Are you prepared for these 2024 internal comms trends?
Following what many have described as the meteoric rise of a historically undervalued function, is the golden age of internal comms coming to an end? 2024 could be the year smart players forge ahead, while others risk falling back down the pecking order. Find out what savvy ICs will be focusing on in the year ahead to maintain their seat at the table and make a mark on their organizations that can’t be overlooked.
Trending internal comms topics for 2024
Wow internal comms, you’ve been on a journey these last years! From the unsung heroes of the enterprise to a strategic function at the center of reimagining the employee experience in a never-seen-before workplace. WHAT A RIDE.
Last year, we spoke confidently about the dawning of a golden age of internal communications. This year, however, we’ve been hearing rumblings that that progress is stalling. While some teams are still enjoying increased strategic importance, others are finding themselves reverting to old order-taking ways.
We’re coming to a crossroads, and the future of the function could be decided by the moves made over the next twelve months. The good news is that there’s everything to play for. Employee engagement remains a focal challenge and internal comms remain at the center of the solution.
Internal comms trends hub
See all of the latest trends, plus trends from previous years all in one place. Every year brings new challenges, as well as new opportunities to recalibrate agendas. To help you in your quest, here are the expert-backed internal comms trends; past, present, and future!
The employee engagement imperative
We’ve ridden the quiet quitting and great resignation headlines, but the employee engagement problem hasn’t gone anyway.
Despite a small uplift since the historic decline of 2020, still only 23% of the global workforce is engaged. 6 in 10 employees couldn’t care less who they work for as long as they take home a pay check, and of the other four, at least two of them are doing their best to spread discontent.
It’s a mess and a costly one. $8.8tr to be exact, or so Gallup estimates the cost of disengagement to the global economy.
Leaders are being called on to move the dial, giving internal communicators another big opportunity to flex their muscles and prove their salt as critical change champions.
So, where should savvy internal communicators be pouring their efforts to make the gains the workplace so desperately needs? We spoke to our friends and influencers in the space to find out.
Is employee engagement dead?
Striving for employee alignment looks to be the must have EX trend for replacing years of employee engagement for engagement’s sake. With the IC community spilling to social media to share their views, we get the take of the Unily podcast team on whether employee engagement really is OUT for 2023 and if so what replaces it.
Top trend #1: Building engagement one manager at a time
Plan A failed. Trying to solve the employee engagement challenge with one-to-many, cookie-cutter tactics didn’t move the needle. 2024 will see ICs upping the ante with a more focused approach that sees efforts concentrated on specific subsets of the workforce with the widest spheres of influence.
So, where to start? Gallup tells us that 70% of team engagement is attributable to the manager, putting them at the forefront of the engagement solution.
This topic came up several times at Unite 23, Unily’s landmark employee experience conference, where over 600 enterprise leaders gathered to discuss the big themes of the day. Keynote speaker Steven Bartlett talked about the power of managers to dictate pockets of the employee experience, saying, “Companies don’t have one company culture, they have as many cultures as they have managers.”
Unite 23 - Employee engagement lessons from a CEO with Steven Bartlett
Entrepreneur, dragon, and host of The Diary of a CEO podcast - Steven Bartlett - returns to the Unite stage to share his unique ethos on engaging employees and creating winning cultures from the perspective of the modern CEO.
This year, we expect to see savvy internal communicators recognizing this opportunity, and focusing more effort on equipping managers with the information and resources to be effective.
As with all well-formulated employee engagement efforts, the starting point will be listening. Find out what support your managers need, and then get to work on how you deliver against it.
Enterprises that truly understand the value of engaged managers will invest in creating managers hubs, where resources, feedback loops, and knowledge exchange mechanisms are centralized. It could look something like this:
Tune into Pearson’s Unite 23 session to see how they’re already making strides in this lane.
Unite 23 - Using your intranet to drive high-performance culture
Discover how the world’s leading learning company Pearson, is using its employee experience platform to drive growth and help 22k employees worldwide focus and work simpler. By using Gallup's 12 elements of engagement, they are able to guide decision-making to optimize business impact and drive engagement.
Top trend #2: Swing voter campaigning
Just as elections are won and lost in swing states, the success of your employee engagement strategy could be determined by how well you convert your quiet quitters. According to Gallup, 77% of workers worldwide are “still waiting for their employers to give them a reason to do more than just show up.”
2024 will be the year ICs recognize that it’s not the actively disengaged they should be strategizing to convert, but the quiet quitters sitting on the fence between engaged and disengaged.
Much like politicians devise campaigns to target swing voters, ICs will be looking to pique the interests of those employees teetering on the edge of engagement. These are the people waiting to be inspired. The question then becomes, what will inspire them?
Once again, IC teams will be leaning on well-established listening practices to gain a nuanced understanding of what exactly is keeping these quiet quitters from bringing the big guns to work.
Armed with those insights and a fail-fast attitude, we’ll see internal comms teams activating focused campaigns designed to connect ambivalent employees with the content that will make them care. It likely already exists, it’s just a case of doing the extra legwork to bring it to them.
The most successful ICs will leverage the marketing-grade campaign functionality creeping into the internal comms tech space to tightly target and retarget the segments of the workforce that need that extra push. This technology is built to solve the challenge of reaching the harder-to-reach, and 2024 will be the year we see it used to move the needle.
"People sometimes obsess about engaging the actively disengaged, but you could spend all your time, effort, and energy on this segment and not see the top level changes you want. Instead of trying to turn your strongholds, it's time to concentrate on the swing state where you can really make a difference."
