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The enablers of engagement – a closer look at employee voice

Emma Bridger

11 Mar 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
Employee Voice

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Within the first UK Engage for Success report to the government, employee voice was outlined in the following way:  
“Employees’ views are sought out; they are listened to and see that their opinions count and make a difference. They speak out and challenge when appropriate. A strong sense of listening and of responsiveness permeates the organization, enabled by effective communication”
In simple terms, employee voice describes the various forms of two-way communication that exist between employers and employees. It can be both formal (e.g. using surveys and focus groups to capture employee views) and informal (e.g. an employees willingness to open up to their manager about an issue or challenge they are facing), direct (e.g. meetings between employees and senior management) and indirect (collective voice channelled through a representative, e.g trade unions). Importantly it’s about listening to, and responding to the voice of employees.

Ensuring your employees have a voice enables them to take part in dialogue across your organisation about what matters, which impact the current and future performance of your organisation. It can also lead to better informed decision making.
If you have a strong employee voice, conversations will take place, which are genuinely two-way, and are not about paying lip-service to the concept. Giving employees a voice provides them with the opportunity to positively impact their organisation on a variety of levels: the jobs they do, the organisational culture, your products and services, and the way it feels around here.

There are some organisational pre-requisites, which help to ensure employee voice is authentic and effective, rather than seen as yet another initiative. Like so many aspects of engagement, employee voice at a first glance appears to be a fairly simple and straightforward concept, which should be easy to implement.

The reality is quite different.

Firstly there must be good levels of trust and psychological safety within your organisation. Employees are not going to express their ideas or contribute to the conversation if trust is low. Employees won't speak up if they feel that their contribution is subject to negative consequences in any way. Employees need to feel safe to speak their minds without fear of any repercussion. You only have to consider the need to reinforce the confidentiality of engagement surveys, or focus groups for example, to see that trust is often difficult to build and all too easy to lose.

Line managers also play a critical role in, not only building trust and psychological safety, but also facilitating employee voice. A report published by IPA and Tomorrow’s Company, which looks at the role of employee voice to ensure sustained business success, identified some key characteristics of leadership that empower employee voice.
They list these as:

  • Openness
  • Good communication
  • Approachability.

The report argues that this style of leadership helps to encourage employee voice.

In their report, Releasing Voice for Sustainable Business Success, IPA and Tomorrow’s Company developed a model, which details all of the critical elements for establishing employee voice within an organisation. The model, detailed below, summarises these factors, which influence voice, and is a useful tool when considering employee voice within your own organisation.
The model highlights:

  • The purpose of voice: sustainable business success
  • The outcomes of voice: engagement, decision making and innovation
  • The culture and behaviours associated with voice: safety to speak, leadership style, values, authenticity & trust, devolvement, inclusivity and influence
  • The structures and processes associated with voice: voice channels, development & training

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