Author(s), Title and Publication

Kim, Y., Kang, M., Lee, E., & Yang, S.-U. (2019). Exploring crisis communication in the internal context of an organization: Examining moderated and mediated effects of employee-organization relationships on crisis outcomes. Public Relations Review. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2019.04.010


Employees play a pivotal role in leveraging an organization’s competitive advantage, because they possess both accumulated knowledge about the organization, as well as networks of relationships with coworkers, managers, and customers. In a crisis situation, these crucial invested relationships between employees and their organization can lead employees to experience emotional and cognitive reactions, such as stress, fear, and anger. Consequently, these unique relational contexts between an organization and its employees can influence how employees interpret and evaluate the crisis and the communication regarding the crisis. The authors of the current study aimed to explore how internal crisis communication strategies, in the context of existing employee-organization relationships (EORs), would affect the influence of crisis communication on an organization’s internal reputation and on employees’ supportive behaviors. Specifically, this study developed an experiment with 640 participants that tested how the effects of EORs are moderated by communication strategies, including message strategy and timing strategy, and mediated by employees’ negative emotions.

The results revealed strong positive effects of EORs on internal reputation and supportive behavioral intentions, when controlling for the effects of other factors, such as crisis communication strategies and crisis history. The results also support that in the context of internal crisis communication, cultivating and maintaining positive relationships with employees is more important than any other crisis communication strategy. Among employees who have lower EOR quality, the stealing thunder strategy (self-disclosure by the company) was more effective than the thunder strategy (receiving crisis information by third parties before they are informed by their organization) in generating supportive behaviors toward the companies. On the other hand, contrary to previous findings, the current study also found that when employees with positive EORs receive crisis information from third parties before they are informed by their organization, they are more likely to engage in supportive behaviors during and after the crisis than if they learn about the crisis directly from their company. This surprising result can be explained by the fact that employees may perceive their organization’s crisis as a serious situation involving more negative impacts when they see the information from a third party. Another interesting finding revealed that the stealing thunder strategy yielded a positive effect on internal reputation, but not on supportive behavioral intention. The study also showed that employees are likely to be less angry when they receive accommodative (apology) messages from their organization for the crisis. Additionally, the findings revealed that better EORs induce lower anxiety and lower anxiety then leads to more positive internal reputation.

Implications for Practice

Organization should (1) be aware that relationship factors override crisis history, and thus can have greater influence in achieving crisis communication outcomes, and (2) make more efforts into cultivating and maintaining positive relationships between organizational management and employees.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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