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The art of communication

The EU Information and Consultation Directive is going to impact employee communication in a big way come March 2005, predicts brand and legal guru Ardi Kolah.

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In essence, the EU directive is a legislative framework that ensures that workers across all 25 EU member states are provided with information in a timely and open manner.

Scope of the EU Information and Consultation Directive

The directive states that all employees have the right to be informed about the organisation's economic situation, informed and consulted about their employment prospects, and informed and consulted about decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or contractual relations, including redundancies and transfers.

Timetable for implementation of the directive

For most marketing and communication managers, implementation of the new directive is just weeks away.

  • March 23 2005 Businesses with 150 or more employees will have to implement the directive.

  • 2007 The directive will affect businesses with 100 or more employees.

  • 2008 Businesses with 50 or more employees have to comply with the directive.

    Which means that about 75% of UK employees will be affected by the EU Directive in three year's time.

    Significance for marketing and communication practitioners?

    The EU directive is significant in many respects. For one thing, it codifies best practice in internal communication on a European level.

    Those organisations that follow best practice in internal communication, the EU Directive will be welcomed and isn't likely to come as any great culture shock.

    However, those organisations with poor internal communication, the directive could signal the start of a cultural revolution within the organisation.

    The evidence for this is to be found in a survey carried out for the Institute of Public Relations by Brand Sense in 2004.

    The IPR survey found:

  • While most in-house communication professionals rated their organisations' communications and (less so) consultation positively, significant numbers regarded them as not particularly effective;

  • Many recognised their own organisations have needs in the areas of communication and consultation which the EU directive is designed to address;

  • Organisations rated highly for effective communications and consultation also scored highly in terms of employee morale and working effectively to improve performance;

  • Awareness of the EU directive was relatively low with 44% saying they knew nothing about it before being approached for the survey;

  • The balance of opinion was that the EU directive will have a positive impact on communications and consultation rather than no real impact at all.

    It was no surprise to find that public sector employees tend to be better consulted than their private sector counterparts on issues such as work organisation, contracts, staff redundancies and transfers.

    The EU directive will start to address this imbalance by bringing the rights of workers in the private sector in line with those rights enjoyed by public sector workers.

    And by making it mandatory for organisations to consult their employees, workers throughout the 25 member states will be empowered by the new directive, which will ensure that their voices are heard in the boardroom.

    Some commentators welcome the new responsibilities that the EU directive imposes on organisations because it will act as a means to encourage discussion at critical moments such as when employees believe that they may be at risk of losing their jobs, or ensuring that staff is prepared in times of organisational change.

    The reality is that many organisations haven't invested sufficiently in internal communication and as a result are likely to find themselves in breach of this new EU Directive come March this year.

    For example, four out of 10 organisations in the UK don't have dedicated internal communicators and those that do have a small handful of people responsible for internal communication.

    Significance for organisations?

    It's likely that public relations and human resource functions will need to work closely in order to ensure compliance with the new EU directive, taking their instructions directly from the CEO or managing director of the organisation.

    In time, the directive could eventually re-write the psychological contract that exists between an organisation and its workers and even spawn a new Workers' Charter.

    Whatever your own political perspective, it's hard to get away from the fact that the directive is likely to herald a greater degree of transparency, accountability and openness within organisations and it's likely that this will become a key feature of socially responsible business practice across Europe.

    Ardi Kolah is one of the top 50 thinkers in marketing in the world today, according to Shape the Agenda, published by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He is a marketing, sponsorship and public relations practitioner. Email: ardi@kolah.com.

    If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.

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