Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the organizational effectiveness of internal crisis communication within the strategic management approach, whether it enhanced voluntary and positive employee communication behaviors (ECBs) for sensemaking and sensegiving. By doing so, this study provides meaningful insight into: new crisis communication theory development that takes a strategic management approach, emphasizing employees’ valuable assets from an organization, and effective crisis communication practice that reduces misalignment with employees and that enhances voluntary and positive ECBs for the organization during a crisis.
Design/methodology/approach – This study conducted a nationwide survey in the USA among full-time employees (n¼ 544). After dimensionality check through confirmatory factor analysis, this study tested hypothesis and research question by conducting ordinary least squares multiple regression analyses using STATA 13.
Findings – This study found that strategic internal communication factors, including two-way symmetrical communication and transparent communication, were positive and strong antecedents of ECBs for sensemaking and sensegiving in crisis situations, when controlling for other effects. The post hoc analysis confirmed theses positive and strong associations across different industry areas.
Originality/value – This study suggests that voluntary and valuable ECBs can be enhanced by listening and responding to employee concerns and interests; encouraging employee participation in crisis communication; and organizational accountability through words, actions and decisions during the crisis. As a theoretical implication, the results of this study indicate the need for crisis communication theories that emphasize employees as valuable assets to an organization.
Organizational crisis, as an unexpected event, is a time of ambiguity, uncertainty and struggle to regain control within an organization (Coombs, 2015; Miller and Heath, 2004). In terms of the internal context of an organization, a crisis situation inherently yields ambiguity and uncertainty for internal publics (i.e. employees) (Ulmer et al., 2015). Such characteristics defy interpretation and impose severe demands on employees’ sensemaking (i.e. searching for meaning) (Weick, 1988). In this regard, Weick (1988, 1993) noted that the less adequate the sensemaking process directed at a crisis, the more likely it is the crisis will get out of control. However, it often happens that employees’ sensemaking processes are impeded by misalignment between an organization and employees, as organization’s communication activities during a crisis are often misinterpreted, resisted, or rejected by employees (Daymon, 2000; Mazzei et al., 2012). Moreover, organizations can sometimes exacerbate the impact of the crisis through poor communications with employees resulting in delusion and cynicism from the latter (Goodman and Hirsch, 2010; Mazzei and Ravazzani, 2011). As employees’ communication behaviors can have particular internal and external impacts through various kinds of social networks, the misinterpretation of organizational messages can make a crisis worse endangering the organization (Heide and Simonsson, 2014; Mazzei and Ravazzani, 2011).
This study provides important implications for crisis communication professionals and researchers. The results shed light on how crisis communication managers can expect employees to become active communicators and corporate ambassadors through voluntary ECBs in organizational crises ( Johansen et al., 2012). This study suggests that voluntary and valuable ECBs can be enhanced by listening and responding to employee concerns and interests; encouraging employee participation in crisis communication; and organizational accountability through words, actions and decisions during the crisis. To do so, an organization should treat employees as valuable allies in working together to deal with crises (Morrison, 2011). It is advisable for an organization to ensure employee participation in two-way symmetrical and transparent communication by incorporating employee voices in determining what information is needed, how much information is needed and how well the organization is fulfilling the need for information, especially in crisis situations.