The management of internal communication at a South African retirement village: challenges and possible solutions

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Good internal communication is a significant success and survival factor for organisations, and therefore it must be managed effectively and efficiently. While research on internal communication often focuses on traditional corporate businesses, other unique internal contexts receive less attention. The contribution of this study lies in the unique context of a retirement village as a case study.

The residents are the retirement village’s raison d’être and they represent a critical internal stakeholder group, but they are not employed by the organisation, nor do they have specific obligations towards an employer or management, as is the case in a corporate enterprise. However, without good communication among and with the residents, the resort’s goals cannot be achieved.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the management of internal communication within the context of a South African retirement village as a unique internal environment and to identify unique challenges and possible solutions.

A theoretical discussion of the concept internal communication serves as a point of departure. It focuses on identifying internal stakeholders and managing ways to communicate with them effectively. The emphasis is on good management of the various possible communication channels, the content of the communication, and good strategic planning.

Effective internal communication management depends, among other things, on the message format and its applicability to internal stakeholders. Internal stakeholders usually evaluate internal communication based on their information expectations and to what extent these are met. To communicate effectively and efficiently, the management team needs to understand the content and channel preferences of internal stakeholders.

The existing research typically focuses on a corporate context in which the emphasis is on managing internal communication between employers and employees for the strategic benefit of the business. A comprehensive literature study, database analysis and online search did not yield a similar study where internal communication was researched in the context of a retirement village. This context requires specific insights into the communication between a village’s management and critically important internal stakeholders consisting of elderly retired residents.

Previous studies suggest that the effectiveness of internal communication depends on the recipients’ perceptions of the communication, as well as the internalisation of the information communicated. Therefore, the researchers decided to work epistemologically from the interpretivist approach, aligned with the qualitative research approach that strives to understand and describe stakeholders’ perceptions, opinions, and behaviour within a social context. This approach is useful in identifying and understanding the communication challenges within the retirement village concerned and finding possible solutions.

Existing research on internal communication was considered as part of a literature study. The retirement village, as a single case study, was then evaluated to provide insights into the specific internal communication context. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the village’s steering committee that was purposefully selected. Focus groups consisting of residents and operations managers were also used to collect data. These participants were selected through convenience sampling. The findings of an empirical evaluation undertaken at the retirement village were analysed through qualitative content analysis. Conclusions with proposals for dealing with distinctive communication challenges in the form of an applied communication strategy conclude the article.

Several challenges are identified, and potential solutions are proposed. Although the residents cannot be regarded as employees as is the case in a corporate context, they are a strategically important internal stakeholder group. They participate in the activities of the organisation and are an important part of the village’s raison d’être.

Communication effectiveness is influenced, among other things, by the environment in which an organisation operates, the extent to which stakeholders participate in activities, interrelationships, and the inclusion or exclusion of groups or individuals.

Several challenges to effective internal communication are identified, including resistance to new technology and health issues. These challenges highlight the importance of a differentiated approach to communication to meet the diverse needs of elderly residents. The use of existing communication channels such as WhatsApp groups is explored, with suggestions for improvement in two-way communication and clear guidelines for their use.

The application of new technologies for communication should provide for the different levels of knowledge and willingness among the residents of the retirement village. Existing theories such as the uses and gratification theory and the technology acceptance model remain relevant in the internal context of the retirement village.

The role of a technology advisory committee in the technological education of residents is emphasised, also considering those who may not be reached through new technology at all. A new communication strategy should specifically cater for the involvement of particularly frail and older residents, new arrivals, and English-speaking residents. This can be done by establishing clear communication channels and formulating clear content for them.

A communication policy should be drafted to provide clarity on communication roles and responsibilities and to promote an effective communication structure. Even informal communication such as the grapevine and “stoep talk” needs to be addressed to prevent the spread of untrue rumours.

The study highlights the universal applicability of principles for good communication management, but also the adjustments needed for each unique context. It points to the importance of a clear communication strategy for the strategic and social success of a retirement village and contributes to the application of global internal communication management knowledge.

The research builds on Grunig’s (2006) statement that the guidelines for good communication management are universal but should be adapted to each unique context. The focus is on developing guidelines that can empower the management of the retirement village to manage internal communication as efficiently as possible.

The study firstly confirms that communication in the unique context of a retirement village should be managed similarly to corporate contexts. Residents of a retirement village should be regarded as an internal stakeholder group. Effective management of internal communication with the residents is of fundamental importance – just as in corporate organisations.

Secondly, retirement villages clearly face unique communication challenges. These include the longevity of information, managerial information lost amid social communication, a lack of appropriate feedback, the use of digital media while residents have varying levels of technological knowledge and acceptance, the exclusion of certain groups, as well as ambiguity about communication structures.

Finally, it is proposed that an internal communication strategy be developed according to which the distinctive information needs and communication skills of residents can be stratified and accommodated.

Keywords: communication channels; communication management; communication strategy; internal communication; non-corporate context; retirement village; unique challenges



Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Die bestuur van interne kommunikasie by ’n Suid-Afrikaanse aftreeoord: uitdagings en moontlike oplossings

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