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Interview with Juan Cuenca Fontbona
Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona
After the defense of his doctoral thesis, Professor Joan Cuenca has continued exploring issues related to the research and evaluation of the activity of Public Relations and Corporate Communication, its scientific, sociocultural, structural, and influential approach in social, cultural, economic life. and policy, and its use in the design, establishment, and development of strategic communication programs. He is currently a member of the consolidated and funded GRECPRP (Strategy and Creativity in Advertising and Public Relations) group. As a teacher of Public Relations Theory and Techniques, Corporate Communication, among others, in several universities and business schools, he shares with his students the different schools of thought, the most current practices and the perspectives that focus, on the one hand, Public Relations in relation to contemporary debates around globalization, democracy and power and, on the other, as a managerial function based on influence, as well as an instrument to support marketing based on information, loyalty and persuasion. His professional experience, the postdoctoral stay in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design of the Faculty of Media, Communication and Information of the University of Colorado Boulder (USA), being a participant in the activity of I projects R&D&i and the grants, awards and appointments received have been the driving forces that have allowed it to explore, experiment, learn, share and publish scientific and informative material to update the discipline on topics such as internal communication and emotional health, research applied to PR and CC, the new dircom profile, the digital transformation and the strategy applied to PR and CC, etc. The more than forty articles and books that he has published, some of them funded, are a clear synthesis of this trajectory. He is a member of the Researchers Association. of Public Relations-AIRP and Dircom Catalonia, founding member of the Association of Managers and References in Internal Communication-DIRCI and is director of the Dircom collection of the UOC Publishing.
Professor Cuenca, could you summarize for us what the CISEELAP project consists of and what its impact will be?
First, let me clarify that this project has been named with the Spanish acronym CISEELAP, which means in English: Internal Communication and Emotional Health in the Work Environment of the Public Administration.
As you know, the original function of internal communication was to promote a fluid relationship between people and to facilitate the circulation and exchange of information about the organisational mission. Now, however, internal communication is becoming an increasingly professionalised two-way strategic praxis in organisations, but without a significant presence in public administration.
Organisations have usually focused on external communication and public administration is no exception. Budgets have focused on citizen service communication. Communication efforts in the face of a critical scenario have also concentrated mainly on external derivations and consequences. However, it has been demonstrated that the contribution of internal communication can also be decisive in the face of any type of situation that constitutes a threat to the survival of the organisation or, at least, to the development of its own activities. What has not been demonstrated, hence this proposal, is the contribution of internal communication to people’s state of mind, especially when the Public Administration is a particular entity where the attraction and recruitment of candidates, involvement in working life, access to professional categories, being part of the governing bodies and management staff, or temporary staff, civil servants or employees, being technical staff or position of higher responsibility, and the retention of talent have specific processes. Also, the rotation of government teams can be more or less frequent, and these reasons, among others that stereotype the public sector, can affect the people who work in it.
And when these people are faced with changes in their known environment, they need clues to help them decipher what is happening, to understand how it will affect them and how they can cope with these changes. In these situations, people actively seek information through different channels, according to their concerns and needs. Otherwise, stress increases and emotional health can decline. Within the public administration, internal communication is also a lever that can help to protect this kind of health, prevent crises, and minimise damage by conveying the most appropriate information in the most suitable tone. People working in public administration must be well informed about the problems and opportunities that exist the objectives and new challenges as well. All staff must feel supported and reassured by means of communication that helps to prevent misunderstandings which may arise because of any unforeseen event or uncertainty at the time, causing emotional discomfort.
Disengagement, distance from work, low attendance rates at work events, absenteeism, reduced performance, concerns and psychosocial risks, quiet quitting, frustration and disenchantment or burnout syndrome, etc. are phenomena that currently reflect a profound dissatisfaction in the world of work. While it is true that medical care should be the last resort and there are many possibilities of intervention before that, we ask ourselves in this project whether internal communication can be part of these possibilities, whether it can contribute positively to reverse these events that affect emotions and thus the social functions of emotions: the expression of one’s own affective state, the regulation of the behaviour of others, social interaction and prosocial behaviour. This requires empirical demonstration.
What does this project aim to answer?
The questions raised are: how to harness the power of internal communication to build a healthy, engaged, and effective public service work culture? How does this communication function help to support employees’ morale? How to measure effectiveness? And how to do all this with the time we have today? The aim of the project is to explore the correlation between the function of internal communication and the perception of public administration employees, the contribution of internal communication to their emotional health defined by the WHO as the state of well-being in which the individual is aware of their own capabilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to their community. In our project the public entity to be explored is Barcelona City Council. With our study we also expect to demonstrate that emotional health is an indicator of the effectiveness of the internal communication function.
What are the expected results of the CISEELAP project?
This project aims to provide empirical certainty to these questions by systematising three levels:
a. Defining measures and lines of action for targeted internal communication (Action).
b. Identifying red flags of new areas in which it is necessary to implement them (Detection) by means of self-assessment tools/tools kit by the departments or areas responsible for internal communication.
c. Anticipating or avoiding them (Prevention) through codes of communication protocols and good practices.
The main idea is to demonstrate empirically whether internal communication is a tool for conveying information that reduces uncertainty and disruptive situations, empowers, reduces fear, makes people feel safe and increases the feeling of belonging so that public administration employees feel challenged and involved. Thus, the project aims to shed light on the correlation between internal communication and emotional health to enable data-driven decisions on how to involve, motivate and engage employees or reduce disengagement, with a focus on improving the quality of life in the workplace.