We all recognise the fundamental importance of employee voice as an enabler of engagement, helping organisations to improve efficiency, collaboration, decision-making and innovation, to identify customer needs, or highlight issues. And from an employee’s perspective, it is fundamental: we all want to work somewhere we’re listened to, where our views count, and where we can influence and contribute to organisational success.

Now, as the nation tentatively emerges from a third (and hopefully final) lockdown, and with many people facing a return to their traditional workplace after a long period of remote working, the value of the employee voice has never been greater.

Ensuring voices are heard

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic many organisations have worked tirelessly to communicate and engage with their people. In the early stages, communication naturally focused on the basics: what steps the organisation was taking to keep employees safe and the business functioning; what employees needed to do; and how people could ask questions and get more information.

As time went on, wellbeing of colleagues was increasingly at the forefront of leaders’ minds; managers were encouraged to have regular one-to-one conversations; colleagues urged to look out for one another; and having time to share individual concerns in meetings became a priority rather than a nice-to-have.

As a return to work beckons, are colleague views
and concerns being given voice?

But while communication and efforts to engage may have been strong, and colleagues felt their wellbeing better looked after, have employees working remotely had their voices fully heard throughout this period? And as a return to work beckons, are their views and concerns about this transition being given voice?

Learning the lessons

As individuals, the pandemic experience has forced us to ask a lot of questions about our lives, our expectations, and the things we value. We have had to be more innovative in how we connect socially, balance child-care and work, or even plan our meals.

It is the same in an organisational context. We have had to find new routes to getting things done, think creatively, and work in different ways. Many of us are used to an office-based environment for most of our working week. Even those of us who work from home regularly (or all the time) have been faced with change as everyone is doing the same.

Harnessing employees’ views on their experiences
and ideas could be vital

There are obvious learnings about working practices and our use of digital technologies to work and collaborate with colleagues, clients, and customers. Harnessing employees’ views on their experiences and ideas could be vital to building digital communication competence, improving efficiency, or working in more agile and flexible ways.

Identifying complex needs

In addition, the experience of the last 12+ months has also highlighted what is most important to us about life at work. Culturally things have changed, and we have realised we are missing things we need to thrive. Either because they relied on face-to-face contact in an office environment, because they were absent in the first place and we had not realised, or their lack has been exacerbated in trying times. Cultural themes like trust, collaboration, social interaction, ownership, empowerment, transparency, silo-working continue to be topics of conversation in teams across the globe.

Here is an ideal opportunity to understand what helps
employees to get the most out of life at work

On the flip-side, there will inevitably be some COVID-related fears and anxieties about once again using communal workspaces, with issues around social-distancing implications, hygiene policies for shared facilities, and the risks from the public-transport commute.

Here, on the verge of a potential return to the office for many employees, is an ideal opportunity to understand what helps employees to get the most out of life at work, whether that’s in their traditional workspace or from home.

Reconnecting with the organisation

In addition, as there are many who will have tested the resilience of their personal relationships through the stresses of lockdown, some colleagues will be questioning their relationship with the organisation they work for.

For many, a positive lockdown experience will engender a stronger sense of engagement, loyalty and deeper trust and emotional connection. Some will be rightly proud of their employer’s response to the crisis. For others, there may be concerns about leadership behaviour.

A positive lockdown experience will engender
a stronger sense of engagement, loyalty and deeper trust

There could also be those feeling disconnected from purpose, if strategic decisions have been taken that employees do not feel are in line with their understanding of what their organisation stands for. Again, now could be the perfect time to really understand how employees feel about working for you, and how this has changed, for better or worse, because of this experience.

Ultimately, the world of work has changed. Whatever our ‘new normal’ becomes, it can only be a positive step to harness the collective views and lockdown experiences of employees to shape and create that future together.

Gathering the employee voice

Whichever channel or tools you use, there are some fundamental principles for creating successful dialogue:

  • Active listening – having an open mind about what employees have to say, accepting perception is as valid as reality, and not second-guessing issues or concerns.
  • Create a safe space – ensure a climate where people feel they can speak up and know there will be no negative repercussions on jobs or career development from doing so.
  • Listen 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. It is worth investing time in ensuring a variety of mechanisms to include your harder-to-reach employees.
  • Be prepared to act on the findings – 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 are not willing to act on the findings, it is 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.

To learn more, or to arrange a bespoke Employee Voice Discovery Session tailored to your organisation, please contact:

0151 494 5844

**This article has been adapted for 2021 from the original: The increasing importance of employee voice in today’s world (K. Willoughby, 28/06/2020).