This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center based on the original study.

Dr. Laura Lemon and Dr. Matthew VanDyke examined how employees at research-intensive universities used communication to make sense of their engagement experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they explored employee engagement experiences during this unprecedented, challenging time when there were no existing guidelines for navigating such events. Additionally, they studied how universities’ internal communication played a critical role in shaping the employees’ experiences during the pandemic.

The researchers conducted 21 semi-structured, in-depth interviews in the fall of 2020. Interviewees were vice presidents of research, research center and institute directors, support staff, and research faculty at 15 research-intensive universities in the U.S.

Key Findings
1.) Internal communication blurred organizational boundaries in a way that drove more engagement but created work-life balance issues where university employees had no way to turn off work.
2.) University employees were overloaded by excessive interpersonal communication between colleagues and from upper administration, which made engagement difficult.
3.) Only a few universities were somewhat prepared for the pandemic, while others devised strategic crisis communication in real-time.
4.) University employees had to develop personal coping strategies to remain engaged; otherwise, disengagement and burnout would emerge.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should consider employee engagement experiences and potential burnout when designing a crisis plan. Before a crisis, organizations should encourage employees to voice their needs regarding job resources and demands and incorporate such needs in the crisis plan. Before a crisis, organizations should also research employees’ communication preferences to make sure their communication needs are met before, during, and after times of crisis. Furthermore, organizations can work to ensure employees’ burnout experience does not result in disengagement in the workplace.  

Click here to learn how universities can enhance employee engagement during a crisis.

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