How to Drive Ethical Employee Communications

While shows such as Flack liken Robyn’s PR prowess to a spin doctor extraordinaire, really what the job entails — at its core — is the ability to provide concise, accurate and ethical communications. This means ensuring organizations under your guide exhibit honesty and transparency (when appropriate), and that all executives maintain personal integrity – as they are a direct reflection of the best values of their brand. As communications professionals, one of our key responsibilities is to uncover and highlight our clients’ best selves when they engage with employees, and that just cannot be done without ethical communications.

If all were right in the world, business communication in the workplace would always be ethical – it would be consistently truthful, considerate and work to bring out the best in employees and the company as a whole. However, that isn’t always the case; at times, there are ethical dilemmas raised and principles put into question – most often when facts and figures are omitted from conversation or shared inaccurately. Naturally, this brings up ethical issues that disallow effective and considerate communication, and often encourage distrust within an organization.

To prevent this from happening, communications ethics guidelines must be instilled within executives and serve as the foundation for a company’s key principles. These guidelines include:

  1. Listen carefully, and let people finish their full thoughts before speaking.
  2. Enter conversations seeking a win/win for all – one should not try to outdo or outshine another.
  3. Work to listen and speak non-judgmentally. When called for, ensure opinions are supported by facts.
  4. Speak from your own experience and perspective; be careful not to speak on another’s behalf.
  5. Seek to understand others (rather than to be “right”). No one person should “win” a conversation.
  6. Respect your boundaries and the boundaries of others; insensitivity can hinder positive communication and disrupt the end goal of the conversation.

While practicing the above has always been important during town halls, staff meetings and other employee engagement milestones, it is doubly important for companies during the COVID-19 crisis. It has also changed expectations for the future.

Essentially all communications – including personal, professional, and otherwise – have moved to virtual mediums, many of which will stay that way. Face-to-face conversations in the office are a thing of the past (and will be increasingly so). And that means communication is no longer impromptu – it must be planned out and even more thorough than before. And herein lies the ethical challenge for many C-Suite executives. How does one communicate with employees ethically, and therefore thoroughly, when a) the future is unknown, and b) bad news may be the only news on the horizon?

The answer is simple – overcommunicate when possible and empathize always.

Unfortunately, every person has been negatively affected by COVID-19 – whether it’s emotionally, physically, personally, professionally, or all the above; and, as an employer, the worst possible way to communicate additional bad news is to not communicate it at all.

Rumors can run rampant, particularly during crises, and the only way to practice ethical business communication is to get ahead of it, explain all that you know in the current moment and provide updates as they are confirmed.

Additionally, ensuring that employees have a “safe” place to vent, share experiences and provide suggestions is crucial to optimal mental health and increased emotional intelligence across the workforce. This safe place may be with office managers, or human resources executives, depending on the size and scope of the company.

The key to ethical communications is always taking other people into consideration. Particularly during a crisis, companies must be transparent, thoughtful, and kind, and marry appropriate communications with savvy, sound business decisions. This is one of the most important social responsibilities companies have during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and it will largely determine how well they prosper when it’s over.