Employee communication is an essential part of business and HR’s role. Effective internal communication is important for developing trust within an organisation and has a significant impact on employee engagement, organisational culture and, ultimately, productivity. Yet our research suggests that many employees feel they receive limited or very little information. To be successful, communication needs management support, a clear strategy and evaluation.

This factsheet explores the role internal communication plays in developing engaged employees, achieving organisational goals and supporting strategy and change. It examines aspects of an effective communication strategy, including the role of line managers, social media and two-way or multi-directional dialogue. Finally, it takes a closer look at planning and tailoring communications as well as the roles and responsibilities in good workplace communication.

Our factsheet on employee voice, which covers the mechanisms of employee involvement and the benefits of two-way communication, may be helpful too. Our factsheets on employee engagement and employer brand are also relevant.

See the full A-Z list of all CIPD factsheets. 

Effective internal communication is vital in developing transparency in organisations. Clear, consistent and regular internal messaging is needed especially as the nature of organisations and their workforces continues to change, driven by factors such as digital transformation and flexible working.

At times of uncertainty and change, such as the COVID-19 induced changes to workplaces, good employee communication becomes even more vital. Evidence shows that virtual teams face more challenges than traditional, face-to-face teams to continue operating effectively. One challenge is maintaining ongoing communication when in person methods are not possible. Our evidence review on developing effective virtual teams provides practical recommendations to mitigate communication issues.

In difficult times, employers can build trust and relieve tensions by communicating reliable information regularly with their employees. Communication should be transparent and include details on how the organisation is responding to, and impacted by, the situation, as well as keeping employees informed of developments which may affect them physically, emotionally and financially. Listen to our webinar Leading and communicating through crisis, produced during the pandemic.

Organisations should also provide information on any additional support that they provide employees, such as Employee Assistance Programmes or other helplines, and emphasise any other benefits available, such as health insurance. Understanding employee work-related mental wellbeing is important in effective employee communication.

There’s more on what employers should be doing in the current COVID-19 context in our Responding to the coronavirus hub.

For UK businesses, Brexit has brought about change. The most immediate challenge for the people function is to provide a clear channel for communication and information. Our Brexit hub has dedicated commentary and resources to help people professionals plan effectively and respond with agility. 

Communication is a critical part of employee engagement, which in turn promotes better performance, employee retention and wellbeing. Employees are more likely to engage and contribute when there’s an open organisational culture. Good employee communication enables employees to stay connected to their workplace, understand their organisation’s purpose and strategy, identify with its values, and develop a sense of belonging by understanding how they contribute to its wider purpose.

However, despite the need for it to be high up the agenda in all organisations, there are challenges to effective communication at all levels of the organisation. Faced with change and complexity, senior leaders often struggle to communicate clearly about where the organisation is going and the impact on employees. Similarly, managers can lack the skills, confidence and time needed to communicate well with their teams. Our Good Work Index underlines that employees can find their manager is poor at keeping them informed about management decisions.

An effective approach to internal communication will be cohesive and strategic, and support a culture of trust and openness.

Successful communication:

  • Builds a shared sense of purpose aligned to organisational strategy.
  • Receives attention and support from senior leaders.
  • Drives genuine dialogue.
  • Draws on a range of digital channels and tools.
  • Is essential to good people management.
  • Depends on being reviewed and assessed for effectiveness.

In our report From best to good practice HR: developing principles for the profession we explored the principles that enable two-way relationships between people and organisations. We also highlight the importance of employees having a meaningful voice at work in our 2019 report Talking about voice, our 2021 report Talking about voice: insights from case studies and our practical advice on empowering employee voice.

The role of senior leaders and people managers

A successful communication strategy depends on the full support of senior leaders as they are a key communication channel to all employees. But rather than being a ‘top down’ exercise, there needs to be two-way dialogue, so that people have meaningful opportunities to feed their views upwards and discuss them with colleagues. Where resources permit, leaders may need support and training to be authentic, clear and inclusive in their communication.

Our talking about voice research showed that employees' two main concerns are work pressure and organisational change. Over half also say they had not raised these issues with their manager, colleague, HR or other representative. Failing to hear such views can lead to poor organisational outcomes (such as lower performance) and employee outcomes (such as lower wellbeing and motivation).

Using social technology

Employees are increasingly seeing intranets as out of date and unwieldy sources of information. This is a particularly the case for people who are used to personalised, on-demand content in their private lives. Instead, enterprise social networks, such as online discussion forums or interactive intranets, are a potentially game-changing shift in how internal communications work. Some organisations are seeing benefits from internal social media in:

  • Enabling employee interaction and a sense of belonging.
  • Creating digital communities
  • Quickly resolving operational issues, especially across a dispersed workforce.
  • Encouraging teams or departments to collaborate.
  • Giving employees greater voice.
  • Gaining insight into issues that affect employees and their work.

