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HR Content with Courage and Compassion

Can HR content have emotion?  Can it adequately capture and express feelings of courage and compassion?  Or perhaps the more relevant question is – should HR content have emotion?  Is there even a need or desire to communicate emotion when directed towards an employee audience?  After mulling this over, I came to the conclusion that while it’s fundamentally important, it’s also predominantly lacking and missing in internal communications today.  I strongly believe HR content should communicate with courage and compassion, but it’s not easy to achieve.  Why?

I recently told a popular AI program that I had just received distressing news from my company.  Given the meteoric rise in popularity of AI programs today, I was curious to see if I could have a conversation with the program in the same way I would have with another human.  The program’s response: “I’m sorry to hear that you received bad news from your company.  As an AI language model, I’m here to help and support you any way that I can.  Please feel free to share your situation with me and I’ll do my best to provide you with guidance or resources.” 

There was a modicum of sympathy in that response, and I felt an authentic desire from the program to help.  Even though I knew the response was generated from programming that selects the “optimal” word after word, the response was surprisingly human in its sincerity.  Could it continue to communicate with me in this way?

In my recent conversation with Thomas Helfrich, the YouTube Host of “AI Nerd” and CEO of Instantly Relevant, he expertly noted: “Utilizing AI tools in content creation can greatly benefit the process by increasing efficiency, expanding possibilities, and improving overall outcomes when handled by an expert. However, it is important to acknowledge that human leadership remains crucial when employing this powerful technology. Our experience over the past few years has shown that the best performance, relevance, and impact of AI-generated content on target audiences occurs when it is intentionally infused with human-managed brand identity, culture, and creativity. It is worth noting that while the gap between AI-generated content and truly original human-created content is narrowing with each passing generation of AI, the latter will remain highly valuable and sought-after.”

My own experiment in interacting and dialoguing with the AI program unraveled quickly after that initial response.  For those interested in what happened next, I thanked the AI program for its initial, sincere response and asked for some empathy, and it responded with a series of tips on how to practice empathy.  Because while constructing sentences that communicate sympathy can be readily achieved, empathy is much more difficult to capture.  Empathy is our bridge to feeling compassion, and that is far less likely to be achieved by AI in our future (short-term at least, because long-term, who knows?). 

“Our experience over the past few years has shown that the best performance, relevance, and impact of AI-generated content on target audiences occurs when it is intentionally infused with human-managed brand identity, culture, and creativity.”

– Thomas Helfrich, “AI Nerd” YouTube Host & CEO of Instantly Relevant

I’m willing to put forth that content – and for the purposes of this article, specifically content for internal communications – can indeed be created by AI.  You can ask the same AI program to explain why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are important for today’s workforce, and it’ll parse back a series of logical responses that can be carefully re-purposed into videos or documents.  Some of the responses are superficial and not extremely substantive, to be certain, but for general internal communications, I’d be willing to bet much of the AI-generated content is usable, or at least as a starting point.  But just because something can be done with less effort, doesn’t mean it should be done that way.

Reader warning: here’s where this article pivots rather drastically. While I began with a simple question to an AI program, the general state of underwhelming HR content today precipitates a deeper dive into understanding “why” content for employee audiences is so critical to today’s enterprise and “how” the enterprise might have succumbed to today’s uneven (and at times, unfair) investment into internal communications and HR content.

And here’s why my cautionary advice about AI-generated content, the importance of effort, and Thomas Helfrich’s insights converge: content created for an employee audience is significantly riskier than content created for another audience, such as a consumer audience.

When creating content for a consumer audience, you only risk choice.  A consumer may simply choose to not buy your product, or maybe buy a competing product.  In fact, our brains are wired through experience to ingest content, analyze our emotional response, and then form an opinion or make a decision based on that analysis.  This response typically takes less than a few seconds.

And this is why the risk is much higher with an employee audience than a consumer audience. A customer or consumer is easily replaceable. An employee, as the recipient of a company’s investment across recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, incentivizing and retaining, is not. A disengaged employee is not the same as a disengaged consumer, as a single disengaged employee can cost a business in more pervasive and harmful ways than a single consumer ever can.

“The business ramifications of employee turnover are enormous. Each departure costs about one-third of that worker’s annual earnings.”


Many enterprise companies, and in particular, marketing teams within those companies, are familiar with calculating a formula known as CAC, or “customer acquisition cost”.  CAC denotes the cost that a company incurs to acquire customers.  New companies or startups are often willing to pay more for customer acquisition relative to its revenue.  Marketing teams are given manageable, sometimes even generous budgets (compared to internal communications or HR teams) to acquire customers because they are seen as revenue-generating business units. 

