Restructuring internal communications in the public sector

by Stratton Craig

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At a time when the public sector is experiencing some of the biggest upheaval in many of its employees’ lifetimes, it goes without saying that internal communication and engagement needs a lot of thought. It will take something special to keep staff motivated in such an uncertain environment.
So it’s a concern that the 2011 State of Sector survey reports that over a third of the public sector organisations surveyed had no dedicated internal comms budget, and 27% had less than £10,000 – this is well below other sector averages. And since almost 40% of the respondents noted that re-engaging employees was their number one professional challenge, we won’t be the first to point out that things aren’t really stacking up.

So what can and should be done to help solve this communication conundrum?

As Communicate Magazine’s report points out, it’s clear that organisations may be adopting a face-to-face approach to internal communications with more frequent site visits, which is a great idea. But in tough times when team numbers are squeezed and workloads are full-to-bursting, whilst hating to be cynical, we do wonder how realistic this will be.

Whatever strategy public sector organisations adopt the crucial element now will be openness and clarity. Due to the budget constraints, public organisations will need to communicate a lot more in a smaller amount of space or shorter timescale. There will be no room for waffle or euphemistic language – the ability to get to the point quickly and clearly will be valuable, as will a skill for breaking unsettling news in a reassuring way (a hard one to master to say the least!).

The sector looks set to follow quite a vicious circle but we hope that attention will be paid to communications initiatives that have the potential to soften the blow. Organisations can be comforted by the cost-effectiveness of digital communication – online newsletters, social networking, forums or online employee surveys can go a long way in keeping staff up to date and engaged.

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