Internal communications

This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

The public relations discipline has made great strides in advancing internal public relations scholarship and the antecedents of employee engagement. Researchers have investigated how corporate social responsibility (Duthler & Dhanesh, 2018); leadership (Meng & Berger, 2019); employee voice (Ruck, Welch, & Menara, 2017); and internal communication (Verčič & Vokič, 2017) impact employees’ lived experiences and engagement in the workplace.

More recently, I have been thinking about where internal public relations researchers go next in terms of advancing scholarship and practice. First, I believe it is time for us to take existing insights and either apply them to specific contexts or take a deeper dive into particular industries. In their analysis of published articles focusing on internal communication, Lee and Yue (2020) discovered that only nine percent of the articles in the dataset focused on employees in specific industries. Given that context matters (see Lemon & Macklin, 2021), exploring how employees experience engagement in different types of organizations or prefer certain forms of internal communication is key to ensuring that theoretical development continues, and practical applications further enhance the workplace.

Some suggested lines of inquiry are as follows: How do employees of science organizations experience engagement and use internal communication? In addition, how does employee engagement look within small businesses, where internal communication and engagement programming might be more informal? What about organizations like churches or non-profits that have more complex internal audiences because of the number of volunteers who could be considered both internal and external audiences; why do these audiences engage and how does internal communication play a role? Higher education is also an interesting context to explore since both how universities and colleges function and the complexity of internal audiences necessitate further investigations. Last, how does internal communication reach those types of employees (i.e., field workers, craft persons, service workers) who spend little to no time at a computer? Even attempting to sample these audiences using traditional methods like electronic surveys or Zoom interviews would be incredibly challenging yet imperative.

Another aspect of research that warrants attention is the follow-up and implementation piece. It isn’t enough to administer a survey or collect focus group data to assess employee engagement and internal communication practices. The next step needs to focus on implementing change. For example, if employee recognition programming is low and negatively impacting engagement, what can be done to change those programs? Employees should be driving the change and providing feedback on how this can be done without management making assumptions about what changes should be made. Having professionals and organizations willing to talk and share about this process, in addition to conducting follow-up studies, would be fruitful.

In conclusion, what topics and ideas are top of mind for you? How do you envision we move internal public relations scholarship forward by narrowing the scope of research to delve into certain contexts and types of employees? What I provided are just a few ideas to get us started in the coming year, and I look forward to reading the brilliant research to come.

Laura L. Lemon, Ph.D. is an associate professor and graduate program coordinator at the University of Alabama in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. She can be reached at

Duthler, G., & Dhanesh, G. S. (2018). The role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and internal CSR communication in predicting employee engagement: Perspectives from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Public Relations Review, 44, 453-462.
Lee, Y., & Yue, C. A. (2020). Status of internal communication research in public relations: An analysis of published articles in nine scholarly journals from 1970-2019. Public Relations Review, 46, 1-10.
Lemon, L. L., & Macklin, C. (2021). Enriching employee engagement using complexity theory. Public Relations Inquiry, 10(2), 221-236.
Meng, J., & Berger, B. K. (2019). The impact of organizational culture and leadership performance on PR professionals’ job satisfaction: Testing the joint mediating effects of engagement and trust. Public Relations Review, 45, 64-75.
Ruck, K., Welch, M., & Menara, B. (2017). Employee voice: An antecedent to organizational engagement? Public Relations Review, 43, 904-914.
Verčič, A. T., & Vokič, N. P. (2017). Engaging employees through internal communication. Public Relations Review, 43, 885-893.

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