This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

In 2021, 47 million employees quit their jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Dubbed as the Great Resignation, the trend of workers voluntarily leaving their work continues this year, with 44% becoming job seekers (Iacurci, 2022). In this post, I introduce an alternative perspective to reposition internal public relations in these challenging times, highlighting the importance of internal community building.

Guided by responsive communitarianism, Shen and Jiang (2021) presented a community-based approach for research and practice in internal public relations. A community is “a collective of both individuals and institutions that voluntarily share and bond over common experiences, goals, interests, identities, and norms” (Shen & Jiang, 2021, p. 418). Internal communities are forged when individual and organizational members, including employees, share experiences, goals, interests, and identities, and their relationships are formed and negotiated regularly. For example, employees can self-organize into learning communities or sports-related communities, depending on their common goals and interests.

Recognized as internal agents, community members communicate, dictate, and negotiate organizational values, norms, and processes on a daily basis. Particularly, more resourceful internal agents, such as middle management in an organization, may help promote “communityship” or a balance of individual leadership and collective citizenship (Mintzberg, 2009). Diversity, equity, and inclusion are naturally embedded in such a process. Leadership is no longer a quality or trait limited to management, but encouraged and fostered among all community agents.

Implications for Community Members
Organizations fostering internal communities can reinvent the workplace as a space for collaboration, diversity, inclusion, and solidarity. Organizations can start with initiating and participating in internal dialogue and treating employees as fellow community members. Agreed-upon community values and rules are key to internal community development. Empowered internal agents such as employees can propose new ideas, norms, and processes to advance shared community interests and goals. Community-based organizations could do away with the conventional organizational hierarchy as they co-create meanings and values with employees and other internal community members. Internal community members also naturally form relationships with external communities, allowing them to serve as ambassadors and advocates among external communities.

Implications for Internal Public Relations Practitioners
What does this mean for public relations practitioners? Internal public relations will operate as a community-building function. Practitioners are tasked with facilitating community dialogue and cultivating community relationships. Rules of symmetrical internal communication can be co-created and followed by individual and institutional community members. Internal communication grows into an essential tool for internal community building and contributes to addressing larger external social issues.

Hongmei Shen, Ph.D., APR, is a professor in public relations at the School of Journalism & Media Studies, San Diego State University. Follow Dr. Shen on Twitter: @profshen.


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