Employee Newsletter Writing

Communication in the Workplace: Why it Matters

“No one tells me anything.”

How many times have you heard that, or some variation, in your workplace? I’m willing to bet the answer is multiple times, especially if organization doesn’t have an employee newsletter.

When employees are out of the loop, their morale and ability to accomplish work diminishes. A quick Google search of “unhappy apple employees” yields multiple articles about employees dislike of the unprecedented amount of secrecy. One employee said on Glassdoor.com, a company that asks employees to review their employers anonymously, that “excessive secrecy makes it impossible to know exactly why you’ve been asked to do a certain assignment. Your only option is just to do it blindly.”

We, as employees, want to know what is going on. We have a basic human desire to know what is happening around us.  On the highway we rubberneck when there’s an accident. On the Internet we “Facebook stalk” or blog-stalk people we know and even people we don’t know. In our families we gossip about other family members. We spend hours on the phone catching up with friends. We want to know what is happening around us.

Not knowing what is going on is incredibly frustrating. An employee newsletter will help keep employees informed. I can think of few other ways to keep all employees up to date on office information. It is vital to the success of the organization to have well-informed employees who feel important and in the loop. To do this effectively, here are five techniques for creating a good employee newsletter:

Technique No. 1: Define your Audience

“Your audience gives you everything you need. They tell you. There is no director who can direct you like an audience.” – Fanny Brice, American actress and model

 

Before you can write a good newsletter, you need to know who your audience is, more than just “employees.” By defining who your audience is, you will be able to write a newsletter that speaks directly to its readers.

Who is going to see your newsletter? Will all staff members see it? If so, your writing needs to be understood by everyone.

If you have multiple contributors to your newsletter, make sure their content is easy for everyone to understand. For example if you work for a computer company and someone from information technology writes an article about a new software update, make sure people in human resources will be able to comprehend the article. Avoid jargon and technical language.

Some organizations also send their employee newsletters to retired employees or investors. It is important to keep this in mind as you develop content as well.

For more information on how to define your audience before you write, visit:

Technique No. 2: Quality Content

“It is the quality of our work that will please God and not the quantity.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Once you know who your audience is you have to write relevant content.

Effective content keeps employees in the know. Newsletters with the greatest impact inform and motivate employees by featuring a combination of fun, morale-boosting features and useful corporate information.

Don’t allow your newsletter to become a boring series of monologues from upper management/executives. It will turn employees off and will not provide them with information they consider valuable.

Do use quotes. Quotes give you quality content. They increase credibility and employee trust.  Try to get at least one to two quotes per article. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to get these quotes. Usually it takes twice as long as you’d expect.

Tip: 10 Ideas for Content

  1. Recognition for awards, achievements and anniversaries

The scope of all of these features can be scaled to the size of your organization. In a small organization it might be appropriate to recognize the employee of the month in the newsletter and even list anniversaries of employment.

  1. Critical Changes

Making sure everyone is aware of critical changes is important, especially organizational changes or changes that will impact their day-to-day work life. Even if you talk about changes in a staff meeting, it doesn’t hurt to include a reminder in your newsletter. Employees will be more likely to retain the information if they read it again.

  1. Introduce New Staff

This is a great way to introduce a new staff member to all employees. My experience with employee newsletters began while working at Your Community Connection (YCC), a non-profit organization in Ogden, Utah. We included a “getting to know you” sheet that new employees filled out while doing their hiring paperwork. It included simple questions. I typed up the questions and answers for the newsletter.

Interviews always provide interesting content. It doesn’t need to be much. Here’s an example of the “getting to know you” interview questions new employees fill out at YCC.

-What is your favorite color?

-What is your favorite quote?

-What is your favorite food?

-What are your hobbies or interests?

  1. Announce New Clients

If your company “catches a big fish” let everyone know (if appropriate). Be a fisherman and show and tell. If it’s an accomplishment, it should be celebrated in the newsletter. It has potential to increase morale and incite excitement about the potential for new projects and creativity.

  1. Benchmarks

Establishing benchmarks and tracking them in an employee newsletter helps employees remember the goal and be accountable for it.

In the employee newsletter I wrote I kept our recycling figures in the bottom corner as a reminder and as a shout-out for employees’ efforts. I included the previous month’s number and the current month’s number so employees could see exactly how they were contributing to our green initiative.

  1. Social News

Highlight any opportunities for employees to socialize. Including the dates and times of upcoming potluck lunches, baby showers and book clubs is perfect for an employee newsletter. This is an easy way to boost morale and make everyone feel included. One of the last things you want is for some people not to get information about social events. They could take it personally when that was never the intention. An employee newsletter that reaches all employees will ensure everyone had the opportunity to know about social events at work.

  1. Company Job Openings

Include internal and external job openings. This is an inexpensive way to generate employee interest and promote the positions via referrals. It’s also informative to people within the organizations to know about staff changes in other departments.

  1. Health Tips

People enjoy reading about the latest ideas about health and fitness. Simple facts about water consumption, stress reduction or desk yoga are interesting additions to a newsletter and may improve the health and wellbeing of employees. Healthy employees are happier employees who use fewer sick days, which is good for you.

I frequently included health tips in YCC’s employee newsletter and received a good deal of positive feedback. Employees emailed or stopped me in the hall to thank me for reminding them to drink more water or for teaching them a cool stretch they could do at their desk.

  1. Competitor Updates

While information about your company is important, sometimes information about other companies is even more important. Inform your employees about what is going on in your industry. This will keep employees aware and perhaps inspire them to improve their efforts in keeping the company competitive in the industry.

  1. “Housekeeping” Updates

This would include reminders about parking lot closures and room schedules. This is also an opportunity to discuss cleaning schedules for the break room kitchen or other shared responsibilities. Everyone will know what is expected. It can be presented in a lighthearted manner.

The newsletter I produced was weekly and the room schedule changed weekly. It was important for employees to have access to this information so they could know which rooms were free for use.

Learn a process for coming up with newsletter content here:

Even more content ideas can be found here:

Technique No. 3: Be Consistent

“The only completely consistent people are the dead.” – Aldous Huxley, writer

The next step, after defining your audience and including quality content, is deciding how frequently you are going to distribute your newsletter. Then stick to the schedule.

At YCC, every Friday afternoon, I would email everyone the newsletter as an attachment as well as print one for the front desk volunteers.

People counted on this and if it wasn’t waiting for them in their inbox when they got to work Monday morning they wondered what was going on. Remember – employees want to be in-the-know.

One feature that was always in my weekly newsletter was “What’s for Lunch?” This feature was  important for the front desk volunteers to know each day because all staff and volunteers asked them what was for lunch as they filled out the lunch sign-up sheet.

Not only should you be consistent in your distribution, but also in your design and layout. This will make it more attractive and relied upon as a source of information. Typically, newsletters should include one type style and type size for the main text of their articles and only one or two styles of fonts for headlines and subheads. Never reduce type size to make an article fit, instead cut words from the story so you can keep the body text consistent throughout all articles.

For more information on common design mistakes, see this post:

Technique No. 4: Involve Employees

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Kenneth Blanchard, American author and management expert

Employee involvement is imperative to the success of your newsletter despite how great your content is.

Some organizations have a newsletter committee so the responsibility of providing all of the ideas and content does not fall solely on you. If your organization does not have a committee, there are many ways to involve employees.

Invite employee opinion pieces or assign article topics to different departments. Encourage employee feedback. Ask them what they want to see in the newsletters.

I found that asking for anonymous feedback is the best way to get people to respond. Occasionally I’d send an e-mail with a link to a survey I created on surveymonkey.com with questions they could anonymously answer in a text box.

Learn some of the advantages of including employees in decision making here:

Technique No. 5: Use Pictures

“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” – Walt Disney

 

If your newsletter is perfectly targeted for your audience, has great content and involves employees, it really isn’t a great newsletter until it has pictures.

Photos are the best way to make your newsletter interesting. They break up the text and help keep readers engaged in the content as well as retain the content.

Photos of employees themselves are a great way to get interest. The story becomes so much more personal and impactful when accompanied by a picture.

Getting pictures can present a challenge though. Consider the following when it comes to including photos in a newsletter:

  • Don’t allow your pictures to be an afterthought.
  • Plan ahead!
  • When planning your articles, list out possible photos for each major article.
  • Allow plenty of time to get the picture and properly attribute the photos. The extra effort will pay off because the enhanced look of your newsletter will increase readership and interest.
  • Avoid static photos such as people lined up against a wall.  Instead use action photos with visual interest.  For example, if you are featuring a piece on your company’s involvement in a charity golf tournament, instead of having those involved lined up in front of a golf cart, get action shots of those individuals at the tee box or pulling out their golf clubs.

Some organizations have the benefit of having a newsletter design artist who can create their own images or have access to paid stock photos. If you do not (I didn’t) you can use free stock images in addition to submitted photos and photos you take yourself.

3 Design Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Too much text, not enough white space
  2. Using too many type styles and fonts
  3. Laying out articles on the page so they’re all on-column wide

Free stock photo websites:

For more information on using pictures, visit:

5 Tips for Employee Newsletter Writing

  1. Plan Ahead

Follow a production outline. Look at the calendar and plan ahead. Let employees know what is coming up. Make sure any contributors know what needs to be covered in the following months. Be prepared (with camera in-hand) for upcoming events.

  1. Create a “Best Practices” Document

Create a “Best Practices” document if your organization has multiple contributors who aren’t necessarily trained in writing. Provide them with basic information on what they need to include in their story outline.

This document could explain basic style information like avoiding the use of acronyms and including the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of the story.

  1. Write Descriptive or Catchy Headlines

Which article would you be more compelled to read based on the following headlines?

Overview of New Computer System

New Computer System Allows User Customization

Most likely you picked the second headline because it’s more descriptive, piqued your interest and lets you know how the new system will benefit you.

Headline writing is extremely important. It determines whether or not the article will be read. Readers are likely to skip over boring, non-descriptive headlines.

So how do you learn to write a good headline? Make sure your headline has a verb and is a complete sentence.

Companynewsletters.com shared the following good and bad examples:

Bad headline: A message from our CEO
Better headline: CEO expects company to double its size within five years

Bad headline: Customer spotlight
Better headline: Client says outstanding service keeps her coming back

Bad headline: News from our regional offices
Better headline: Regional offices surpass sales goal

  1. Make Time

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? –John Wooden, American basketball player and coach

Every part of creating a newsletter is time-consuming. In fact, it can be a full-time job.

The website companynewsletters.com states, “As a guideline, it usually takes a non-professional writer about seven hours to write, proofread and revise the editorial content for each page of an 8.5-by-11-inch newsletter. That means a four-page newsletter requires about 28 hours of editorial time. If the editor is also handling the newsletter’s design and layout, you can add even more hours to the estimate.”

The publication will surely suffer if the organization does not allow sufficient time for the publication. The organization should ensure the editor has enough time to produce a quality newsletter on a consistent basis.

  1. Edit, Edit, Edit

Lots of mistakes will decrease the quality of your newsletter. Employees will lose confidence in your ability and may lose interest with the newsletter altogether.

Be detailed and fact-check everything. Employee names and titles are important to get right every time.  Have multiple people look at your work.

Here are fifteen tips on writing and editing to help improve your newsletter:

Some Expert Advice

I interviewed two experts. Leah Shapiro is the public affairs specialist at Western Area Power Administration, an entity within the U.S. Department of Energy. She received her master’s degree in Communication from the University of Denver. Shapiro’s job includes being the editor of the employee newsletter.

Her thoughts on how important graphics are:

It’s a top five priority – super important! People don’t want to read it if they get 16 pages of just text. It’s so important and we are always soliciting for photos. If we hear that someone in another region hosted some sort of training and suggest a story is written for it, the first thing we say it make sure you take a picture. It adds value to every issue that has real pictures of people. People want to see each other and they know everyone, but they may have never seen them. We want to put faces with names as much as we can.

How she gets employee feedback on the newsletter:

Every couple months we throw something in the edition itself saying “Reminder- if there’s something going on in your region, let corporate communications know.” We also send an email out letting employees know the newsletter is out and asking them for feedback.

Sometimes employees ask questions we will turn that into a story. For example, “I heard Western does XYZ…” We figure if one person is asking it then multiple people probably want to know as well.

My manager also meets with other regional managers to hear about exciting things happening in their region.

We get people proactively bringing things to our attention, which is great for us. Thankfully we never are grasping for stories of recognition

A time when something slipped through the editing cracks:

I got a phone call from a gentleman asking who provided the content for page nine. He was listed as a former Western Employee and he asked if they knew something about his employment status that he didn’t know. 

Names are bolded and making a mistake in that regard, spelling a name wrong, getting a title wrong-they really hate that! People really look forward to seeing their name and if getting something like that is important. Double and triple check!

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Avoid making promises from one issue to the next. Avoid saying “look in next month’s issue for an update on blah blah blah.” Inevitably, if you make a promise something will come up and you won’t get it in the issue and you will have people beating down the door saying, “Why didn’t you get that in the issue?”
  • Protecting personal information is important to us. Never put birthdates or private information. We have an issue where we invite children to color a picture and we feature the winners. One year it had the children’s name and their birthday and that mistake required all employees to go to a training.
  • When contributors write stories who don’t have writing experience and when you edit it you need to have tact in your editing and making them look good. Be delicate with your contributing authors. You want them to contribute again.

General tips for writing an employee newsletter:

  • Understand what the purpose of your newsletter is and who your audience is. Without knowing who you are writing to or why you are writing – your content will just be all over the place. 
  • Everyone’s life is easier if you can come up with a publication calendar. Outline your themes, topics, think about seasons, time of year, holidays. Plan ahead! Example:  company’s gift giving/charity campaign, you need to let employees know about it ahead of time.
  • If it’s not already determined, know who is going to do the writing and if there are a lot of people doing the writing then create a “best practices” or tips for them. Giving people a word count, set the expectation based on what space you have available.
  • Have lots of people look at your work with fresh eyes. This can’t be overstated. Even with five people looking at it there can still be something that sneaks through.
  • Be really familiar with whatever style guide your publication is dictated by.
  • Allow yourself a lot more time than you think you need to write a story. We try to get quotes from at least two people per story so it can take a while to get in touch with those people.
  • Titles for stories – if someone outside the department writes something they won’t title it or will say something like “overview of new computer system” so I usually consult the more creative people in my department to help me come up something better.

Overview of Western – bad, every headline must have a verb!

 

Suzanne Tamasy is the global employee communicator at Thermo-Fisher Scientific, a public company with divisions in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Duquesne University.

Her thoughts on how important graphics are:

Extremely important, to the point where we always ask for photos or supporting graphic elements. If the quality of the photo isn’t good enough, I just can’t include it. It’s very important that we get high- quality photos. 

If the story doesn’t have a photo, I will search Shutterstock.com for some related image.

We really want to invite readers in with photos.

Quotes too! I must get quotes to share employee perspectives. It makes the story much more meaningful and adds depth.

How she gets employee feedback on the newsletter:

We have a link on our newsletter where they can submit their own story.

Employees are thrilled to see their own stories published. Being an international company we struggle with language barriers and it’s important that information doesn’t get lost in translation. Some languages are much more flowery in their news reporting so I spend a lot of time editing stories that go through translation.

It means a lot for me to be able to help people share their information and with over 40,000 employees there are lots of submissions.

A time when something slipped through the editing cracks:

We’re a little lucky because it’s not print. Because it’s a weekly electronic update we can take things down and a lot of people don’t even notice.

Someone submitted a story about a customer trade show with a picture.  It got posted on the weekly newsletter. The day after it was posted I got a call from the man who submitted it and he said it had to come down because one of the women in the picture didn’t want to be in the newsletter because she was extremely shy. It’s so important to get permission from everyone.

General tips for writing an employee newsletter:

  • You have to think like the reader, think about what you would want to read about. Write in a way that is not just dry or uninspiring. You have to find something you’re proud of and will leave someone a little bit better for reading it.
  • Fact check EVERYTHING and get approvals. Be as detailed as possible. Don’t be afraid to push back for more information. You need to understand the content yourself before you explain it to someone else.
  • Read good headlines. Walk into a grocery store and look at magazines. On the front cover read all the headlines and find the ones that make you want to flip to the story. Figure out what piques your interest and try to write headlines like those.
  • Be sure you’re passionate about connecting with your audience. If your heart isn’t in it, if it’s just a job. If you don’t really care, it will show. Make sure this is the right job for you. This will reflect on you and your company. You’re speaking on behalf of all employees and the company so you need to have that passion and dedication.

Conclusion: Do employees really want an employee newsletter?

Yes, they do.

Let me tell you about Marietta and how desperately she wanted an employee newsletter.

Marietta works for YCC in the child care department. The employees in this department do not have any opportunity to interact with any other YCC employees. Only the manager of the child care can attend all-staff meetings because the child care staff has to stay with the children.

This really isolates the child care staff because the only chance they get to interact with other staff members is while they pass in the hallway and occasionally when they can come to lunch socials. Even to do this they have to do it on a rotation so the child care is fully staffed and the children are kept safe and are attended to.

In addition to not being able to attend all staff meetings, they don’t have email access so they don’t get memos or reminders about social activities for staff members.

Marietta has worked at YCC for over 20 years. For 20 years she has struggled to feel connected to YCC as a whole because of the seclusion of the child care from other departments.

I had the opportunity to work closely with Marietta on the Morale Committee where she explained to me how much she loved reading the employee newsletter. She told me how she would stop by the front desk each week to read their printed copy. She said she had asked her manager numerous times to remember to print a copy for the child care staff. Unfortunately, her manager is a very busy woman and this task would almost always fall off her to-do list, leaving the child care employees out of the loop.

I decided to start printing a copy for Marietta to share with the child care department. She started to write quotes to include in the newsletter and cut out articles from the newspaper with topics she thought I could include. One time she even brought me a book that had information in it she thought would be helpful to other employees.

I don’t think the desire to be informed and included is unique to Marietta.

Employees want to be involved. They want to be in the know. They have ideas and suggestions on how to improve various issues at work. Having a newsletter is a very effective way to address these employee needs.

I highly recommend your organization produce a newsletter. If your organization doesn’t currently print a newsletter, suggest it at your next staff meeting. Your organization will recognize the benefit of producing an employee newsletter if you point out the advantages.

If you follow the tips and techniques in this paper, your organization will be well on its way to producing a quality employee newsletter.

For more resources on newsletter writing, visit the following websites:

 

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1 Comment

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One response to “Employee Newsletter Writing

  1. Jacqueline R.

    Loved reading this! Excellent information.

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