ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
May 8, 2009

Using the Economic Downturn to Turn Up Employees’ Business Literacy


Since the economic crisis erupted last fall, we’ve developed an increased awareness of all things financial — from quarterly corporate earnings to our 401(k) statements to the fluctuating stock market. But there’s also a workplace communications upside to the economic downturn.

You now have employees’ full attention to communicate the business of your business. It’s a teachable moment — an opportunity to partner with our organizations or clients to help improve the business literacy of employees. Addressing their financial anxieties can help keep employees motivated and productive during these stressful times. Consider these ideas:

  • Focus on the fundamentals. Employees want to know how, where and why the company is making, spending or losing money — and what this means for the organization’s financial health and their jobs. Some companies create an employee-focused counterpart to a shareholder annual report to outline their financial situation and outlook, along with the business strategies and workplace changes/challenges. (Of course, financial communication should be ongoing, not just once a year!)
  • Connect the dots. Put financial results in context of everything else the company is doing and saying. One of my clients created a visual, one-page “report card” that gave top-line financial results framed against the business goals. It was timed with quarterly earnings, and managers received accompanying messages for them to answer their employees’ specific questions.
  • Limit Wall Street lingo. Explain in everyday terms the basic parts of your profit and loss statement. When communicating large numbers, consider sharing the equivalent in products or services that employees can relate to (e.g., a $20 million sales increase means we worked together to sell 3,000 more widgets).
    The ultimate goal: Employees know how their jobs directly impact the bottom line, and they’re more engaged in the organization’s strategies that are driving and improving financial results.

By Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, vice president, Linhart Public Relations, provides organizational communications, reputation management and other brand-building counsel to help drive business strategies and results. She has worked on the agency and client side for global Fortune 500 companies and other firms.

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