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Example of Bad Employee Communications

I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, so I know quite a few people who work at The University of Alabama. There has been a change in the communications leadership, and since I work in this profession, many people I know are using me as a sounding board to vent their frustrations.

First, I want to acknowledge how difficult employee communications is. Getting it right is incredibly difficult and rarely does everyone agree. Often, many people want to be involved in employee communications - HR, the communications professionals, other marketing colleagues, executives, and anyone else who is involved in the particular announcement going out. Often because there are so many cooks in the kitchen, things can and do go amiss.

But The University of Alabama is really fumbling right now.

Here's 1 example of confusing messaging in the 2 emails below:

From: UA - The University of Alabama Faculty/Staff List on behalf of uanews Sent: Friday, September 8, 2017 10:02 AM Subject: Incident at Martha Parham Hall

UAPD is doing a precautionary search of Martha Parham Hall due to an unconfirmed report from a third party. More information will be shared as information is available.

From: UA - The University of Alabama Faculty/Staff List on behalf of uanews Sent: Friday, September 8, 2017 10:20 AM Subject: Update Regarding Martha Parham Hall

Around 9 a.m. today, UAPD responded to an unconfirmed incident reported at Martha Parham Hall. The report was unfounded. While the building was searched as a precaution, there was no threat of danger.

What's not working:

  • These alerts came from "uanews," not UA Alerts or UAPD, which is a more appropriate source for this information, and both UA Alerts and UAPD do in fact send mass mailings in cases where the entire community needs to be notified. Why would these two come from UA News?

  • The first email is incredibly vague and just creates more questions.

  • No call to action in the first email. What do you want employees to do? Stay away from Martha Parham Hall during this search? Just letting you know, so you aren't alarmed? Report any information you may have?

  • Why was the first email sent at 10:02 and 18 minutes later, the second email, which calls attention to the fact that this all happened at 9 a.m.

With employee communications, consider the questions you will create as a result of the announcement. There may be questions you can't answer at the time. That's okay. Just be straightforward that at this time this is all the information that can be disclosed.

Tell employees what to do with the information. "Share this good news on social media." "Please do not disclose publicly." "Please talk about this matter further with your manager." If you are in fact directing employees to their managers, make sure their managers are in fact armed with the information and / or resources to address incoming questions.

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