehensive view is needed that takes into account both sides, in our case the organization and the employees affected by a crisis. Organizational measures must therefore be assessed not only according to the ability to stimulate positive behaviors in some employees, but also according to the ability to help other employees to reduce the stresses of a crisis. Therefore, it is needed that phenomena like job disengagement, job frustration or other indicators for employees’ strain during an organizational crisis are explicitly addressed in our studies. That is what we did, and the results indicate that both organizational transparency and organizational support can contribute to mitigate employees’ negative crisis reactions, although the processes how these effects evolve differ. With a view to a desired win-win situation, this is a rather satisfactory finding. Future research should seek to further refine these findings, for example, by exploring which communication approaches are particularly helpful in reducing the negative impacts of crises for employees, or how various intra-organizational groups are differently affected by crises and thereby have different needs.
Ulmer, R.R., Sellnow, T.L. and Seeger, M.W. (2018), Effective crisis communication: Moving from crisis to opportunity, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Winkler, P., Kretschmer, J. and Etter, M. (2021), “Between tragedy, romance, comedy and satire: narratives of axiological progress in public relations”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol.