A crisis of meaning?

A crisis of meaning?

We were thrilled to welcome Katie Bailey, Professor of Work and Employment at Kings College London, to be our keynote speaker at our inaugural MSL Engage forum.

Katie’s recent focus has been on the fundamental change that employees have experienced during lockdown, and how employers now need to act in order to help their people regain a sense of purpose and value in their work.

Katie says businesses need to acknowledge that everything has changed, and leaders cannot simply focus on organisational survival while taking employee loyalty for granted.

Her recommendations to business leaders are wide-reaching. Here are three of her top recommendations for any company that’s starting to return to the office and faces the virtual/in-office divide:

  1. Transparency and openness in leadership is more important than ever 

    Be open about the difficult decisions that have to be made and the data you are basing them on as you move from crisis response into longer-term planning.  Employees need to feel they can trust their leaders are making well-informed decisions, and openness and transparency about why decisions are being made will bolster authenticity. This is especially the case when communication is difficult. Our memories of exceptional times like the ones we are experiencing currently will be particularly strong, and so the impressions that leaders make now will be all the more vivid. 
  2. Involve your employees in all stages of your planning

    Employee voice is always important, but at this time of transformation it is vital to involve your employees and listen to their views. Treating people as individuals and hearing their personal stories will help leaders to tailor the move back to the office to fit people’s individual circumstances.
  3. Ensure your people feel like they’re doing meaningful work, it really matters. 

    Research shows that meaningful work really does matter to us all as individuals and improves people’s engagement, wellbeing and performance. At the current time, it may be difficult for people to see the meaning in their work as they may be distant from their colleagues or unable to have contact with the beneficiaries of their work. Helping people to see how their work helps further the organisation’s aims or brings benefits to clients or customers is especially important as we transition back to the workplace. Employee comms has a key role to play in explaining to people how the organisation has been dealing with the crisis and how leaders plan to move forward. Allowing time for employees to express their emotions in a safe environment is particularly important at this time.

There is no one-size-fits-all HR policy for returning to work. Consider the recommendations that are being shared in this space and use what’s relevant to you, but also use your people to improve and shape these for you.


Our internal comms clients were all experiencing similar challenges as they navigated the impact of lockdowns across the world. To support them, and create a space for specialists to share, learn and debate, we launched the MSL Engage forum.

The forum is exclusively for senior comms specialists, so if you’d like to be included in upcoming forums, please contact jane.vanwyngaarden@mslgroup.com 

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