Communicating with feeling: 3 keys to breakthrough employee messaging

How to deliver a clear value proposition that resonates with all employees — and not just with your CEO and internal communications colleagues.

Jack E. Appleman, APR, president of Successful Business Writing, is a PR/business writing instructor and coach and author of the highly touted “10 Steps to Successful Business Writing (2nd edition).”

Does the typical employee at your organization want to read about another tech initiative, watch a snippet of the CEO’s town hall speech or learn more about your wellness app? Probably not—unless you give them a good reason to pause whatever they’re doing.


To break through to harried employees, feel what they feel. Then deliver a clear value proposition that resonates with them — and not just with your CEO and internal communications colleagues.


Here are three strategies for crafting internal messages that grab attention, offer value and drive engagement.


  1. Immediately address their WIIFM in the subject line or header

Don’t wait until your lead to convey the “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) Because if the subject line or header doesn’t at least clue employees in to why they should care, they won’t bother reading more to find out.

Say you want to encourage the staff to learn about the new features of your benefit plan. Instead of just announcing these features, identify which one will most likely appeal to a typical employee. Then write a subject line that succinctly describes this perk.

Compare these two subject lines:

Vague, unappealing

Perks of new benefit plan

Potential employee reaction: “What could they possibly be offering that could help me? I’ll check it out later—if I remember.”

Specific, addressing a key WIIFM

More flexible PTO in new benefit plan

Potential employee reaction: “Awesome! More flex means I could take a longer vacation with the family. I’ve got to check this out.”

  1. Appeal to their emotions — and make it about them

Emotions drive interest and actions. Tap into an employee’s positive emotion like pride, inspiration and hope, and you’re far more likely to engage them.

For example, your president is naturally thrilled to announce the receipt of a major federal grant and hopes the staff will revel in this achievement. But many employees — especially those who are stressed out, annoyed at their supervisor or uncertain about their future — won’t reap much satisfaction from this positive news. So give them a reason to care. Appeal to their pride. Credit them for this success.

Compare these two subject line-lead combinations for the president’s email to the staff:


No credit to employees

Grants secured to support chapters!

I’m beyond excited to tell you that we’ve secured $2 million in federal grants to support our 21 chapters nationwide. This accomplishment reflects our mission to continually deliver excellence. I’m proud to be part of this organization. I hope you are too!

Credits the employees

You rock—and our chapters will reap the benefits!

Thanks to your innovation, teamwork and hard work, we’ve secured $2 million in federal grants to support our 21 chapters nationwide. I’m proud of each of you!

The second version speaks directly to the employee’s pride — acknowledging their role in securing the funds. To further appeal to their pride and sense of belonging, share a story of one employee who developed an especially innovative approach in this process. You can also tailor the message to cite specific achievements based on the different groups of employees (e.g., operation, programs and marketing).

  1. Give them a reason to engage

How do you get more employees to take time out of their busy days to join virtual (or live) events like employee culture-building activities, milestone celebrations or town halls? Paint a vivid picture of what they could experience and how they could benefit.

Compare these two subject lines and leads for an upcoming town hall on strategic planning:

Focused only on the organization

Experience YZ Group’s future on May 9

Learn about our new strategic direction and what this means for the future of our organization in this special town hall! Participate in this discussion where staff at all levels can offer input.

Focused on the employees

Experience your future on May 9

Help shape YZ Group’s direction—and your success! Come and share ideas for our new strategy and for your role in our future organization, which will offer even greater value to clients and stakeholders.

Grabbing the attention of busy and often-indifferent employees will always be tough. You need to continually put yourself in their shoes and figure out how to create break-through messages that get them to stop, read, and take action. So be sure your message delivers that critical value proposition—immediately.

Join Ragan at our 2024 Employee Communications and Culture Conference, April 16-18 2024, to learn how improvisation and collaboration builds a blueprint for a better work culture that keeps employees engaged and informed.


2 Responses to “Communicating with feeling: 3 keys to breakthrough employee messaging”

    Greg Simpson says:

    Your article is spot on!

    Getting to the WIIFM ASAP is key. In social media, it’s all about the hook and the WIIFM is that hook for corporate communications.

    I love making the employee the hero of the story. Recognition is lacking in most organizations so helping employees connect the dots from their actions to outcomes is important.

    Finally, around giving them a reason to engage, companies need to do a better job of understanding that their employees should be the focus of all communications. They are the audience. Regrettably, many companies tend to direct their messaging towards themselves or their leadership instead.

    Thanks for helping people improve their internal communications! Daily Headlines

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