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Our research with thousands of employees has identified the best topics, content types and channels

As a growing number of companies prioritize employee engagement and culture as core business strategies, they’ve reached out to JPL to gain a deeper understanding of how to connect with internal audiences. As a result of working with those companies, we’ve had the opportunity to study the direct input from thousands of employees on topics related to internal communication and employee engagement. The trends in their responses were remarkable.Regardless of industry, geographic region or job function, their feedback revealed a clear and consistent blueprint for delivering communication that captures their attention and compels them to act.

1) Focus communication on employees’ priorities

The employees in our research said they were more likely to pay attention to news about the topics they cared about most. While the specific subjects varied by company and industry, most of the topics they said they wanted to hear about fell into these four categories:

  • The company’s future plans
  • Updates from around the company
  • Information about other employees and teams
  • Their needs as an employee (benefits, training opportunities, career paths, etc.)

Communication that focuses on at least one of these categories was more likely to grab employees’ attention. Of course, not every topic fits perfectly into one of these four employee priorities. When that happens, try to find a story angle that connects with one of these topics. Even if only a portion of the communication focuses on one of these areas, you’ve made it relevant and engaged them in a meaningful way.

2) Place the information in the channels that employees use most

Most of the employees in our research ranked these three methods as the most effective in providing the information they need:

  1. Emails or eNewsletters
  2. Town halls or all-employee meetings with a senior leader
  3. Department meetings or team huddles with a supervisor or manager

It might be a surprise to see email on the list since most employees have probably told you they receive too much email. Through our research, we uncovered the reasons why email works: It’s searchable and relatively nonintrusive. Employees can read it when they have time, and they can search for it later if they need the information again.

Meetings are another communication method that made it onto the list despite constant criticism for taking up too much time. The value of in-person meetings, employees said, is the opportunity to connect with friends they don’t see very often, to have their questions answered right away and to ensure a group of people hear the news at the same time.

For internal comms teams, this translates into an opportunity to prioritize email and in-person communication. It also shows the importance of leveraging supervisors at all levels as a communication channel by providing talking points or content they can use during meetings with their teams.

3) Make it easy to consume

Communication that is simple and easy to consume has a much higher chance of getting through, according to the research. Anything that appears to be too long or complex will get skipped because it triggers employees’ fears of running out of time.

Here’s why: The human brain is wired to automatically assess incoming communication and make a split-second, nonconscious determination of two things:

  • How much effort is required to read, watch or listen to this?
  • Will it be worth it?

When the communication is succinct and to-the-point and takes minimal effort to consume, employees are much more likely to avoid feeling guilty for spending the time to pay attention to it. This puts the responsibility on communicators to streamline, simplify and focus communication while also finding creative ways to “show” messages visually instead of writing them out in text.

 Checklist for applying an audience-first approach

When an internal communication program is built with employees’ needs and preferences in mind, communicators are in a strong position to drive business results because their work is effectively reaching employees, capturing their attention and compelling them to help drive the business forward.

Here’s a checklist to make sure your next communication project uses an audience-first approach.

  • Messaging and theme are focused on the company’s future plans, updates from around the company, other employees and teams, and/or employees’ needs.
  • Communication channels are the ones employees prefer to use and are easy for them to access.
  • Communication methods and channels meet employees’ needs. Possible needs include the ability to locate the information in the future, ask questions and/or receive information in-person.
  • Content is easy to consume. It is as succinct, clear, simple and streamlined as possible. Visuals are used to reinforce key messages or simplify complex concepts.


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