Founding Professional Associations of Internal Communication
One of the features of internal communication is that there has never been a single professional body governing practices. Instead, the sector has been shaped by a range of associations, some still in existence and some that have ceased. This page introduces the bodies that have shaped internal communication over the last century.
The Industrial Welfare Society
In the summer of 1918, Reverend Robert Hyde founded an organization called the Boys’ Welfare Association, which soon broadened its activities and adopted the name the Industrial Welfare Society. In contrast to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Industrial Welfare Society represented managers, with the objective of promoting welfare and personnel management. It was founded was in the aftermath of the First World War, when the government had taken control of British industry and pushed an industrial welfare agenda as a means of improving efficiency. Members of the Industrial Welfare Society hoped to continue these efforts but to shift the impetus back to employers and out of the hands of the government.
The ethos of the organization was closely tied to the Human Relations School. The movement was a reaction to The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor, a work advocating centralized management of the minutiae of the industrial process to the point of optimizing the efficiency of workers’ bodily movements. The Human Relations School, by contrast, argued that efficiency was achieved not through treating workers as part of a mechanical process but through welfare and making work rewarding. Key figures in the movement, such as Elton Mayo, spoke at the society’s meetings. Its early journals show its interest in health, safety, pensions, and canteens.
Members of the society were active in shaping internal communication, a topic frequently raised by the society in its communication with its own members. In November 1918, the society began producing a monthly journal, named initially The Boys’ Welfare Journal but changing the following year to The Journal of Industrial Welfare. Rhetorical history was central to the ethos of the magazine from its outset. The sub-heading on the cover of early issues articulated a desire to return to an idealized past:
The Monthly Magazine that voices the longing for a revival of practical good-will between employer and employed
In its first years of publication, the magazine included a number of articles on the theory of the Human Relations School. A 1922 article said that the only real scientific advances had been in machinery and that Taylor’s theories on workers ‘scarcely be dignified by the title of a science’. Instead, the piece argued that the reason American firms adopting Taylor’s ideas had not put overseas rivals out of business was that ‘the importance of the human factor has been underestimated’. (Industrial Welfare, April 1922, pp. 141-47)
By the mid-1920s, the magazine focused on more practical matters in business management, but the influence of the school was still apparent, with welfare, safety, and canteens being the chief concerns. By 1931, a greater emphasis was being placed on economics and the future of industry. This decade was the heyday of the magazine. The magazines ballooned in length, with the 1931 edition having supplements that were sizeable in their own right, such as the ‘Welfare Progress Supplement’ that had case studies of many different firms.
Communication between managers and employees was a key part of the ethos of the Human Relations School, and this was reflected in the content of the magazine from its outset. Yet this was done very much from the perspective of the managers, who were the readership that the society targeted. The ‘voice from the shop floor’, which appeared from 1957, was short-lived and never a major feature. Rather, communication up to the 1960s focused on how managers could disseminate information. A particular concern of pre-World War Two magazines was how to convey safety information to workers. One regular feature was a page advertising safety posters, which were sometimes accompanied by discussion pieces on how to communicate safety matters to workers.
The Rise of Internal Communication
World War Two disrupted the activities of the society. The journals shrunk in size considerably, and this remained the case until the late 1950s. The war also had a lasting impact on the topics discussed by the society. The focus shifted towards health and efficiency and the contribution of workers to the war effort. When peace was restored, attention turned towards education. The approach to training those for had fought for re-entry to work was still being reflected on more than a decade later:
At the end of the last War problems of placement of ex-service men, of graduates, and of young people leaving school, conformed generally speaking to the pre-1939 pattern. That is to say, the individual was expected, having completed his training, his national obligations, or his statutory period at school, to undertake the task of discovering for himself what occupation would be acceptable, rewarding, promising and attainable. (Industrial Welfare, May/June 1957, p.55)
The society engaged with communication changes, as well, both in terms of technology and theory. From 1950, the magazines sometimes had an entire section dedicated to reviewing films. From its origin, the society recognized its potential contribution to communication. In reviewing a film called Feature Story in 1951, the journal’s film reviewer Alan Osborne wrote:
One of the heart cries voiced by the employees of mammoth industrial enterprises has always been that one department knoweth not what another department doeth.
For some time, the film programme of I.C.I. has sought to eliminate this feeling by providing a series of internal relationship films, in which the spotlight was focussed first on one of their eleven divisions and then on another.
John Garnet, the society’s director from 1962 to 1986, was a vocal figure in business’ transition from public relations to Internal Communications policy at this time. Within two years of his term, the society was offering managers training guides on communicating with their staff:
Industrial Welfare, March/April 1964, p. 98
The new form of communication advocated by Garnett was based on a two-way dialogue with employers. Magazines still played a role in this philosophy of management but now adopted a supporting role to briefing groups, more commonly known today as team meetings. This change was reflected in the prominence of the society’s own magazine, which shifted to being every two months in 1974, then quarterly in 1980.
This period also saw the society become more distanced from the welfare agenda of its origins. This began with the word being dropped from the organization’s name in 1956, when it became simply the Industrial Society. From June 1967, the magazine adopted a new style, with covers focusing on the activities of managers rather than workers. A topic on which it increasingly focused was Britain’s relationship with Europe, which gained a regular section from 1971.
Decline in the Digital Era
During the 1990s, communication began to enter a new phase, with digital channels rising to the forefront. The Industrial Society struggled to reimagine its role. Rather than shifting its training services towards digital communication, it became less involved in training altogether and more in consultancy and policy. In 2002 it was renamed the Work Foundation and was bought by Lancaster University in 2010.
The Industrial Welfare Society is a crucial case study for An Institutional History of Internal Communication in the United Kingdom. Its members included leading figures in two of the major phases of transition in communication in modern times: the Human Relations School of the 1920s and the rise of Internal Communication from the 1960s.
In a sector with no statutory regulation, the society has played a role in the process of institutionalizing practices in internal communication. Its view was very much that of the managers. This project will look beyond the Industrial Welfare Society at other organizations to examine the institutionalizing influence of internal communication practitioners themselves.