Scarcity management in employee communications

Scarcity management is one of five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2023. Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß and Jeanne Link (M.A.) talked about challenges and opportunities of scarcity management for employee communications on the VOICES 2023 conference in Berlin – the biggest employee comms event in Germany.

What is it about?

Scarcity management involves addressing shortages and bottlenecks to ensure the attainment of corporate goals or functional objectives. Recent events such as labor or energy shortages, and their resulting impacts such as economic recessions, have disrupted global supply chains, limited products and service availability, and driven up costs. The shift from abundance to scarcity presents a challenge for companies and their communication strategies.

This presents specific challenges in the realm of internal communications. On one hand, it is essential to communicate with employees regarding the implications of scarcity and shortages. On the other hand, scarcity can also be leveraged as a persuasive principle to insire and engage employees. Simultaneously, communication leaders must effectively manage scarcity within their own departments and possess the appropriate methods for doing so.

How can you talk to your employees about scarcity?

Shortages and bottlenecks can impact various aspects within an organization, giving various aspects within an organization, giving rise to a wide array of topics for internal communication with employees. For instance, this may entail a potential threat to the product-market strategy arising from energy supply bottlenecks or delays in travel reimbursement due to understaffed departments.

While these issues may differ significantly, three key questions can help determine whether a more reactive or proactive communication strategy is apporpriate:

  • Who is affected (all employees or specific employee groups)?
  • What is the central message, and how should it be conveyed?
  • When is the most suitable timing for communication?
Strategic topic management by Zerfaß and Link
Strategic topic management

How can scarcity be used as a persuasion principle?

Scarcity isn’t merely a subject for discussion; it can also serve as a communication principle, commonly employed in marketing and advertising.

Various scarcity messages can be employed in communication with employees. For instance, if you’re organizing an employee event and wish to boost registration rates, you can invoke the Fear of Missing Out by highlighting that many colleagues have already registered. Additionally, loss framing can be utilized to motivate employees. In this apporach, you emphasize potential losses that may occur if they don’t take a specific action. For instance, you might convey the message: „You will lose access to this material everywhere except on the intranet.“ More examples of scarcity messages are presented in the table below.

Scarcity PrincipleScarcity Message
FoMo (Fear of Missing out)„11 colleagues have already applied for the workshop. Don’t miss!“
Loss framing„You will loose access to material everywhere except on the intranet.“
Time-based scarcity„Your chance to get a place in the workshop passes in a day“
Quantity-based scarcity„Only 10 seats left for the Executive Lunch“
Exclusivity„Initially, only selected employees are allowed to test the app“

How do communication departments deal with scarcity?

Communication departments are confronted with significant challenges resulting from bottlenecks and shortages. These circumstances mean that the existing wokrflows and service offerings of communication teams may no longer be executable. For instance, this can occur when essential materials are unvailable or service providers are unable to deliver. In response, communication leaders must subject their departments to a comprehensive analysis and explore new opportunities and innovations to ensure future-proofing.

The Communication Business Model serves as an effective management tool for this purpose, assisting in preparing the department to address both current and forthcoming challenges.

Scarcity Management in communication departments by Zerfaß and Lautenbach
Scarcity management in communication departments

About the study

For the third time the Academic Society for Management & Communication presented the Communications Trend Radar – an interdisciplinary and scientific study on the most important trends that will influence communication management in the near future. 

The study analyzes changes in the areas of society, management, and technology. For 2023, the research team identified the trends State Revival, Scarcity Management, Unimagination, Augmented Workflows and Parallel Worlds.

These trends were selected and scored on a scientifically sound basis, developed by a research team at Leipzig University and the University of Potsdam (led by Professors Stefan Stieglitz from Business Information Systems, and Ansgar Zerfass form Communication Management). More than 100 sources from research and practice were included. The study aims to support communication managers in setting the course and guide decisions.


Read more about scarcity management in the Communications Trend Radar 2023.