Employee publications serve as a communications link between an organization's top management and the rest of the organization's employees. These publications can take many forms including newsletters, newspapers, magazines, and various means of electronic communication including the Internet and in-house intranet systems. Employee publications generally come out on a regular basis and when crafted well serve as a forum for the exchange of news, information, and feedback between management, supervisors, and employees. Employee publications are generally produced in-house because they closely tie together the various segments of an organization. Sometimes, however, outsiders edit these publications, contribute articles to them, or conduct interviews for them. Also, longtime associates, valued customers, or other organizations and entities sharing a close relationship with the publisher may read them.
Over the last 100 years, almost every organization—both large and small—has developed its own employee publications. Once called "house organs," a now-outdated term, these publications function on several levels. Most importantly, they provide employees with news that concerns them. These publications also provide management with the ability to reach employees on a one-to-one basis. Many intranet and Internet systems, for instance, now provide workers with employee-benefit information through an application including both interactive and library features. The library provides employees with hard textual information and summary descriptions of employee benefits. This is complemented by interactive features, which provide applications and forms relating to the benefits package in an electronic format. Job postings and policy and procedural changes are also finding their way onto electronic-based employee publications.
Employee publications can also help instill a sense of community within an organization. They do this by publishing "social data"—such as births, marriages, and wedding anniversaries—as well as entertaining or humorous information on employee activities such as annual picnics and sports leagues.
Employee publications can also be used to promote and preserve corporate culture. In an innovative move Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. indoctrinates new employees—via CD-ROM—with the philosophy of its founder, the now deceased but still-revered Sam Walton. "It's important that people just joining the company get indoctrinated into the core philosophies and values directly from Mr. Sam himself," Wal-Mart's Kevin Turner told a Today's Retail Technology interviewer in 1995. "A lot of people say they've never met Sam Walton, but at Wal-Mart, yes they have. They've met him through the computer based learning program." Turner went on to relate how Wal-Mart harnesses CD-ROM technology to have Walton posthumously convey his legacy of "flawless customer service" to new store employees.
In order to be considered successful an employee publication must also be considered a strategic tool by top management, that is a tool used by management to further vital corporate plans, functions, and activities. Some questions editors can ask themselves in determining whether or not their publications are strategic include:
If the answer to some of these questions is "no" then the employee publication may not be considered strategic by top management.
Even though the electronic format has made inroads, most employee publications are still published as hard copies—that is they are printed on paper for distribution. Many in corporate communications favor this format for various reasons. It is an "intimate" format: an employee can easily carry it around, read it at lunch, or even take it home to share with the family—it is portable. Print format also has a sense of permanence about it, can be easily saved for repeated readings, and can be easily shared. Nonetheless a hard-copy format, if done well, has one major drawback—it can be very expensive to produce. Vision, published for the employees of Lockheed Martin's Electronic and Missiles division is a four-color, heavy-stock publication that costs between $12,000 and $14,000 a month for 6,000 12- to 16-page copies. Al Kamhi, director of communication for the division, told RaganWeb's Editor's Workshop that he has resorted to advertising to defray costs. Kamhi and a local advertising agency have entered into a unique business arrangement for advertising inserts. Revenue from advertising goes first to cover printing costs; any amount beyond that—be it $5 or $5,000—goes to the agency. Lockheed is not unique in selling advertising space in its employee publications. Eastman Kodak's Kodakery sells classified ad space to employees as well as advertising supplement space to outside concerns. Texas Instruments, a pioneer in this advertising trend, has been selling space in its Dallasite for more than 20 years.
The primary purpose of an employee publication is to transmit important current information about the organization. Studies show, however, that management and employees often have divergent views about what activities are important to the company. Management is most often concerned with such things as product quality, cost cutting, long-term strategic plans, and regulatory compliance. Employees on the other hand are more apt to be concerned with such things as the organization's future, factors relating to corporate decision making, and employee benefits. Successful editors and successful publications must balance the needs and expectations of these two groups.
[ Michael Knes ]
Howard, Carole M. "Are Your Employee Publications Truly Strategic Tools?" Public Relations Quarterly 41 (winter 1996-97): 23 26.
Lawrence Ragan Communications Inc. "RaganWeb: Employee Publications." Chicago: Lawrence Ragan Communications Inc., 1998 Available from www.ragan.com .
Moreno, Mary. The Writer's Guide to Corporate Communications. New York: All worth Press, 1997.
Nannery, Matt. "Wal-Mart Using Computer-Based Learning Program to Indoctrinate New Workers to Company's Core Philosophies." Today's Retail Technology (supplement to Fairchild Publications), September 1995, 4.
Pasher, Victoria Sonshine. "Employee Benefits Info with a Few Clicks." National Underwriter Life and Health — Financial Services Edition, 14 April 1997, 4.