What is employee voice? 

Employee voice (where an organisation sees its people not as the problem, rather as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas) is one of the four enablers of employee engagement according to the Engage for Success group.

The concept isn’t a new one, for years there have been mechanisms by which organisations solicit the views of its employees, be this via unions, employee councils, engagement surveys, ‘Ask the CEO’ initiatives or ‘have your say’ programmes.

What are the benefits of employee voice?

There are many business benefits to be gained.  Common sense tells us that an organisation’s employees know what works, what doesn’t and can help find more efficient working practices. Employee voice can also improve collaboration, identify customer needs, flag issues or crises, and improve decision making and innovation.

And from an employee’s perspective, most of us would prefer to work somewhere we’re listened to, our views count and we can influence and contribute to the success of that organisation.

So far so good. So why then do many organisations find it so difficult?

Why organisations find employee voice difficult to harness 

Undoubtedly social media is a real enabler for gathering employee voice, with tools such as Yammer, Workplace, Slack and Chatter commonplace in most large organisations, sitting alongside or even replacing the traditional annual engagement survey.

However, while channels and tools are a factor in employee voice, many organisations can get hung up on how to gather views, and miss the more fundamental principles of creating successful dialogue between an organisation and its people.

Employee voice: the fundamental principles

  • Active listening – having an open mind about what employees have to say, accepting perception is as valid as reality, allowing adequate space and time for employees to feedback, not second-guessing issues or concerns, and being mindful of non-verbal signs, are all vital to employees ‘feeling’ listened to.
  • Authentic response and action – asking employees for their views should never be a tick-box exercise.  If employees don’t believe their views or suggestions will be properly considered, they will cease to share them. It’s a sure fire way to erode trust. Following up on feedback in a timely manner is essential.
  • The role of a leader – while social tools can be efficient, it is crucial for employees to also have direct face-to-face opportunities to share views and ideas with leaders in order to build relationships, trust, and belief in leadership and direction.
  • The role of a manager – managers play such a pivotal role in engagement, not least because they have the biggest influence on employees’ day-to-day experience at work. Fear of ‘exposing’ their manager can inhibit some employees from sharing concerns, and similarly fear of being ‘exposed’ can inhibit managers from encouraging their teams to give feedback.
  • Creating a safe space – to create the climate where people feel they can speak up, they need to know there will be no negative repercussions on jobs or career development from doing so.
  • Listening to everyone, not just the loud ones – in every organisation there will be those who are willing and able to share feedback, views or ideas more easily.  This may be due to accessibility or personality. This is where it is worth investing time in ensuring a network of channels so that can include your harder to reach employees.
  • Accepting that it makes you vulnerable – seeking employee feedback is a risk. You might not like what is said and, through asking, you create an implicit assumption that there will be resulting action.  If leaders aren’t willing to accept this risk then it’s better not to ask at all. However, with risk also comes reward; and the power and potential of a fully engaged and contributing team is a reward worth having.