Instead of frittering away your limited campaign budget, it’s time to concentrate efforts on the key issues that will attract those on the engagement knife edge.
Accelerating employee engagement with technology
When internal communicators approach employee engagement with a marketing mindset, great things often happen. Sure, SEO might not come across as the sexiest topic, but delivering a fantastic search experience puts perfectly crafted content directly into the line of sight of time-strapped employees. We uncover the SEO methods forward-thinking internal comms teams should be using to boost visibility and viewership.
Top trend #3: Remembering the forgotten child of CSR
Despite the fact that 75% of U.S. executives say ESGs have a positive impact on employee engagement per SHRM research, more than a third of the 2,000 enterprises that took part in the Gallagher 2023 State of the Sector survey reported they don’t do any form of ESG communication.
The climate change conversation is headline news outside work, but the same can’t be said inside the proverbial walls of the office.
Not only are employees increasingly seeking to work at businesses that share and exhibit their values, but customers also prefer to buy from businesses that demonstrate strong ethics.
Both of these critical stakeholders are looking to businesses to lead the charge against climate inaction and yet according to Gallagher’s research, only 11% of the enterprise communications put out last year were on the topic of sustainability.
We expect to see ICs leaning into this missed opportunity in 2024 as they battle to capture hearts and minds and make a positive impact on the world beyond the workplace.
Here, internal comms teams have an opportunity to go beyond engagement, using their sphere of influence to impact areas like talent attraction. By rallying employees around the ESG mandate and amplifying strategy messaging, IC can become the ESG champion the business needs.
Unite 23 - Ask an internal comms expert
Your questions answered by top internal communicators.
Top trend #4: From order takers to trusted curators… or back down the pecking order?
The days of internal comms blindly executing the whims of every department are over. Today’s internal communicators are strategic thinkers who challenge the status quo by questioning the value of the asks they so regularly receive. Or are they?
Despite the data suggesting that IC leaders are living it large at the leadership table, the word on the street doesn’t marry up.
We’re hearing that internal comms is fast approaching a crossroads. The momentum spurred by the pandemic is waning, and, over the next year, we’re going to start seeing a divide emerge. The smart players stand to jump ahead, and those that don’t risk falling back into the role of glorified order-takers.
For IC to move into the accelerated growth phase we anticipated last year, we will need brazen actors with bold approaches.
For some IC teams, this will manifest through the adoption of an editorial mindset that combines a deep understanding of employee sentiment and organizational goals with storytelling know-how and press room processes that focus on quality over quantity.
In the new IC press room, internal comms teams will work together to curate highly polished comms experiences through a process of pitching, critiquing, and rejecting as their collective sees fit. Communicators will operate within defined patches and remits to ensure coverage of key areas like executive communications and value alignment campaigns. By leaning on well-established journalistic practices, IC teams will find themselves better able to fend off ad hoc requests and resist falling into the order-taker trap.
Why internal communicators need to say 'no' to leaders
Business leaders are the face of the company, but do they always know what’s best for their employees? Leaders that fail to understand the evolving employee-employer dynamic risk alienating employees at a time when engagement is front of mind. Here’s how internal communicators can play a pivotal role in coaching leaders through the next phase of work: when to say no, and how to do it effectively.
Top trend #5: Psst… AI didn’t create this
This year, we’ll see safer, more contextual iterations of generative AI appearing within the confines of existing IC tech. Vendors have worked quickly to bring ChatGPT-like capabilities into their platforms to help internal communicators offload highly manual tasks and do more with limited resources. We’re seeing the power of generative AI brought into the context of specific IC use cases, making it highly usable, effective, and, critically, more prevalent across organizational content.
Key AI capabilities to watch out for that will begin to solve some of the core internal comms challenges are:
- AI publishing assistants – the comms companion that supports content optimization and generation, attuned to different audiences and channels
- AI summarizations – giving time-poor employees access to snappy overviews of content
- AI-enhanced search – let AI sift through content to surface quick insights that give employees faster access to shared knowledge
Unily's AI publishing assistant is here for internal comms
Since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT at the tail end of 2022, the AI revolution has become an unescapable phenomenon. Unily’s latest feature puts the power of generative AI into the hands of enterprise communicators to solve long-standing challenges and take employee engagement to new heights.
But, the rise of generative AI comes at a time when authenticity in comms is in high demand. Last year, we saw the demand for polished corporate comms replaced by a move to more relatable content that speaks the employee’s language. A third of people leaders report that workers want to be spoken to in a less formal way, according to Unily research.
A rise in video and audio content was symptomatic of this shift, alongside greater use of emojis and memes.
But now, the rise of generative AI could threaten that progress.
If employees didn’t want to engage with stuffy corporate comms that didn’t feel human, they’re definitely not going to want to engage with comms that weren’t written by a human. Internal communicators need to get ahead of this.
We anticipate that communicators will need to bang the authenticity drum even louder, balancing the use of artificially generated content with an even greater commitment to human storytelling and tone of voice.
Internal comms teams will need to clearly define where they will and won’t lean on generative AI. This will be different for every communicator – it’s about working out where AI adds value, and where you add value.
Make 2024 the year of the internal communicator
Will 2024 be the year you lean into the big opportunity to cement IC value or the year we see IC relegated to the sidelines? It’s all to play for.
Solving the employee engagement challenge isn’t the responsibility of one department, but IC might just have to take the lead. The decisions you make in 2024 could pave the road for the next generation of internal communicators, so be bold, be brave, and be the change your workplace needs.
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