Employee Engagement Virtual Salon: Panel Discussion

July 16, 2020

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Back in March 2020, as the COVID pandemic began to significantly impact global businesses, FleishmanHillard invited a small group of internal communicators to a virtual Salon to share notes and insights on employee communications.

Held every two weeks, the Salon quickly grew into a lively forum with over 30 internal communicators hearing from and learning from their peers.

In June we moderated a panel discussion with three internal experts from AB InBev, Samsung and Western Union, who are also FleishmanHillard clients.  It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion, with a particular focus on Leadership Communications, Culture, Employee Well-being and, of course, a Return to the Workplace.

Moderator: Paul Vosloo, SVP & Senior Partner, FleishmanHillard

Panelists:

  • Megan Booker: Global Director, Internal Communications, AB InBev
  • Claire Treacy: Head of Transformation and Internal Communications, Western Union
  • Tracy Calabrese: Director, Internal Communications, Samsung Electronics North America

Paul Vosloo (FH): Let me start with some of the challenges you’ve all faced coordinating global communications. Megan, as global director of internal communications for AB InBev, you’re supporting regional markets around the world, each with different health protocols and at different phases of returning to the workplace. How are you managing it?

Megan Booker (AB InBev): The relationship we have with different zones around the world is symbiotic. There is no one-size-fits all. We have six Zones around the world plus global – and each one is different.

Global communications originally supported APAC with message drafting. Of course then we didn’t realize that it would expand and impact so many markets. That experience, and the partnership with the APAC team, benefited us greatly as we pulled together scenarios and Q&As for all our markets. While doing this, it was important to create freedom for local markets within the framework as we were never going to be able to give different markets something that’s totally fleshed out because every market is unique.

What we prioritized giving to local markets is a consistent set of messages around our the return to the workplace as a company. Then, we provided them with basic assets that can be adapted easily. Simple is better because everyone is moving at lightning speed. Efficiency is key but it’s equally important to provide value. Having a strong relationship with the Zones was critical and enables us to understand what they value.

Paul: What other factors are you seeing?

Megan: As FleishmanHillard’s TGI survey highlighted, the way employees are treated right now is the number one driver of reputation. Companies have to decide what the return to workplace will really look like. We have to make people feel great about coming back to work in addition to addressing their concerns.

A second element is knowledge sharing. A year and a half ago we started putting more focus on knowledge sharing, but the crisis has really accelerated our approach. We found if one Zone faced a challenge, odds are another had faced the same challenge. Or will be facing it really soon and the teams can collaborate on a solution.

Paul: Claire. As Head of Transformation and Internal Communications, how are you managing employee communications at Western Union?

Claire Treacy (Western Union): COVID-19 forced a new normal on all of us, removing the more ‘traditional’ channels of communication many of our leaders had with their teams. Leaders and Mangers can no longer rely on open door policy – everything’s happening in a virtual environment and so more focus was needed on the most effective communication channels. Like most companies, we adapted quickly but you need to look carefully at the cadence of communications and make it a dialogue as much as possible, especially as most employees are sitting at home on a laptop.

We’ve set up a weekly video series from ET (Executive Team) members with updates, as well as site specific communications because people want to hear from their site leaders at a more local level. Empowering and helping ET direct reports and Managers cascade information is also essential. Equipping them with the right resources so they can be messengers and carriers of WU’s messaging and updates from the COVID task force, return to the workplace etc.

Paul: I know you’ve also been tracking employee sentiment.

Claire: Yes. We send out a monthly survey to all employees, with questions ranging from how they feel about their own role clarity to how confident they feel about leadership and the direction of our business,  with a sliding scale and opportunity for people to add comments. Typically, we’d expect to receive around 4,000 comments, but in the last few months it’s risen to over 9,000, along with a huge increase in engagement.

There’s also been a noticeable increase in response rates to leadership comms. On engagement scores, Leadership is tracking slightly above 14 points above benchmark.

Paul: That’s impressive. How will you sustain that momentum?

Claire: Leaders are now paying a lot more attention to monthly engagement numbers from these surveys. There’s a bit of healthy competition going on. Leaders see their colleagues scores going up and they’re asking us what can they do? We’re working now with each Leader on a quarterly employee communications plan to really focus attention on maintaining this regular drumbeat of communications while the majority of teams remain in full or partial virtual mode.

Paul: Tracy, as Director of Internal Communications at Samsung in North America, have you seen Leadership styles change over the last couple of months?

Tracy Calabrese (Samsung): Absolutely. As a South Korean company, not surprisingly we have a very formal culture. But as we moved to virtual ways of working, we’ve encouraged senior management to be more informal and more empathetic, and they’ve really embraced that.

