Sending Corporate Communications Direct To Employees
Reviewing some examples from the UK
The use of corporate communications to express clear corporate views on contentious political issues needs to be examined.
Business and politics have been interwoven in Asia for some time. Examples range from political appointments and interference in state-owned businesses in several countries to the former Hyundai executive Lee Myung-bak becoming Korean president.
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Expressing corporate views on political issues
However, this involvement tends to be at the top level. In contrast, recently in the UK, we have seen a significant development – the use of corporate communications, not on company or economic matters or to the media or business community, but to express clear corporate views on a contentious political issue direct to their workforce.
Many businesses choose to stay clear of such issues or allow senior managers to speak out in a personal capacity – for good reason.
The law firm, Clifford Chance, has recently joined others, such as Airbus and Rolls Royce in sending a direct corporate communication to staff about a political question – the upcoming EU referendum in the UK.
Rolls Royce asserted it was the company’s ‘duty’ to outline its position to employees and tell them the risks because ‘many’ staff had supposedly asked for it. For Airbus Group, it was ‘reasonable’ for a ‘responsible UK leadership team’ to explain why they think it is important to remain in the EU.
So, what are we to make of this trend?
We can only assume executives think this sort of stance will influence people’s personal political votes, otherwise why waste their valuable time composing such missives? We need to think about this belief and action.
Questioning our assumptions
First, it is condescending and patronising and shows the arrogance and ignorance of some executives. It implies the workforce will not only actually read corporate communications from their own company and not just simply bin them and worse, that workforces cannot make up their own mind independently on this important decision – and one which does not only affect the narrow interests of the employer, but also the wider economy and country.
Of course, such communications are predicated on the questionable assumption that the workforce are malleable and will do management’s bidding, especially if there is the implicit jobs threat if they do not.
To what extent are the views of the signatories those of a corporation, owners, shareholders and investors, let alone employees?
Yet, research tells us that workers may well often do the opposite as many are dissatisfied with a company’s leadership. This is supported by the classic employee relations perspectives on companies that distinguish between unitarist, ‘a single source of authority, no conflict and we’re all in this together’ and pluralist, ‘diverse and opposing loyalties and power inequalities’, views.
Do signatories represent the company?
Second, to what degree do signatories on corporate communications ‘represent’ the company? Or are these more personal views? To what extent are the views of the signatories those of a corporation, owners, shareholders and investors, let alone employees? We can question this with Principal-Agent theory applied to executives. It is not ‘their’ company and they are paid agents.
Third, these communications are another aspect of the so-called ‘Project Fear’ as they are not impartial and are biased and non-analytical. Airbus gave the game away with their admission “…we simply do not know what ‘out’ looks like”.
No counter arguments are presented and they ignore the economic costs and risks of staying in EU, such as prevention of trade deals, relentless interference from rules staked in favour of a few multinationals, which like the EU as it allows them to lobby and fix rules in their favour, reducing competition and innovation.
Indeed, the EU has not saved the UK workforce from the blight of retrograde and draconian employment terms and conditions, such as zero hours contracts and companies allegedly not paying even the minimum wage.
Will this backfire?
Fourth, such letters may ‘backfire’ for the corporation if the blithe reassurances given in them fail to materialise. Who will then be held to account? Probably not the signatories, who may have moved on, even if the workforce has not.
Finally, while there may be no legal reason such communications should not be sent, to many people they leave an odd feeling as they seem patronising and insidious. It is an abuse of the trust employees may have in employers. Also, there is a moral and ethical reason not to do so, which management should reflect on.
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Jeff Sturges image courtesy [email protected]