Whether businesses want to improve employee motivation, align resources with business goals, or respond quickly to changing circumstances, the need to engage with employee voice is more compelling than ever. Voice is increasingly relevant to several key themes and opportunities including:
- securing trust and confidence between employees, leaders and organisations
- creating an inclusive environment
- determining what matters most to stakeholders - employees, customers, shareholders and beyond
- harnessing the views of employees
- safeguarding employee wellbeing and business prosperity
- informing organisations’ response to current issues.
Our guides on group and individual voice channels build on the CIPD’s ‘Talking about voice’ report to explore the benefits for employers and employees of empowering employee voice. They look at the role HR can play in creating a culture of voice and positive working conditions that support business performance and employee wellbeing. The guides also offer practical tips on implementing effective voice channels.
Download the guides below:
Defining voiceThe definition of employee voice can be split into two distinct categories:
- Organisational voice: this represents employees’ efforts to help the organisation to perform better (for example, through sharing ideas).
- Individual/employee voice: this refers to the scope for self-expression at work, reflecting whether people feel recognised and valued as human beings, and for views to influence decisions at work.
Organisational voice: The benefits for employers
A great place to start improving organisational voice is by establishing the connection between voice, employee engagement and business performance. This is more than purely economic. It’s also a moral imperative, particularly for organisations that believe they have a responsibility to enable their employees to lead full lives.
Improving organisational voice can benefit employers in many ways, including:
- Voice offers the opportunity to build and sustain trust - organisations increasingly recognise the importance of trust - between company, leaders and employees. Merely paying lip service and permitting behaviours which are contrary to stated values dismantles trust rapidly.
- Businesses can gain a quicker understanding of risks, issues and opportunities. Their ability to mitigate issues for their customers can build a reputation for responsiveness, as well as create the potential for greater growth.
- Positive use of organisational voice can drive advocacy, where, for example, employees may recommend a business as a great place to work and enable recruitment cost savings.
- Great practices in organisational voice enable more diverse perspectives to surface, leading to more inclusive decision making. Indeed, failure to adequately connect to organisational voice or identify early issues or problems can have a highly detrimental effect on marginalised voices
- Organisational voice also enables employees to share ideas about how to improve their work. This source of continuous improvement and innovation brings obvious benefits, particularly when the organisation is committed to being influenced by the ideas and views generated.
The available benefits to your business will depend on your context and the level of leadership engagement with creating positive conditions for voice. For more on the benefits of employee voice, see our factsheet and the report on alternative forms of workplace voice, as well as Talking about voice: employees experiences and Talking about voice: insights from case studies.
Individual voice: The benefits for employees
The inclusion of employee voice in an organisation is not just beneficial to the company and its leaders, but also to employees themselves.
As younger generations enter work whilst the overall workforce is ageing, needs and views are increasingly diverse. Employees seek development for ‘multi-stage’ careers, support for reskilling and appreciation of the needs of different life stages. In short, places where they can feel heard and safe and able to take an active role in shaping their future.
Employees who feel that their individual voices are fully recognised are more likely to experience increased job satisfaction and loyalty as a result. This can lead to greater employee retention and potentially a greater discretionary effort towards their work.
Research shows that employees who feel genuinely heard are more likely to feel empowered, encouraged and recognised within their role.
This sense of authenticity can also help foster an inclusive environment. When employees can freely express themselves at work, they can voice not only organisational concerns but individual concerns. This in turn allows them to focus their energies on their work, rather than having to worry about saying or doing the wrong thing.
The benefits for employee and employer are demonstrable, in both academic research and business practice. However, these benefits seldom arise spontaneously. They require an encouraging culture, positive leadership and practical mechanisms.
What role should HR play?
HR plays a significant role in building a high trust culture where there is freedom of expression and an environment that encourages diversity. It takes focused effort to ensure the foundations for this are in place, and recognition that it’s not easily achieved. It involves an honest appraisal of your current practices and policies to determine if they are facilitating a supportive culture.
Although HR have a key role in shaping and embedding both forms of employee voice, they should not be the sole custodians of its success. A truly successful culture is one in which leaders passionately realise that enabling voice will lead to a positive impact on employee life and ultimately organisational outcomes.
