Through the looking glass

Reflections upon retirement: My career in employee communications

Reflections upon retirement: My career in employee communications This essay is excerpted from the Nov./Dec. issue of the Journal of Employee Communication Management. It is one communications manager's attempt to share what he learned about this work—and himself—over three decades in the profession. —ed.

As I retire from JCPenney and from nearly 30 years in the communications business, I feel a bit like Alice standing before the caterpillar in Wonderland. "Who are you?' asks the caterpillar contemptuously. "I—I hardly know, sir, just at the present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then,' Alice replies. Anyone who has worked in corporate communications these past 30 years must feel a bit like Alice. Everything has changed dramatically … and kept on changing. When I started out at JCPenney in 1982, we typed our stories on typewriters, revised them literally with scissors and tape, and kept a team of four secretaries constantly typing new drafts. Print was not only the dominant medium. It was virtually the only medium. Today, we no longer print a house organ. Electronic media reign supreme. The transition for me was rocky. I love the printed word. But I have to admire the great work that my staff does online. And nothing beats online for speed in news dissemination. I've abandoned typewriters. I compose everything on a computer. And as for secretaries, who are they? I haven't used one in years. In the plethora of change, however, I also ask: Has anything endured? Yes. I've learned a few enduring lessons about communicating with employees. I think they will endure at least for more than a few nanoseconds. And as I retire, I share several in hopes I can add to the discussion about the challenges communicators will face in the 21st century.

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