Looking ahead to the promise of a new year is a good time to reflect on human resources and the necessary fuel human beings provide all organizations. From the corporate employee to the non-profit volunteer, it is the human dimension that spurs achievement of established missions and goals.
Continual monitoring and maintenance of worker morale and satisfaction is the right thing to do for many reasons. Beyond the obvious bottom-line advantages, research with employees and volunteers enables organizations to ‘do right’ by their workforce by instilling a positive work environment that promotes personal growth and well-being. It is no accident that this research is most often centered on internal communications; because, as in most things, communication is at the heart of a positive work environment (and worker morale & satisfaction).
The importance of work-place research – esp., communication research – becomes apparent at particularly low moments in an organization, such as economic downturns or episodic crisis situations. Whether it be a slowdown in the financial picture (and the threat of layoffs) or a one-of-a-kind tragedy (e.g., a fatal shooting at the place of business, terrorism), internal research plays a central role in identifying workers’ fears and concerns as well as the appropriate communication content and channel.
It is interesting (to me) that this research typically reveals a passionate cry for open, honest communication. As bad as conditions may be within an organization, employees and volunteers invariably demand to know the truth of the circumstances and the impact it has on their livelihood. This is not a new thought, and many people have come to a similar conclusion. Just this week, Baruch Fischhoff (a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in risk communication) discussed on NPR the importance of honest communication from the government in the aftermath of the recent Christmas Day terror attempt, emphasizing that the public can not only handle the facts but they need factual information in order to make their own “responsible decisions.” The people who ultimately fulfill an organization’s product and service commitments are no less deserving of carefully-crafted strategic as well as tactical communication that fosters good judgment and peace of mind.
The design for employee and volunteer research is unlike that for consumer or B2B. The most essential difference is that the researcher to varying degrees is meddling with a very personal – and potentially critical – aspect of a person’s life. A full appreciation of this (and the inherent risk it poses for the researcher) underlies all facets of the design process. Further discussion of the design issues can be found here.
The gap between expectations and reality define level of satisfaction. Interestingly, the communication expectations of staff and volunteer partnerships differ by type of relationship. Expectations for volunteers and staff implementing programs in the community differ from those between staff and volunteers partnering at a governance level, for example. A staff person’s expectation of communication with their CEO, differs from that with their direct surpervisor or peer.
When assessing satisfaction or engagement results, a look at responses between relationship types might be good secondary analyses. I suspect (based on previous research) that generational differences may also play a role in communication expectations and level of satisfaction as well. As we develop communication approaches, it would seem important to design strategies that account for relationship type.
The utility of the data captured is only as good as the implementation strategy that follows. Research, planning, and program complete the line of sight from data to delivery. Translation to practice should be discussed early on in the design process to ensure the research process is actionable.