The Swear Jar Podcast: When Employee Communications Has No Budget

Sound familiar?

Supervisor: “Congratulations on becoming our Senior Manager in charge of employee communications. We know communicating well with employees is vital to the continued success of our organization. So, we’re expecting great things from you.”

Communications Professional: “Sounds great. I’m confident that we can leverage employee communications to move the needle on some of the organization’s top priorities. What’s the current budget for employee communications?”

Supervisor: “Employee communications budget? We don’t have one.”

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, don’t panic. You’re far from being alone and this situation need not be hopeless. There are tangible things you can do to successfully address the absence of an employee communications budget in your organization.

What “no budget” means


But, to do so, let’s get a grip on what we mean when we say, no employee communications budget. To be clear, we’re not talking about a shortage of money for trinkets and trash or posters or pet projects (that somehow always seem to find money somewhere in the budget). Rather, we’re talking about when: there aren’t enough resources to accomplish what is expected of the employee communications function/team; and/or no money is devoted to train people who, for the continued health of the organization, need to become better at communicating with colleagues, supervisors, and/or direct reports. Essentially, we’re describing the all-too-real situation where there is little or no money specifically allocated to support communications for the explicit purpose of strengthening the emotional bond between the organization and its employees.

Four reasons you have no employee communications budget


Given this critical mandate, you do have to wonder why those charged with employee communications find themselves having little or no budget. After all, have you ever heard of an organization operating successfully without an IT budget, or a budget to hire skilled employees or, for that matter, a budget for innovation? The most common reasons for established organizations choosing to opt out of an employee communications budget include the following:

Reason #1: While it may get ‘lip service’ at senior levels, employee communications isn’t really valued.

Reason #2: Related to reason #1, is when the incumbents in the employee communications function have either unsuccessfully articulated what is expected of them, have not quantified previous results or linked it successfully to an organization priority.

Reason #3: Those in charge of the organization budget have no idea of the costs associated with employee communications. Rather, they assume that because there’s a headcount and a computer allocated to employee communications that the rest is free. They forget about day-to-day employee communications expenses such as translation, design, software licenses, and training.

Reason #4: There is a bad history of the employee communication function (e.g. someone, somehow messed up employee communications).

Consequences of having no employee communications budget


The harsh reality is that it’s easier for employee communications to be relegated to the back-hall closet when any of the conditions above are in an organization’s leadership than securing a meaningful budget. However, when there is no budget for employee communications scary stuff happens.

For instance, really important (i.e. life-or-death) stuff gets ignored, miscommunicated, communicated poorly or simply communicated too late. We’ve seen that during the COVID-19 pandemic when employers have had to communicate scary stuff they barely understood and do it in a hurry. Without a communications budget, they’ve tried the DIY approach which has resulted in management often scaring or misleading their workforce unnecessarily and generating poor press.

Another dangerous outcome of having no employee communications budget is that the bar for employee communications lowers – and all the negative outcomes resulting from poor employee communications kick in, including: lower employee engagement, higher employee turnover, less pride taken in work, less compliance with necessary industry standards, lower productivity and less innovation. Ultimately, this means a widespread erosion of employees’ commitment to the organization’s purpose.

What’s a Communications professional to do?


Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some steps that anyone who owns responsibility for employee communications can take to make progress in securing a budget.

Step 1: Get well acquainted with your organization’s process, timing and players for setting, reviewing, and finalizing budgets. Some of these processes will be well articulated and some may be more subtle (or behind the scenes). So, make sure you get a guide on this journey – either from someone inside or outside your organization who can provide clarity and bump up the credibility of the need for an employee communications budget.

Step 2: Start building supervisor support for a budget. You can legitimately tell your supervisor(s) the following: “We need to make sure our employee communications measurably support our organization’s priorities”. No one is going to argue with that. If they do, then, they really don’t want inspired, high-performing employees.

Step 3: Make the case. When you’ve got your supervisor’s interest, strike when the fire is hot. That means develop a detailed plan with specific employee communications goals, time-specific activities, expected outcomes, risks, ways to mitigate those risks, and steps to validate outcomes.

For examples of other concrete actions to tackle the issue of low/no budget for employee communications, listen to The Swear Jar Podcast episode, When Employee Communications Has No Budget – available wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Key Topics

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • What we mean when we say ‘no budget’ (0:48)
  • Reasons why organizations have no employee communications budget (1:46)
  • Consequences of having no employee communications budget (4:06)
  • What to do when you have no employee communications budget (7:29)
  • Summary (16:08)
  • Post-COVID-19 employee communications product (17:31)
  • What’s caught our attention (and contacting Paul) (18:06)
  • Outro (21:28)

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