Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, President and CEO, Institute for Public Relations
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Institute for Public Relations has conducted four studies, with partners such as Peppercomm, Harris Insights, and Leger, to determine how communication departments and agencies are handling the COVID-19 pandemic internally. The fifth study, an e-book featuring exclusive in-depth interview with communication leaders, will be published in July 2020.
In the latest study, IPR and Leger asked 2,530 employees in Canada and the U.S. about how well their company was communicating COVID-19 related updates to them. U.S. employees (58%) were slightly more likely to say their company was doing “very good” or “excellent” in communicating information and updates compared to Canadian employees (54%). On the other hand, 22% of Canadian employees and 15% of U.S. employees said their company’s communication was “fair” or “poor.” The CEO received higher marks in the U.S. than in Canada (54% in the U.S. vs. in 45% in Canada), as did the communication department (50% in the U.S. vs. 39% in Canada).
In the second COVID-19 report, IPR and Peppercomm surveyed 403 communication executives about how well they were communicating internally. Nearly 9-out-of-10 respondents said their companies were keeping employees well informed about company changes during the crisis. Clearly, there is a gap between the perception of employees and executives.
In terms of the effectiveness of communication channels, one-on-one communication was ranked by communication executives as the most effective, according to the second IPR-Peppercomm report. According to a Gallup panel in April, 62% of employees worked from home out of concern for COVID-19. With the increase in work-from-home employees and many companies shuttered their office, the importance of maintaining one-on-one communication between supervisors and their employees is critically important.
In this study, IPR and Leger wanted to find out how communication with supervisors changed during COVID-19, especially as more employees moved to working remotely. In both the U.S. and Canada, employees who typically communicated daily with their supervisors/managers before COVID-19 were communicating less frequently during the pandemic. Both countries saw declines of at least 20% in the amount of daily communication, with a 28% decrease in daily communication in Canada and 21% in the U.S.. For those employees who communicated less daily with their supervisor before the pandemic, they saw an increase in the frequency of their communication with their supervisor during COVID-19.
Before COVID-19 hit, the 2019 Gallup poll about employee engagement found those who were “engaged” and enthusiastic about work and the workplace reached an all-time high of 35%, while the percentage of disengaged workers hit an all-time low of 13%. In the IPR-Leger study, around three-quarters of employees in both countries said their engagement with the company had stayed the same during COVID-19. In the U.S., 13% of respondents said their engagement had increased, while the same number had said it decreased. On the other hand, 9% of Canadian employees said they saw an increase while nearly double that number (17%) reported a decrease in engagement.
Time will tell what the toll COVID-19 will take on employee engagement. Dr. Linjuan Rita Men, Associate Professor at the University of Florida and Chief Research Editor of the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center, has conducted extensive research relating to employee engagement. This research has found that engagement translates into positive outcomes for an organization, including increasing productivity, retention, and advocacy behavior. As more companies have pivoted to remote work and are considering more permanent flexibility in the workplace, ensuring company engagement levels remain high is vital for success.