All employees – no matter when they were born - will benefit from innovative ways of communicating
A recent survey by Global Tolerance revealed that almost half the workforce (42%) now want to work for an organisation that has a positive impact on the world. It would appear that this change is being driven by the Millennials - those born between 1981 and 1996. 62% want to work for a company that makes a positive impact, half prefer purposeful work to a high salary, and 53% would work harder if they were making a difference to others. A survey by Deloitte also indicated that millennial talent are more critical of their employer’s behaviour, and so the ability to communicate to this cohort is a key way to improve employer brand.
The greater emphasis by the Millenial age group on ethics and values has given some organisations concern that they may not be engaging the younger members of their workforce with their conventional ethics messaging.
One Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) subscriber says that younger employees “tend to have a stronger ethical conscience than many older employees. We use that to promote discussion as to ‘why’ [ethics is important] and also to learn from the experiences or expectations of each end of the [age] scale.” Another IBE Subscriber commented that: “Millennials also tend to make good CR/ethics champions who are keen to keep communicating these messages via internal social media.”
All employees – no matter when they were born - will benefit from innovative ways of communicating. As anyone who has tried to get a child ready for school in the morning will agree, you need to find new ways of saying the same things; otherwise your messages will fall on deaf ears. So it is worth considering expanding your communications channels to use technologies such as your enterprise social network, short videos and employees' own devices.
Humans are highly social beings. We like to be surrounded by friends and share our personal experiences with others. The rise of social networking tools illustrates the strong and fundamental human desire for social belonging and interpersonal exchange - our ‘social brain’. Social media – so prevalent in our personal lives – is now emerging as a tool to engage employees with ethical values.
The benefits of social media for communicating messages about ethics are that, rather than being seen as a ‘communication from head office’, messages can filter in a more organic way. Research into employee engagement indicates that what makes social media a valuable communications tool is that social technologies have changed communication from one-way, to two-way to ‘multi-directional’. Social media offers the opportunity for employees to engage with messages about the importance of ethical values, but also to discuss why they matter in their day-to-day work, not just with their managers, but with each other, and for the organisation to respond accordingly.
This ‘multi-directional’ nature of social media has positive implications for ‘employee voice’. If the purpose of a code of ethics is to guide staff to make decisions in line with the organisation’s ethical values, then an organisation which understands the ethical dilemmas which employees face in their day-to-day work will be able to create a supportive culture to help them to do the right thing. The non-linear nature of social media gives an authenticity which other communication tools find hard to replicate.
It can be an ideal vehicle for employees to share ethical challenges and stories about dilemmas which have been resolved. The nature of the ‘hive mind’ – the metaphor which derives from the collective intelligence of colonies of social insects like bees – can be used to work together to create a culture where issues are discussed in an open and transparent way.
Examples could include asking for views on a timely dilemma which has affected another business in the sector, or seeking examples of ‘values in action’ from employees.
We look at our smartphones on average 150 times a day. The growth of technology has meant that reaching employees through their own devices is also an option. People now expect to be able to access information anytime, anywhere, and the kind of content they interact with is increasingly interactive and social. Communicate Magazine recently cited research that employees are more likely to access apps than the intranet.
More and more companies are turning to apps as a means of communicating with employees, and that includes communicating about ethical values. Using mobiles to communicate short messages provides a different edge to the usual channels for communicating ethical values.
A growing area is the potential of these devices for delivering ‘smart learning’. A number of companies are developing personal learning updates that will enable companies to deliver concise staff development programmes on a daily basis through these devices. The goal is that learning will become a daily habit and will quickly become integrated into working practices.
A simple alert on log-in with the organisation’s ethical values
A vine length video instalment of an ethical dilemma
Some organisations have looked to app development as their intranet is not accessible outside the organisation, so employees in a situation where they needed advice on an ethical problem, for example, at customs, would be unable to consult the organisation’s online policy. The development of apps like the IBE’s Say No Toolkit (www.saynotoolkit.net) means that employees can access the information with ease.
‘Wearables’ refers to technology which is worn on the body, for example a smart watch or jewellery. Smartphones and tablets may become secondary support devices while watches, glasses, rings and possibly even socks become our primary form of communicating with others. Although this technology may seem futuristic, according to a study by Vanson Bourne, it is set to be coming into the workplace, perhaps superseding the smartphone.
Some companies may be introducing wearables as part of the business – integrating employees into the network wherever they are; combining mobile technology with organisational intelligence; alerting to problems; improving efficiency. However, employees themselves may also WYOD (wear your own device) for their own entertainment – like the smartphone before it.
Companies can record and deliver instant memos, videos, images and updates to all employees, knowing they are wearing devices that will share the information.
Above all, it’s important to consider how potential users will be driven to use these innovative channels. For them to be used, and have credibility, your apps or social media feeds will either need to fulfil a business use, or an entertainment brief. By the coffee machine, in the staff room, at the away day, you will often hear people talking about ethical issues without even realising it; issues of fairness, trust, conflicts, and other dilemmas. Using these newer technologies to communicate positive stories of ethics in action will engage all employees – not just the digital natives.
Katherine Bradshaw is the author of the IBE’s latest Good Practice Guide: Communicating Ethical Values Internally which provides more practical advice on communications strategies and includes case studies from companies like Deloitte, Diageo, Lockheed Martin, Serco, Balfour Beatty on how they are using the latest technologies to communicate ethical values.stakeholder engagement engagement Employee engagement technology internal engagement internal strategy