We’re seeing Leaders take on a more conversational style and tonality. In team meetings and through companywide communications, they’ve introduced their families and pets and talked about their personal experiences working from home. Communications also leads regular VP Webex calls to share timely updates and answer questions. These things help humanize Leadership. Employees have really responded positively and feel like Leadership are sharing their experiences. We plan to continue creating more dialogue between Leaders and employees – and hopefully build on this as we move start to return to the workplace.

Claire: I couldn’t agree more. At Western Union we want to sustain the humanity shown by Leadership during the crisis. What is achievable and sustainable? It may not be with the same cadence, but we’re planning to keep it going and build on it.

Megan: That’s a challenge for all of us. Leadership has relied on us to guide them through the crisis. How can we sustain that relationship? We’re already seeing Leaders hosting more Town Halls and recognizing the importance of employee engagement. And we’ve seen how powerful it is when Leaders are more humanized. When they speak with candor. We’ve got to hold onto that beyond the current crisis.

Paul: Tracy, you’re also facing a number of communications challenges with facilities and operations in different States throughout North America.

Tracy: Yes. We have over 200,000 employees in subsidiaries across the US. We’ve partnered with HR to set up protocols and templates to support subsidiaries, but recognize the situation is very different and very fluid in each State and for each type of workplace – offices, distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, retail locations, etc. We’re monitoring progress State by State to ensure we’re aligned to local health guidelines, as well as restrictions that impact employees like childcare or health concerns.

Right now, we have prepared our offices and facilities to re-open, regardless of whether they can or not. We want to have consistency in our approach, and ultimately we will decide on the right time to re-open.

Paul: I know Samsung recently had a holiday as a wellness day for employees. How important is it for the company to focus on employee mental health and well-being?

Tracy: Extremely important. The wellness day was very much needed and we’re continuing to focus on  wellness as an important part of our internal communications.

For example, HR is looking at what different providers are offering, and looking into partnerships with other companies to provide more mental health and well-being support. We’re also looking at different ways to communicate with employees – we sent out two home mailers to promote wellness, something we don’t do often, but makes sense right now with people working from home. We’re also reinforcing the importance of taking time off to take care of yourself, which is so critically important.

Megan: It’s been all hands-on deck since COVID-19 started and it isn’t getting any easier! Among our Global Reputation & Communications team at AB InBEv, we’ve set up a routine where we give each member of the team a day to themselves every two weeks. One day to yourself when you’re not expected to be on and reachable.

Claire: There needs to be a balance of life and work from home, particularly so now that we’ve come to realize that many of us will be working from home for the foreseeable future. We need to encourage and remind employees to take time for themselves. It’s not always top of mind so it’s important to encourage it.

From a mental health perspective, Western Union had a mental health expert join a recent leadership meeting to talk to the team about how to recognize the signs of mental health and the best ways to engage employees who managers feel may be struggling – opening up a dialogue.

Paul: Thanks each of you for sparing the time to talk to us and sharing your insights.

The following is a precis of the discussion with key insights highlighted:

GLOBAL MANAGEMENT FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS

  • Relationships between different global zones and markets need to be symbiotic and combine key learnings from each location
  • There is no one size fits all for each location, allowing for each region to determine its own communications framework based off of key learnings that other regions are sharing

LEADERSHIP COMMUNICATIONS

  • Leaders need to have clear and concise key messages that they can easily and effectively convey to all members of the workforce
  • Efficiency in communications is a key aspect to making communications successful, but there is still the need for the communications to have value for employees
  • Leadership needs to show engagement and an understanding of each region for communications to be effective
  • COVID-19 has humanized leaders; employees enjoy seeing their leadership working from home and in “home” settings
  • There has been a positive response from employees about the increased informality from leadership, with companies focusing on how to sustain this “humanity” going forward
  • All leadership communications are now virtual and need to be more frequent (e.g., video series, town halls, regular updates and quarterly plans, etc.)

EMPLOYEE MENTAL HEALTH & WELL-BEING

  • Companies are placing an even larger emphasis on mental health and well-being
  • HR is working with Internal Comms to communicate to employees the importance of taking care of themselves; balance working from home and personal life
  • Companies are striving to teach employees about mental health and how to recognize mental health, or lack thereof, in employees during COVID-19

MEASURING EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AND SENTIMENT

  • One of the most important points of employee engagement and sentiment currently revolves around the return to the workplace and the way that employees are treated in regard to this process
  • Companies have to decide what the return to work process is really about and whether to place the focus on employees or the work itself
  • Companies are using data and feedback to positively reinforce what is working for employees both during COVID-19, as well as what takeaways can be used after the COVID-19 crisis ends

MAINTING INTERNAL COMMUNICATION’S SEAT AT THE TABLE

  • Leadership has been reaching out to internal communications to ask what they as leaders can do to reinforce employees’ belief and trust in the company
  • Internal communications is especially important when looking at the return to the office and how employees are viewing the potential for this