As every organisation is unique, initiatives deployed in one organisation may need to be adapted, or simply won’t work, for another. Every organisation will be at a different stage of their voice journey.
No matter how developed your approach is, the following considerations will help you embed a positive employee voice culture:
- HR and leaders who role model and champion employee voice – it’s important for HR to work collaboratively with the senior leadership and management teams to ensure they are embracing and supporting employee voice activities. Help the senior team to understand and appreciate the importance of individual and organisational voice. HR and leaders have an opportunity to make an impact in a positive way. The way you listen, ask questions and choose to respond will signal to employees how serious you are about voice.
- Authentic leadership – leaders need to be prepared to embrace feedback, expect to face challenging topics and respond in an authentic and empathetic way. HR can be instrumental in coaching leaders on how to listen, engage and provide effective feedback.
- Supportive values and behaviours – check that your values actively encourage employee voice across all levels of the organisation. Most value statements are generic, but it's important to ensure that they are not in direct contradiction and employees feel they can relate to them. For example, if you have honesty or transparency as a value, does your organisation reflect this in your approach to voice?
- Embed voice across the employee life cycle - examine whether your people plan, policies and practices actively support and encourage employee voice across all areas of the employee life cycle. For example, organisations should:
- Embed and promote employee voice during recruitment and onboarding.
- Design recognition programmes to encourage and support employees to take part and contribute ideas
- Provide training and a coaching culture to ensure the right skills and behaviours are in place as well as how to access and use the different channels for voice.
- Leverage existing tools – consider using performance appraisals or post-survey action plans to gain buy-in from management for employee voice plans. This also allows the organisation to share these plans with employees and monitor progress made. By recognising and rewarding line managers for encouraging individual as well as organisational voice, the HR team can support line managers as they encourage employee voice.
- Work in harmony with representative bodies - your organisation may have formal representation in place to support the Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) regulations or a recognised union. These formal bodies play a valuable role in supporting employee voice. HR will need to take a holistic view of all the voice channels available.
- Use multiple channels – carefully consider the channels that work for your organisation and the nature of work your employees carry out. For example, employees who mostly undertake manual work may not have access to computers or have limited time to engage with employee voice activities. Also, consider your employee demographics and the channels that most appeal to them. Through the provision of multiple channels, your employees will be able to express their views in a safe and convenient way.
- Embrace social media – whether you have a finely-tuned process to manage your social media platforms or not, no organisation is in full control of how employees (current or former) choose to express their views. With the rise in popularity of platforms such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn you will need to consider how you choose to respond to postings and how this positively supports the employee voice culture. Many successful organisations in this space choose to be receptive to feedback, acknowledging issues in a positive action orientated manner.
- Encourage discussion of a wide range of topics amongst employees - these could range from improving the physical work environment, generating new ideas to help business performance or topics that may require some facilitation such as mental health or enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- Encourage freedom within a framework – provide guidelines on your various employee voice initiatives, but check that they do not create a fear culture. HR should review policies to ensure the appropriate tone and language is used to promote employee voice.
- Celebrate success and share stories – showcasing examples and recognising employees who speak up will inspire employees to participate. It also positively reinforces to employees that the organisation encourages and supports employee voice.
- Measure success and outputs – as you introduce your voice initiatives, consider how you will measure the outputs and the impact they have on your organisation. This may include measuring the number of completed actions from an engagement survey prior to the initiatives against a follow up temperature check once they are in place. You could also measure the impact on employee turnover, exit data or even Glassdoor ratings. Use metrics that work for your organisation and share these metrics with your employees. Remember that individual and organisational voice are different, consider how to measure them respectively. For example, for individual voice it may be through an employee survey where people are asked about how involved they feel, how able they feel to express their honest views; for organisational voice it may be through monitoring the volume of ideas generated for service improvements.
There is an increasing expectation from employees that HR and business leaders to implement initiatives to allow them to be heard. This is an exciting time for HR to drive this agenda proactively and make a positive difference to business performance and reputation. Use the initiatives that work for your organisation, work collaboratively with your employees and leaders, be open minded and authentic and have some fun with it.
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