Employee voice in the workplace

What do we mean by ‘employee voice’ and how can we harness it to build a productive, engaged workplace where everyone feels listened to?

Do you encourage employee voice in the workplace? 

By ‘encourage’, we don’t mean ‘tolerate’. We mean: do you actively encourage it? Do you run regular feedback initiatives and act on them? Do you train managers to ask for, accept and pass on feedback? 

A major survey we conducted recently suggests that ‘not being listened to’ is employees’ number one gripe with management – and one that has a significant impact on talent retention. In other words, there could be a huge amount of untapped innovation going to waste, right under your nose.  

With over a fifth (22%) of those who raise issues at work feeling that they receive no advice or support, there’s definitely more organizations could be doing. Here’s how an employee voice strategy could help. 

Voice of the employee – what is it? 

Whenever we’re grappling with important workplace concepts, we can always rely on the CIPD for a useful, easily digestible summary. They define employee voice as

“The means by which people communicate their views to their employer and influence matters that affect them at work”

If we were to distill this a little more, our answer to “what is employee voice?” would be

“your employees’ involvement in decision making processes and how you encourage it”. 

What is an employee voice strategy? 

An employee voice strategy is how you encourage your workforce to have their say. 

It’s worth distinguishing between ‘action’ and ‘strategy’ here. Running employee surveys as and when might be a useful action to take, but doesn’t constitute a strategy in itself. An employee voice strategy is a planned and sustained program of activities that encourage your employees to make their voices heard. 

Check out the employee voice examples below for specific strategy building blocks, but make sure everything you create is built on these two key principles: 

  • Commitment to a ‘speak up’ culture: if employees consider the risks of speaking up (whether delivering a positive input or a criticism) then they simply won’t bother. Make it rewarding to contribute (even if the feedback is negative) and more employees will do so.
  • Commitment to employee-centered leadership: senior management must take the lead in listening to employees and acting on feedback. High-visibility commitment to this at senior levels will increase the success of your employee voice strategy.

What are the benefits of employee voice? 

Employee voice is good for your workforce. Colleagues feel you take their input seriously, and feel happier and safer in their roles as a result. 

Secondly, it’s great for your business! In a nutshell, a great employee voice strategy encourages innovation, boosts performance and rubs off on that all important bottom line.

Employee voice and workplace engagement

Employees like to be involved in the decisions that affect them. CIPD data suggests that employees’ satisfaction with involvement in decision-making is significantly and positively related to their overall job satisfaction.

But employee voice doesn’t just affect how happy employees are at work. It also affects how invested they are in your organization and its long-term success. 

Being able to participate in decision-making automatically draws your employees into the mission of your business. Rather than being there to follow orders, they become stakeholders that actively contribute to key business achievements.

This sense of ownership is called employee engagement, and it contributes significantly to long-term business success.

A pre-COVID Gallup poll found that companies with high employee engagement achieved:

  • 10% higher customer ratings
  • 17% higher productivity
  • 20% higher sales
  • 21% higher profitability

Importantly, as the Great Resignation continues to cause staffing issues for many businesses, employee engagement also breeds employee retention, making it that bit easier to hold onto your top performers in a tough market. Regularly surveying your employees to keep your finger on the pulse, and actually actioning the results is a simple employee engagement best practice to follow and help your team invested.

Employee voice and organizational performance 

Why ignore your single biggest pool of ideas for improving your organization’s performance? 

The link between employee voice and organisational performance is hard to ignore. Your employees know the ins and outs of your organization better than anyone. They can tell you better than anyone about which processes work, which don’t, where major silos exist and where slowdowns occur.  

Yet all too often, segments of the workforce – frontline employees in particular – feel as if their input won’t be taken seriously. If you allow this type of sentiment to grow, employees won’t share valuable insights further up the chain. 

You might not find any million dollar ideas here (but hey, don’t rule it out), but you can expect a million smaller bits of feedback that could help your business run that bit more effectively. The sum of all these parts: cost savings for you, increased satisfaction for your employees. Everyone’s a winner. 

Employee voice and compliance

In a recent online poll, a stunning 93% of respondents thought that becoming a whistleblower would negatively impact their career. There are still huge barriers to overcome for employees who witness wrongdoing or poor practice and want to report it. 

Encouraging a genuinely open culture via employee voice initiatives makes it so much more likely that your employees will speak up if they see something wrong. In some cases, this opportunity to fix issues internally can save a huge amount of financial and reputational damage. 

The importance of employee voice and communication

We recently conducted a case study of frontline healthcare workers in the UK. When asked about the one thing they would say to senior management anonymously, their answers were pretty telling: 

“Please answer my emails and questions. I am trying to do my best at work and would appreciate feeling listened to.” 

“Communication please!”

“Listen to us! We have been here long enough to know what works.”

Creating an employee voice strategy formalizes two-way communication so that it’s not left to individuals to follow up. An organizational commitment to communication ensures that people feel heard on a personal level, whilst providing senior decision-makers with the tools to keep the conversation going. 

Find out more about our ‘Listen’ initiative here

Employee voice examples

Employee voice can be direct or indirect, formal or informal. 

Direct employee voice involves speaking directly to senior management, line managers and other decision makers with feedback and suggestions. Indirect employee voice does this through an intermediary, such as an employee committee, representative, or union rep.

Formal employee voice is expressed through official, codified channels, such as employee surveys. Informal employee voice can be expressed wherever and whenever – a quick email to a line manager or dropping in for a conversation during a senior exec’s office hours are both good examples. 

As you build your employee voice strategy, you’ll likely use a combination of all of these to make sure your workforce truly feels heard. Here are a few examples of employee voice initiatives that you could start in your business. 

  • Regular ‘pulse’ surveys with a process for gathering and acting on feedback
  • Training on workplace practices and how to flag up when they aren’t being followed
  • Regular one-to-ones with line managers for two-way feedback and suggestions
  • Open office hours for senior managers and key decision makers
  • Open forums or meetings for discussing new initiatives and proposals
  • Transparent communication about company news and developments

You can extend the scope of your employee voice strategy using the right software tools. Arguably this is hugely beneficial for all businesses now, and for remote, hybrid and mobile teams this is essential. 

An employee app with an instantly updated newsfeed, two-way content creation and the ability to support employee-generated content is a must-have, as is employee survey software,

Final thoughts on employee voice

Your employees are brimming with great ideas! Why lock that away? 

It’s on you, as a workplace, to actively encourage employees to share these ideas. Don’t sit back and hope people come to you – shout about how receptive you are (and mean it) and how much you value ideas and contributions from across the business. 

You’ll need: 

  • The drive to create a culture where everyone feels able to speak up
  • A commitment at senior leadership level to open communication and two-way dialogue
  • The willingness to take the negative feedback along with the positive

Use the ideas above to get started. Focus on meaningful sustainable change and commit for the long term and you’ll get results. 

Blink’s newsfeed, social sharing and two-way publishing features help you encourage employee voice. Book a free demo to find out how.