Topic: Alignment and Internal Crisis Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication

Mazzei, A., & Ravazzani, S. (2011). Manager-employee communication during a crisis: The missing link. Corporate Communications, 16(3), 243-254


This study investigated the effectiveness of internal crisis communication by comparing Italian companies’ communications with employees and employees’ interpretations of those communication efforts during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. The researchers interviewed 13 internal communication managers and 14 employees, surveyed 61 companies, and conducted two focus groups of 22 internal communication managers. The data were used to explore crisis communication strategies, channels, contents, effects, and listening activities.

The study found that employees often misinterpreted companies’ communication efforts. According to managers, the companies made timely, truthful and complete internal communication, and used a rich mix of official channels (e.g., organizational periodicals, email, and formal meetings). However, employees complained about the lack of supervisors’ listening and clarity of messages, disliked the hierarchical or formal communication, and interpreted them as a way to avoid interpersonal discussion about more ambiguous and difficult aspects of the situation. Employees also expressed negative feelings about implicit action-based communication (e.g., cutting overtime), and interpreted that as a lack of attention to their needs and an unwillingness to communicate. In addition, though companies depicted the crisis as an opportunity, employees accused their companies of opportunism (e.g., keeping down costs and eliminating employees without the risk of trade union conflicts).

Implications for Practice

Communicators might reduce misunderstanding and misalignment during a crisis by: 1) developing trust relationships with employees before a crisis occurs, 2) focusing on open and continuous listening during a crisis, 3) accompanying formal declarations with actions that express concerns for employees, and 4) strengthening interpersonal communication with manager-employee meetings and interpersonal networks.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (free abstract, 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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