And yet, “employee attrition cost” or “employee replacement cost” is rarely viewed at an equitable level.  I’ve seen numerous companies be complacent about the number of employee it lays off, or dangerously indifferent to the results from employee engagement surveys that report declining productivity and workforce morale.  And thus, by extension, internal communications and HR teams are rarely given the type of budgets that marketing teams enjoy.  Having spent the majority of my agency life in consumer side marketing, and now a hefty number of years in internal and HR communications, I can confidently assure you this is indeed the case.  Though both marketing teams and internal communications/HR teams tend to be smaller than other groups, they often operate at opposite ends of the investment spectrum.

Once could even safely conclude that companies are willing to invest more in their marketing strategy than their employee engagement.  Personally, this is mind-boggling, as research has shown there is both a cost to the company when an employee departs, and then even a higher cost to effectively replace that employee.  Separate from the impact to the bottom line, revenue or profitability are ramifications that also ripple out across lost and irreplaceable historical knowledge, benefits to the company’s competitors (particularly in the case of high-demand roles like software engineering), and loss of brand name and value.

HR analysts and experts have been vocal for years that employee attrition now has a real, measurable, and sustainable bottom-line impact to a company. But internal communications and HR are still perceived as operational and non-revenue generating business units, which might explain this fundamentally backwards view.

“Many employers estimate the total cost to hire a new employee can be three to four times the position’s salary… that means if you’re hiring for a job that pays $60,000, you may spend $180,000 or more to fill that role.”


And while I can expel to exhaustion about the stark contrasts between marketing and internal/HR when it comes to budgeting and resources, the purpose of this article is to focus on the trickle-down effect that perhaps explains how and why HR content often lacks the emotion, excitement and visceral satisfaction that consumer marketing content frequently enjoys. 

When employees are not held up with sufficient regard of their importance to a company’s bottom line, particularly from an ownership or leadership level, and seen as “expendable” and “replaceable”, HR and internal teams suffer as a result.  They are given less to work with, and typically asked to achieve more.  I speak with HR leaders that have routinely undertaken a reduction in force, and then seen their operating budgets slashed because of the absurd rationale that “since we now have less employees, you can spend less”. 

But for a company that just underwent a RIF, theoretically, the impacted (departing) employees are supposed to be the poorer performing employees.  Wouldn’t it behoove said company to perhaps invest more into their remaining higher performing workforce? 

As internal communications and HR teams have historically been forced to do more with less, the logical outcome is the opposite of what marketing teams have been able to do with relatively more resources and larger budgets.  Perhaps it’s because company owners and leaders believe they’ve already over-invested in their people programs and priorities, by the way of benefits and incentives and so on.  But if this is true, then wouldn’t it still logically benefit that company to ensure a comparable investment is made to adequately and successfully engage their employees with those programs and priorities?  After all, you wouldn’t investment in an expensive, high-end car and then let it deteriorate under harsh weather, rust and general neglect, would you?

This article is not meant to be a soapbox or pulpit to bash how much companies spend (or don’t spend) on their employees.  Far from it.  In fact, I’m deeply excited as I observe the evolution of the enterprise today.  What used to be solely brand-centric, product-centric, or (in recent years) customer-centric foci for the enterprise, have now expanded (finally) to encompass more of a people-centric focus.  I believe there are more strong owners and visionary leaders stepping up that sincerely and deeply care about the well-being of their employees.  But maybe there is more to learn than what history has impressed upon us or what can be derived and re-purposed from AI programs.

And one of these lessons is content.  HR content, in particular, deserves to be well-designed and communicated with courage and compassion.  HR teams should not, to the detriment of their employee engagement, re-purpose generic or off-the-shelf content just because they are lacking in time, budget or resources.  The workforce is changing by the day, and with the evolution, are different expectations for how, when and where employees consume HR content. 

Content, when created top-of-mind with a purpose of establishing an emotional connection, will engage audiences at a greater and deeper level – whether it’s centered around your benefits, equity, onboarding, performance management, sales enablement, culture, or even systems adoption.  Yes, there are certain topics for which certain tonalities may not be right (don’t create a light-hearted offboarding video, for example), but by and large, your employee content deserves to be highly engaging, entertaining, richly designed, well-written, warm, and authentic.  Content and media, more than any other vehicle, have the ability to transpose emotion and empathy.   

I’ve written articles explaining that well-designed content for HR does not need to be expensive or resource-intensive.  Having operated small to mid-size agencies for years, I know this can be proven true for HR teams operating under intense pressure.  Your internal communications and HR content deserve to be created with courage and compassion in mind.  Most importantly, your employees deserve it too.

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