When internal policies become external messages

Recently there has been a notable increase in firms seeking public profile for employee related announcements. These stories provide external stakeholders and prospective employees with information on a company’s values and culture.

But what are the benefits of sharing internal announcements externally?

In a challenging talent market, it’s a way to stand out from the crowd and position the business as a market leader when it comes to employee welfare. The benefits are not guaranteed though. A miscalculated announcement can set back a company’s reputation not just among its employees but also its investors, customers and potential employees.

Some brands have come under fire on social media for rainbow washing, by championing LGBTQ+ rights in June but not demonstrating sustained commitment throughout the year, or for being supportive of Pride but also donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians. Comms professionals need to weigh up the pros and cons of internal employee policies and whether they genuinely demonstrate progress, consistency and commitment beyond awareness days/months.

Revealing internal workings

Stories about how companies treat their staff resonate. When those stories are negative, it’s difficult to shake the impression that the company does not care enough about its people, even if their product is amazing. I doubt I’m unique in this, and leaders know that. Announcements on management models and new staff initiatives are done in the hope that they demonstrate the company’s purpose and brand identity to external stakeholders. For Airbnb, this is very straightforward. Its CEO and leaders are selling an untethered lifestyle, so they want to make that a reality for their staff – announcing its employees can work remotely permanently. I can believe that – it feels genuine. But what about when it doesn’t?

You get a cheque, you get a cheque, you get a cheque (in the voice of Oprah)

Brewdog’s CEO, James Watt, hasn’t made life easy for his HR and communications teams. They’ve had to deal with a Panorama investigation, detailed reports of misconduct on social media, and a general feeling that their staff aren’t treated well. Seemingly, Brewdog’s growth has come at the expense of employee welfare.

To address this and respond to a barrage of negative press, Watt dug deep into his pockets and pledged to share £100 million of shares amongst his 750 employees over the next four years in his Brewdog Blueprint. It’s great that his staff are being made owners of the business they have also worked hard to build. I believe workers across all industries would like to see similar recognition. However, this employee offer does not negate the volume of critique that has been levied at Watt and Brewdog. The fall from grace was not instant, and neither will the reputation rebuild be. A regular cadence of positive announcements from Watt will no doubt ensue as he tries to regain its ‘punk’ reputation. However, whether you can be worth millions and still be punk is a question for another blog.

In summary

None of these announcements needed to be made public. They primarily concerned employees, not their investors, nor their customers. So why do it? Making external what could remain internal is a useful conduit to demonstrate a company’s culture, commitments, and its purpose. Furthermore, in an extremely competitive talent market it gives prospective employees reason to give greater consideration to your company.

However, perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity to be a driving force in industry – raising the bar for everyone. It shows that your company is progressive, capable of being dynamic, adapting to the world around it, and being seen to be acting with purpose.