How comms and HR can work together to help employees

When your organization doesn’t have a dedicated HR communications role, how can you bridge the gap?

Here's how HR and comms can work together to help employees.

When your organization doesn’t have a dedicated HR communications role, how can you bridge the gap?

Ragan Content Director Joyceann Garippa spoke with Matthew Owenby, chief human resources officer at Aflac, about how communicators and HR can work together to build a relationship that makes employees feel supported.

Owenby’s remarks were edited for length and clarity.

Ragan: What do HR departments need most from comms to nurture the partnership?

Matthew Owenby: An ongoing relationship and engagement. If I’m waiting till we NEED to communicate, it’s way too late. Get the flow, make sure broader perspectives are matching across the enterprise level, across all platforms. It requires a relationship before you need it.

Ragan: Aflac’s CEO is known to say, “If you treat employees right, they take care of the business.” What are some best practices that have emerged since the pandemic around treating employees right as it relates to hybrid, remote, in-office etc?

Owenby: It means being flexible when faced with an unknowable risk. Imagine an environment where it’s the first time you’re communicating with people and it’s an emergency. Aflac was fortunate to already have employee frameworks, expectations and guides that helped make positioning them in a remote environment much easier.

Ragan: What’s been your biggest HR challenge since pandemic, and the biggest opportunities?

Owenby: The biggest challenge emerging is keeping people virtually connected to a culture, making them feel needed and wanted. People don’t have a hard stop or beginning, it intermingles with life, and that drags people down over time. The challenge is to make sure culture is not only surviving but thriving in a virtual landscape.

One advantage is to have the most senior people in the company zoom bomb a meeting or show up to give an employee having trouble an accolade or a shout-out.

Ragan: Anything you’ve learned from comms that make you a better HR exec?

Owenby: The biggest thing is consistency and themes. I often have ideas about the larger market and bring them to comms, they help me fit them in with broader themes across the business to ensure they’re all connected. Even if the message is distinct, it’s worded and delivered in a way that makes it feel seamless to the employee base. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea, but it’s not the right time. Our comms team is very good at positioning messages in the quilt of larger comms imperatives.

This full post is available exclusively to members of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council, which offers best-practice sharing, networking and team training on internal and employee communications. Learn more about becoming a member here. 

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