Why communication can’t be a one-way conversation
Over the past few months, APS staff everywhere have been buried under an avalanche of communication. From HR alone there’s been guidance on health and safety, advice about transitioning to remote work or being redeployed to other areas and agencies, and tips on maintaining health and wellbeing… that’s not even mentioning the messaging from executives, managers, and internal communications.
One thing that all of this correspondence has in common is that it’s pushing advice from one source to a wider audience. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself; HR needs to inform staff and provide them with the information they need to do their jobs and stay safe. And when the crisis first broke, people were often eager for any new information to stay on top of the latest and what it meant for them.
In a world of physical distancing, when maintaining social connections are more important than ever, it’s easy to fall back on the idea that there is no such thing as overcommunication.
But that can’t be the whole conversation. While getting key messages and the latest advice out is vital to staff, just as important is seeing how it’s being received, and opening the broader conversation with staff.
In this article, we examine some case studies from agencies that have struck up a conversation with their staff.
Courage – Connect – Care
Back in March, when Government directed that APS staff be moved to support the delivery of critical services, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) responded. Within days they seconded hundreds of staff to places like Health, PM&C, Treasury, the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission and Services Australia.
The HR team supported this transition with a range of initiatives, which stemmed from a broader departmental campaign called Courage – Connect – Care, such as:
- providing guidance for secondees and managers on ‘keeping in touch’
- sending weekly emails that included information for staff who could no longer access internal systems
- offering weekly physical drop-in sessions, facilitated by senior HR team members.
However, DESE recognised that this wasn’t enough and that they needed to hear directly from seconded staff about how they were going, and what more could be done to provide information and support.
The team conducted a pulse survey in early May, which found that:
- 52% of staff felt well supported by DESE
- 68% of staff felt valued for the work they were doing at Services Australia
- 74% of staff said their DESE manager/supervisor continued to communicate regularly and clearly with them
- 51% of staff felt the DESE leadership team helped them feel supported and connected.
The results enabled the DESE HR team to focus its attention on the areas where it was needed most. As a result, they’ve taken a number of additional actions to improve the secondee experience including:
- providing further fact sheets/supporting materials for managers and secondees
- running manager workshops, facilitated by HR and an executive leadership coach
- establishing dedicated EAP debriefs.
If you didn’t catch it live, you can watch the Professional Stream webinar presented on this topic by Belinda Casson, the Assistant Secretary of DESE’s People, Culture and Capability Branch. You can watch the recording and access the transcript on GovTEAMS and visit the HR mobility channel to continue the Q&A discussion.
At the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), HR understood the significant challenges they were facing from having a remote workforce. They needed staff to keep connected – both to each other, as well as with their own sense of health and wellbeing.
To achieve this, the HR team joined forces with their internal communication and creative design counterparts. While HR provided the topic focus and guidance on the approach, the communications team developed strong messaging and a digital implementation strategy, and the creative design team came up with distinctive, attention-grabbing imagery.
The result was the Keeping Connected campaign which used humorous cartoons to create a feeling of shared experiences among staff, and fun activities like a cartoon caption competition to encourage staff engagement. A major aspect of the campaign was the use of its internal social media platform, which facilitated staff discussion and also allowed the HR team to get insight into how staff were coping.
This collaborative and humorous communication approach had a number of positive effects. A short staff survey found that:
- 30% felt more connected with their colleagues
- 50% felt more comfortable reaching out to a colleague who they thought might not be coping well
- 61% had learned or been reminded of useful information
- 53% had undertaken an activity suggested by the campaign (such as taking short breaks, exercising, and not being afraid to speak up if they felt down).
Given its success, the collaborative ATO team is now looking to develop a second phase to help staff transition back to work. They have also made all of their campaign resources available for other agencies to use – so if you think the Keeping Connected campaign could benefit your agency, simply email APSHRProfessionalStream@ato.gov.au for the resources pack.