Converse, communicate, train, engage: Maslow’s hierarchy for internal communications

Internal communications are built step by step, similar to Maslow’s hierarchy. They should be considered a gateway to the client experience. The final stage? Employee engagement.

For communication and marketing professionals, this means client acquisition and retention have been clearly identified. These goals are often achieved through funnel marketing and to accompany clients throughout their lifecycle. But what about company employees to whom internal communications are addressed?

Internal communications are sometimes sidelined by external communications as they don’t convert clients and appear on the balance sheet. However, they also have a significant impact on results in that they influence employee morale – and therefore their productivity.The employee experience should be studied and fine-tuned the same as the client experience, and internal communications should be considered the gateway to employee engagement with clients. Instead of funnel marketing, Maslow’s hierarchy can be used to orchestrate employee engagement.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The hierarchy developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s is often criticized today for its lack of flexibility. However, it is still taught in management schools as it provides a useful classification and hierarchy of fundamental needs:

Maslow's Hierarchy Needs

  1. Physiological needs: eating, drinking, sleeping, procreating
  2. Safety needs: shelter, resources, health
  3. Belonging needs: love, friendship, family
  4. Esteem needs: self-esteem, confidence, success, respect
  5. Self-actualization: achieving and using one’s full potential

The concept being that satisfying one of the needs causes the next level of needs to manifest. Thus, acquiring confidence and self-respect must come before self-actualization.

Employee engagement

This is the final stage of internal communications, as engagement with employees pushes them to outdo themselves in their work and to communicate proactively about their company. The Gallup Institute has already used Maslow’s hierarchy to assess employee engagement. The steps of this pyramid are as follows:

Employee engagement

  1. Basic needs: I know what is expected of me, and I have the means to accomplish it.
  2. Management support: I have the chance to express my potential, I have received a sign of appreciation for my work in the past seven days, my supervisor takes me into consideration as a person, and a manager oversees my development.
  3. Teamwork: My opinions seem to matter, my company’s mission statements make me feel that my work is important, my colleagues do high-quality work, and I count at least one good friend among my colleagues.
  4. Advancement: In the last six months, someone has spoken to me about my progress, and in the past year, I have had opportunities to learn and develop.

Here again, what matters is fulfilling the basic needs before going any further. The results are concrete: according to Gallup, companies that prioritize employee engagement are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than others. All good arguments to convince companies of the importance of internal communications.

The Internal Communications Hierarchy of Needs

In the same vein as Maslow’s hierarchy, we have developed our own version of the hierarchy of needs for internal communications: a hierarchy which highlights the importance of securing employees’ “primary” needs before seeking to generate engagement.

1. Conversing

The first stage is generating dialogue between employees. Whether it takes place around a table or in a virtual session, conversation is not only a source of well-being but a means of improving collaboration. Well-being because conversation is the foundation of social relationships, which are crucial for human beings as we have seen this past year. Conversation is also a vehicle for collaboration because whether professional or informal, it allows colleagues to get to know each other and thereby collaborate more efficiently.

How can we give conversation more prominence? By giving everyone a chance to speak in meetings (whenever possible), as well as promoting discussions within teams, e.g., through conversation groups. Since knowing one another is a prerequisite for conversation, it may also be useful to create an employee photo directory, or even an internal social network.

2. Communicating

This is arguably the stage that imposes itself when we contemplate employee engagement mechanisms. While a company’s external communication creates ties with its clients and audiences, internal communication maintains them with employees. But internal communications use different channels, different “touchpoints,” and the primary challenge is to maintain coherence despite this diversity. These touchpoints may be different from those used in classical communication campaigns, whose codes must be mastered.

Each point of contact comes with advantages and disadvantages. One-to-one email is excellent for forming direct relationships, whereas meetings offer optimal interactivity but can generate stress for employees due to their synchronous nature. It’s also important to identify the right “content mix”, the right ratio of content dedicated to the company vs. the news, of formal vs. lighter-weight formats.

In this context, email signatures are a valuable tool, both omnipresent in internal emails and discreet. A centralized email signature management tool offers the ability to automatically create internal communication campaigns and reach a maximum number of employees. As such, this solution is a natural fit in the digital workplace, a unified digital work environment that highlights the employee experience.

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3. Training

Progress, advancement and development prospects are all criteria in employees’ assessment of their work. Continuing education contributes to this progress, giving employees the possibility to acquire skills and climb the ranks. It also allows them to cover new subjects, master new tools, and break out of their routines.

This positive dynamic is vital because it provides the employee the opportunity to move forward and plan for the future. They can develop progress goals and the motivation to achieve them. As such, training benefits employees’ well-being and must be an integral part of internal comms.

4. Engaging

This is the final stage: engagement. The goal here is not simply to make employees happy, but also proud to be company ambassadors. It’s not an easy goal to achieve. To reach it, the previous steps must be implemented: conversing, communicating, and continuously educating them.

Employee engagement offers many advantages. By ensuring employees’ well-being, it improves the company’s productivity. That said, this is not an easy objective to achieve: it is an ideal towards which the company must strive.

The company must therefore be able to measure progress achieved in order to ensure continuous improvement, thereby tracing a path towards real and sustainable engagement with employees.

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