The Making of Caring Employees_ Internal Relationship Building

It goes without saying that effective employee communication is important to an excellent organization. Without an engaged, trusting, and caring workforce, organizations’ external goals could suffer (e.g., Guaspari, 2002; Berger, 2016). Then the question that follows is: How to build this trusting and caring workforce? In this blog post, I share preliminary results from one of my recent surveys exploring this central question.

Hon and Grunig (1999) proposed a long list of symmetrical relationship maintenance strategies, which are ways to build quality relationships between an organization and its stakeholders, including employees. Ki and Hon (2007) and Shen (2011) further empirically tested these maintenance strategies and identified three main symmetrical relationship maintenance strategies that are conducive to better relationships: openness, networking, and assurances of legitimacy. In the internal context, openness means open and candid communication with employees. Networking asks the management to be involved in the groups or causes that their employees are passionate about. Assurances of legitimacy suggest that the management value employees’ input and take their concerns seriously.

My survey of more than 500 employees found that using these symmetrical relationship maintenance strategies, organizations can better empower and engage their internal stakeholders, earn their trust, and strengthen their emotional bond with the organization.

In addition, organizational outcomes such as contextual performance improved. Slightly different from task-related performance measures, contextual performance assesses employees’ voluntary behaviors, such as being altruistic towards co-workers. My survey revealed that employees who feel positive relationships with their organizations demonstrated more altruistic and conscientious behaviors towards colleagues. In other words, the empowered, engaged, and trusting workforce is also more caring. They are no longer cogs in the big organizational machine that only need to clock in and out, but compassionate workers who figure out ways to move the organization forward.

Implications for Practice

Open, transparent, engaging: These words have appeared frequently in academic and trade publications on organizational communication. But there is still a wide gap between knowing and doing (Berger, 2016). Organizations must not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk, establishing mechanisms and procedures to ensure regular honest and open conversations with their employees. Organizations also may consider gathering feedback from employees about their non-work passions, solicit suggestions for improving the organization’s performance and share insights about industry trends and developments. Such genuine and symmetrical means to cultivate relationships with employees will pay off, ultimately growing a conscientious and compassionate workforce.

Shen headshot-full-darkHongmei Shen, Ph.D., APR, is an associate professor in public relations at the School of Journalism & Media Studies, San Diego State University. Follow her on Twitter @profshen.



Berger, B. (2016). Does organizational communication research matter? Gainesville, FL: The Institute for Public Relations. Retrieved from

Guaspari, J. (2002). Missing the point — Again: Will internal branding make the same mistake as total quality management? Across the Board, 39(4), 67-68.

Hon, L. C., & Grunig, J. E. (1999). Guidelines for measuring relationships in public relations. Gainesville, FL: The Institute for Public Relations.

Ki, E. J., & Hon, L. C. (2007a). Reliability and validity of organization-public relationship measurement and linkages among relationship indicators in a membership organization. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84(3), 419-438.

Shen, H. (2011). Organization-employee relationship maintenance strategies: A new measuring instrument. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 88(2), 398-415.



Share this:

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *