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Charlotte Simonsson

Leadership, internal communication & communication professionals


What Was That All About? On Internal Crisis Communication and Communicative Coworkership during a Pandemic


  • Mats Heide
  • Charlotte Simonsson

Summary, in English

Purpose – The aim of this paper is to contribute with increased knowledge of the complex role of internal communication during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, the authors want to address the following research questions. How can the overall approach to internal crisis communication during the pandemic be interpreted, and what view of internal crisis communication does this approach reflect? What has been characteristic of the leadership communication during the pandemic? What do coworkers think of their communication role and how well does the internal communication support that role? Design/methodology/approach – This article is based on a case study of an authority with 1,000 employees. The empirical material consists of both documents and interviews. The analyzed documents include steering documents, e-mails to managers from the support function and newsletters from the top manager. The 17 interviews comprise managers, coworkers and communication managers. All interviews were recorded and the authors have conducted verbatim transcriptions.
Findings – The pandemic is an example of a wicked problem that involves a lot of ambiguity. Often organizations try to handle wicked problems by trying to control it through traditional management skills and practices. A pandemic demands a leadership, culture and communicative approach that highlights the importance of coworkers. In the studied organization the authors found knowledge and rhetoric about the value of coworkers and communicative coworkership. However, top management does not encourage, support and award practices that are in line with the espoused culture. The key to success is top managers that walk the talk and act as role models.
Practical implications – Crisis managers and crisis communicators need to focus more on improvisation, flexibility, listening and how to approach and make sense of the uncertain. In general, there is a tendency to rely too much on simple tools and to oversimplify complexity. Complex crises such as the pandemic raise new demands on leadership. Effective crisis leadership in a complex crisis seems to be much more democratic and collaborative than often assumed. If coworkers are expected to act as ambassadors or organizational representatives, they also need to be given better support for that role.
Originality/value – This article highlights the importance of closing the gap between espoused and enacted culture in order to change from a managerialistic internal crisis communication to a process internal crisis communication approach.
Keywords Internal communication, Leadership, Communicative coworkership, Internal crisis communication Paper type Research paper


  • Institutionen för strategisk kommunikation
  • Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten








Journal of Communication Management






Artikel i tidskrift


Emerald Group Publishing Limited


  • Media and Communications




  • ISSN: 1363-254X