When it comes to employee communications, government ministry Alberta Health has truly separated itself from the pack with its HealthAll employee newsletter.
“It is slowly working in terms of breaking down those barriers and getting employees to understand better the work and the people at (Alberta) Health. Sometimes it’s hard — it’s not a huge organization but you don’t always know who you are getting into the elevator with,” says Yumimi Pang, internal communications consultant and co-editor of the HealthAll newsletter at Alberta Health in Edmonton.
It can be difficult to know what a colleague is doing if you are not in the same branch or division, she says. The newsletter is meant to bridge that gap and create a more inclusive work environment.
“You can sort of try and connect the dots and see who is working on what and start those conversations and learn more about the department and other work that you might be doing in the future,” says Pang.
The organization is just shy of 1,000 people, “so it’s hard to get to know everyone around us, but HealthAll brings it all together,” she says.
In a 2012 corporate employee survey, 74 per cent agreed the HealthAll newsletter contributes to effective internal communications in the work environment, she says.
The government of Alberta has adopted Jim Kouzes and Barry Poster’s five leadership practices to facilitate communication and a positive work environment, she says. Reaching the hearts of employees can influence how they behave and how they work; their career growth is also affected in a positive way.
The five practices include: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart. The practices are highlighted in a variety of ways in HealthAll, such as employee stories that encourage staff to take on informal learning and leadership development opportunities and celebrate successes.
The newsletter was first launched in 2006 after an internal survey found internal communications needed improvement. A volunteer committee of staff was formed and the newsletter was born shortly after.
Getting to know employees
The newsletter’s focus is on health and business, but co-editors always try to have people stories in the mix, says Pang, co-editor of the newsletter, which is published monthly with help from volunteers.
“It has little feature articles about different initiatives or the services of particular groups. Recently, we had a regular feature on the Health Information Act.”
While it was a trying process at first, editing the newsletter does have its perks, says Pang, and the committee is grateful for the positive feedback and encouragement it has received about the newsletter, “because if we get a name wrong or something we hear about that, of course, but we don’t always get that positive encouragement.”
Finding relevant stories and photos hasn’t always been easy either, she says. But readership has grown since the newsletter’s inception.
“In August, if we follow just the day of publication and a week after that, (there’s) about 720 page views from that — that’s pretty decent if our population is a little bit under 1,000,” says Pang.
“We can tell that there is an appetite for the newsletter because we’re also seeing more and more submissions and now it’s not as hard to sell the pages anymore. Sometimes we have to tell people we’re full for this month, but maybe we can hold the story for next month.”
Pictures and graphics are used heavily and have an immediate impact on employees.
“There is more excitement around photos,” says Pang. “Initially, when I first came on, it was like ‘Why are you taking my photo, I’m not sure if I want to be celebrated this way,’ but now there’s more tolerance, acceptance and even excitement about that.”
Employees are excited to take part in the monthly newsletter because they see positive results firsthand.
“People stop them in the elevator or in the washroom and they say, ‘I saw your photo in HealthAll, I heard you are doing this thing.’ It’s kind of neat and so that is kind of nice to hear that people are breaking down the barriers in that way,” says Pang.
The newsletter has also helped contribute to goodwill and generosity at the workplace.
“We ran a story this past February about the efforts of three of our staff to raise stuffed animal donations for a local organization that works to improve the life experiences of children who have suffered abuse. In April, we heard from the three organizing staff members who told us about the great response they received from the article in the HealthAll newsletter, which resulted in many donations, including stuffed toys anonymously left at their desks,” says Pang.
There are a variety of events HealthAll takes advantage of in order to produce regular group photos for the newsletter to pump up its popularity. And every October, the Alberta Health team has photo opportunities during the Healthy Workplace Month, with the newsletter featuring healthy workplace objectives.
Focus on diversity, environment
Different generations, ethnicities and workforce groups are also supported through the newsletter. There are a total of nine committee members, including two co-editors, who identify as minorities.
“When we do our feature articles, we do try to make an effort to feature different employee groups; for example, management versus more front-line staff as well as generational,” says Pang. “We have a quarterly milestone piece where we celebrate people who have reached five, 10, 15, 20, 25 et cetera, year-long service milestones.
“We also try to get people with different ethnicities and different work locations, although the majority are here in Edmonton.”
In an effort to be more environmentally responsible, Alberta Health has reduced the number of printed copies of the newsletter to one-eighth of the roughly 800 copies printed just three years ago.
“Generally, it goes out to folks in their email,” says Pang.
The organization plans to continue taking steps to keep the company above par in the area of communications. It is continuously reviewing and assessing processes and products to determine what works well and what doesn’t, says Marina Christopherson, human resources executive director. This means constantly changing and adapting products to meet the challenges of communicating with employees.
“We established an internal communications plan last year and the HealthAll newsletter is a big part of that plan given it includes both cultural information related to all divisions and their staff; and information to keep employees informed and aware of significant corporate items. It provides a sense of ‘togetherness’ across the ministry,” she says.
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