This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

A critical objective of organizations’ crisis communication is to cultivate a motivated and engaged workforce despite adversities. To enhance organizations’ internal crisis communication practice, this study examined how leaders’ motivational communication can facilitate employees’ crisis coping and promote employees’ organizational engagement. More specifically, researchers examined how leader communication drives employee engagement by satisfying employees’ basic psychological needs and encouraging proactive crisis coping.

Employees’ psychological needs consist of demands for autonomy (the experience of choice and volition in one’s behavior), competence (being able to achieve desired outcomes), and relatedness (feeling of connection, care, and mutual reliance with others), which are essential to psychological well-being. When experiencing stressful events such as a crisis, individuals typically choose one of two coping strategies — control coping, referring to proactively approaching problems and generating plans to reduce sources of stress, or escape coping, defined as avoiding problems by not thinking about them and believing there is nothing they can do to solve the problem. This study argued that employees’ psychological need satisfaction would induce more control coping and less escape coping.

Researchers administered an online survey in April 2020 and recruited 490 full-time employees from diverse industries in the U.S. Among the respondents, 51% were female and 49% were male. Most were in non-management positions (47.3%) and were White/Caucasian (62%). Most participants had a bachelor’s degree or higher (67%).

Key Findings
— Leaders using direction-giving language (communicates goals and provides direction on accomplishing goals) and empathetic language were positively associated with employee psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
— Satisfying autonomy, relatedness, and competence needs was positively related to control coping (proactively approaching problems and generating plans to reduce sources of stress). However, these psychological needs were not associated with escape coping (avoiding problems by not thinking about them and believing there is nothing they can do).
— Employees who employed control coping behaviors were more likely to be engaged with the organization, while people who used escape coping behaviors were less likely to be engaged.
— When employee needs for autonomy and relatedness were met, they were more likely to be engaged with the organization.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should 1) train leaders at all levels to understand the benefits of motivating language and increase their competence in applying motivating language during organizational crises, 2) evaluate and track employees’ sense of needs satisfaction during and after organizational crises, and 3) encourage employees to adopt control coping strategies to address the stressors directly.

Tao, W., Lee, Y., Sun, R., Li, J. Y., & He, M. (2022). Enhancing Employee Engagement via Leaders’ Motivational Language in times of crisis: Perspectives from the COVID-19 outbreak. Public Relations Review, 48(1), 102133.

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