Using strategic communication to coordinate internal communication, employee engagement, organizational reputation and employer brands
by Ana Tkalac Verčič,
full professor at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Economics and Business
For organizations around the world, their attractiveness, profitability, and future operations depend on their willingness to put employees first and recognize them as the most important stakeholders for organizational development (Aggerholm, Andersen & Thomsen, 2011). This underlines the importance of concepts such as engagement, reputation, and employer branding.
Engagement is frequently used as the umbrella term that encompasses organizational efforts to involve stakeholders in organizational activities and decisions. It is also often interchanged with involvement and dialogue (Lewis, Hamfel & Richardson, 2001). Internal communication is the key part of organizational context in promoting employee engagement (Bakker, Albrecht & Leiter, 2011). In public relations, the focus on relationship management has led to using engagement as the new paradigm within which organizations try to integrate, interact, and collaborate, with their stakeholders (Edelman, 2008; Taylor & Kent, 2014; Tkalac Verčič & Pološki Vokić, 2017). Open and effective communication strategies played an important role in engagement (Welch, 2012).
Communication experts often use engagement as the measure with which they estimate their stakeholder’s experiences in connection with cognitive and behavioral consequences which can help the organization’s bottom line (Jiang, Luo & Kulemeka, 2016). Engagement is most frequently linked with organizational behavior and studies focused on employee engagement (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric & Ilic, 2011; Tkalac Verčič & Pološki Vokić, 2017). Even though Welch (2011) saw employee engagement being in the domain of internal communication, the relationship between specific dimensions of internal communication satisfaction and employee engagement is rarely explored (Tkalac Verčič, Verčič & Sriramesh, 2012; Tkalac Verčič & Pološki Vokić, 2017).
Internal communication has the biggest potential in transferring organizational values to employees thus engaging them into accepting organizational goals (Bindl & Parker, 2010 Pugh & Dietz, 2008; Wiley, Kowske & Herman, 2010). In modern global organizations engaged employees represent a competitive advantage (Macey & Schneider, 2008). Ruck and Welch (2012) have shown how employee engagement depends on robust internal communication and how organizations which have better internal communication have a four times higher chance of having engaged employees. We explored this relationship further (Tkalac Verčič & Pološki Vokić, 2017) and found that internal communication was one of the bases for employee engagement. Specifically, internal communication satisfaction was significantly related to, and affected, the level of employee engagement. So, it seems undeniable that internal communication can increase engagement through enabling communication perceived as appropriate by employees. This can only be accomplished with an insight into employee views (Welch, 2012).
When it comes to reputation, most authors agree that it is a combination of the internal and external perceptions of an organization (Tkalac Verčič & Verčič 2007; Balmer & Gray, 1999; Cheney & Christensen, 2001; Gummesson, 2000). Corporate reputation is important for corporate success (Kay, 2004, according to Martin, 2009). Some authors believe that reputation is an aggregation of identity and image (Fombrun, 1996; Fombrun & van Riel, 1997). From this perspective communication directed toward internal publics is vital in reputation management (Tkalac Verčič & Verčič 2007; Ahmed & Rafiq, 2002). The concept of employer brand is also closely connected to reputation (Ruiz, García, & Revilla, 2016), occasionally as a protector of it (Burke, Martin & Cooper, 2011). Academic research aimed at exploring reputation and employer brands shows a certain overlap on the conceptual, methodological and empirical level (Hendriks, 2016). Exploring the area of corporate reputation and employer branding is a promising area for strategic communication research, particularly when centered on internal communication. If strategic communication experts decide to claim the area of reputation management, it is necessary for them to understand how strategic policies and communications can shape the quality of the different factors that build reputation (Tkalac Verčič & Sinčić Ćorić, 2018).
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