New communication technologies are emerging fast. When looking at what will work best for an organisation, it’s vital to think carefully about what employees throughout the organisation need to do and what help they need to achieve it. Access to different technology channels for all employees needs to be reviewed to make sure everyone can receive and engage with the messages.

Two-way and multi-directional dialogue

The principle of two-way and responsive communication is crucial. Effective two-way communication supports the psychological contract and employee engagement, as individuals feel listened to and valued.

However, with the use of social networks, communication has increasingly become not only two-way, but multi-directional. Employees can share their views with colleagues at the same time as feeding them ‘upwards’, and quickly receive responses from colleagues or leaders in any part of the organisation. As our research report Social media and employee voice argues, this has marked a significant shift in how internal communications work and their impact.

Assessing communications effectiveness

There are two key levels for evaluating communication effectiveness:

  • Overall culture of communication within the organisation - a regular employee attitude survey can ask questions covering, for example, whether:
    • employees feel fully informed
    • communication is regular and consistent
    • employees’ feel listened to
    • leaders are trusted.

  • Success against specific objectives - any communications campaign must have a clear aim, for example, awareness of a particular initiative, or a change in perceptions or behaviour. Once the aim is established, it’s possible to measure the campaign’s success.

Specific communication strategies

When facing organisational change, carefully planned communications are critical. A good communications plan will cover appropriate timing, content, style and the channels to be used. It’s also important to have clear, honest and consistent messaging

Channel and message selection

Communications planning should start with the outcome – what do you want your audience to think, feel or do as a result? This gives a good basis for selecting appropriate messages and channels.

Some methods of communication tend to be top-down, such as all-staff presentations or team briefings. Others, such as group meetings or online discussion forums, provide more opportunity for dialogue.

When consultation and dialogue is needed, the method chosen should stimulate an appropriate two-way discussion. For example, while an enterprise social network may work well for some discussions, more sensitive or targeted issues will be better as face-to-face individual or group meetings. It’s also important that communication addresses individual needs, including remote or part-time workers, or those who may feel more comfortable having one-to-one conversations rather than large group meetings.

Technology has transformed the range of options available for communicating with employees. However, not all employees will habitually use social tools. Communicators should consider the range of channels available and match them with how people prefer to receive information and communicate, as well as accessibility across different employee groups.

Tailoring communications

Some organisations segment employees so they can tailor communications to different audiences. This can apply to both for the style of communication and the method – for example, using the intranet for employees who have computer access, but other approaches for employees who don’t.

Organisation size is also an important factor. Communication is more complex in a global organisation, especially where different languages and cultures are involved.

In large organisations, internal communications departments play a key role in developing the communication strategy and the flow of messages across the organisation. People professionals need to work with these specialists to ensure clear and timely communication around people management and employment issues.

Senior leaders set the tone as they should be role model for good communication, in terms of outlining strategy and purpose, and in their own communication style.

Managers are the front line of communicating with employees. They need to understand the importance of communicating and listening, have the right skills, and be willing to have conversations with their staff. This includes being prepared to address difficult situations. Read our Developing managers for engagement and wellbeing guidance.

Finally, all employees play a role in ensuring effective communications. Sharing, learning, listening and collaborating is key to an organisation’s success and adaptability.


Acas - Informing and consulting your employees about workplace matters

Involvement and Participation Association - case studies

Books and reports

COWAN, D. (2017) Strategic internal communication: how to build employee engagement and performance. 2nd ed. London: Kogan Page..

DEWHURST, S. and FITZPATRICK, L. (2019) Successful employee communications: a practitioner's guide to tools, models and best practice for internal communication. London: Kogan Page.

Visit the CIPD and Kogan Page Bookshop to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journal articles

CALNAN, M. (2017) How to use internal social networks. People Management (online). 27 September.

D`APRIX, R. and FAGAN-SMITH, B. (2011) Open communication cultures: best practice in a changing world. Strategic Communication Management. Vol 15, No 5, June. pp36-39.

WALDEN, J., JUNG, E.H. and WESTERMAN, Y.K. (2017) Employee communication, job engagement, and organisational commitment: a study of members of the millennial generation. Journal of Public Relations Research. Vol 29, No 2-3, pp73-89.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

Dr Gill Maxwell: Research Adviser (maternity cover), CIPD

The focus of Gill’s role is research on the people profession, now and in the future. Her research interests and publications span a range of strategic human resource management topics, mostly recently centered on models of employment in performance critical roles. 

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