Cal Monaghan, Internal Communications Manager at the Health and Safety Executive, explores the link between internal communications and mental health, and the integral influence on civil servants.
For many civil servants, we’ve been incredibly lucky to continue working through the pandemic, whether from home or in COVID-secure offices.
As an internal communications manager, I devote a large amount of time to hearing how colleagues are managing. Whether it’s organising (virtual) events between colleagues and leaders, collating feedback from internal surveys or people’s emails reacting to change, we internal communicators hear first-hand how people are doing and learn all about their issues.
We soak up all these comments and feelings, and then represent them as best we can to senior/team leaders, HR colleagues and union reps. Even before the pandemic, absorbing this much could be hard, but with us all sharing concerns and anxieties about the virus, the past 12 months have been really challenging – for everyone.
I recently read Angela MacDonald’s brilliant blog How To Be A Steve and was reminded just how much we’ve achieved, both as departments and public bodies and as an entire service.
In fact, adapting to the coronavirus is just the most recent challenge we’ve taken on.
Over my six years as a civil servant, we’ve delivered a lot and civil servants have worked tirelessly (often in stoic silence) to deliver the priorities set by the government of the day.
In all that, it’s easy to overlook the pivotal role internal comms plays.
At every turn, IC teams reacted quickly to understand the implications of each event. We’ve joined HR, policy, business and regulatory experts, scientists, engineers, economists – and all the varied and skilled professions the Civil Service has – to make sense of the circumstances, and react to make the lives of our colleagues (and the public) easier. Often using the feedback I mentioned at the start of my blog to inform our work.
On the face of it, internal communications work – spans the creation of corporate emails, newsletters, web articles, blogs, briefings, Q&A sessions, virtual town halls and the myriad of other tactics – could be easily forgotten, or at worst, deleted on receipt.
Yet together, they tell a story about a committed, hardworking group of people, working in partnership with colleagues and leaders, doing their bit to serve.
Don’t be so modest
This point is important to me because internal communicators often reflect the natural modesty of the Civil Service. We rarely shout about what we do, so sometimes it feels like our achievements look less important compared to the success of say, external communications colleagues.
Compared to successful ministerial engagements or stakeholder events, favourable proactive press or media coverage, or launching citizen-focused digital services, internal comms can feel like Cinderella comms, somehow smaller or less relevant. This isn’t true.
I started this by writing about mental health because from experience, I know this is where internal communicators yield real influence.
Our real success slips under the radar because for most of our time, we work closely with Permanent Secretaries, Chief Executives, senior leaders and line managers, and with individual colleagues to hear their stories, and in return, offer advice.
We have the unique privilege of hearing people’s real, messy, lived experience at work, or their aims, goals and objectives for the future, and then help them turn it into something people can understand.
It’s a job that requires abundant empathy, when in soaking everything up, it can be too easy to burn out. We’re not just carrying our own burdens, but often those of our colleagues and leaders too.
So please – if like me, you’ve found things tough over recent months, please reach out to friends and colleagues, line managers or your HR team to seek support. I’m grateful to be part of an amazing team at the Health and Safety Executive where wellbeing is more than a buzzword, and treated as a priority.
For the most part, cases are falling and vaccinations are rising fast. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
And for internal communicators, the future of our profession looks strong too. A recent webinar by the Institute of Internal Communications shared results based on 2,000 responses from people in all different sectors about internal comms, including:
- 83% of respondents who said the crisis had positively impacted trust in IC
- 90% of respondents who said the crisis will have a positive impact on IC
It’s great to see our currency rising, and I’m confident we’ll continue to play a leading role connecting and supporting people, translating strategy into story and facing down the next challenge, right alongside our colleagues.
We just need to remember to grab ourselves a break along the way.