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Internal Crisis Communication. An Employee Perspective on Narrative, Culture, and Sensemaking

Journal article
Authors Orla Vigsø
Julia Matilda Strandberg
Published in Corporate Communications. An International Journal
Volume 21
Issue 1
Pages 89-102
ISSN 1356-3289
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 89-102
Language en
Keywords internal communication, crisis, municipality
Subject categories Media and Communications, Communication Studies


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the study of internal crisis communication, not only the communication from the management to the employees, but also the employees ’ communication with each other, in order to highlight the role of communication in the employees ’ sensemaking during a crisis situation. Design/methodology/approach – The study was conducted as interviews with both managers and employees at a municipality in the Stockholm region, where a former employee had just been accused of embezzling approx. 25 million SEK. The interviews were analysed with particular interest to descriptions of how information was communicated, and how the sensemaking process developed. Findings – The crisis communication was successful when it came to informing external stakeholders and media. But the management and the employees had different views on the communication. The employees felt that management did not present all the information they needed, which made their sensemaking based on assumptions and rumours, and on the culture in the unit. Management interpreted that the crisis was not due to a culture problem, while the employees felt that there was a shared responsibility. Blaming the former employee was perceived as a way of dodging the cultural problems. Practical implications – Conclusions can be generalized into three points: first, differences between external and internal crisis communication need to be taken into account. Second, a crisis can strengthen existing patterns within a dysfunctional culture. Third, do not use single employees as scapegoats, putting all blame on them. Originality/value – The study shows the significance of culture and rumour as components of sensemaking in a crisis situation. The results should be applicable to most kinds of organizations, commercial or not. Keywords Internal communications, Crisis, Organizational culture, Shareholders, Crisis management Paper type Case study

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