Effective workplace communications are a two-way street. As well as directing a team, leaders need to invite feedback and listen so employees can express the support they need to work smarter, faster and better.
In essence, you need to help them find their employee voice!
What is employee voice?
Simply put, employee voice is the way people communicate their views to their employer and how they influence matters that affect them at work.
Why is employee voice so important?
Prioritising employee voice can lead to positive outcomes for both individuals and organisations as a whole.
For the employees, having the chance to participate in decisions and influence processes has a positive impact on their wellbeing; they feel more valued, have increased job satisfaction and often pave the way for better opportunities for development.
In turn, the resulting increase in motivation sees employers benefiting from higher productivity and innovation, and reduced workplace conflict, absenteeism and turnover. Importantly, employee voice helps to build trust between leaders and employees and demonstrates that an organisation cares about the views and experiences of its workforce.
Why is employee voice a talking point right now?
Since the pandemic, the way we communicate with employees has changed. Remote working has created both ease and challenge for employee voice; employers must think carefully about how to ensure everyone feels included, informed about organisational news, and has the chance to provide feedback. But, technology, such as Microsoft Teams and mobile apps, means employee voice is no longer limited to in-person, office-based methods.
Another change to note is that although there has been a decline in trade union representation over the last 40 years, collective voice can still be highly influential. Pressures arising from increasing inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, have seen a shift back towards the use of collective voice (think of the strikes we’ve already seen this year on the trains, in schools and hospitals) and it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.
How do I encourage employee voice at my organisation?
It’s important to understand that employees can have their say through individual and collective channels, for example speaking directly to a manager or indirectly through a representative such as a trade union. It can be formal (a survey or focus group), or informal, such as suggestions made in a regular team catch-up meeting.
With that in mind, the best way to encourage employee voice is not through one single initiative, but through various complementary channels, so everyone has an opportunity to provide feedback in a way they are most comfortable and all are included – that is, those employees who are office based and those who work remotely.
What communication channels could I use?
Here’s a rundown of the main channels that could be used. This is, however, by no means an exhaustive list and you can adapt these suggestions to what best suits your organisation and your people.
Meetings can provide both a formal and informal means of gathering useful insights from employees. Bringing people together, either physically in the room or online, promotes accessibility, visibility and helps to build relationships.
Meetings can take various forms, including one-to-ones (for example, a regular catch-up with a line manager or a more formal appraisal), team/department meetings, specific project meetings, evaluation meetings (to reflect on achievements post-project), onboarding and organisation-wide meetings.
All provide an opportunity to share knowledge, receive feedback and encourage leadership accountability.
- Employee apps
Following Covid-19, many organisations rely on digital channels to maintain and improve employee engagement. With widespread access to mobile devices, employee apps have become an ideal tool to support better communication, especially with non-office-based employees.
Apps are also a great way to share time-critical communications, such as organisation announcements, and gather real-time reactions, as well as more day-to-day information like employee contact details, organisation charts and policies. Employers can also use them to put out pulse surveys or offer digital suggestion boxes.
- Focus groups
These gatherings can be used to identify important issues that can then be explored further with surveys or wider studies from a larger representation of the workforce. They provide an opportunity to receive rich insights and authentic feedback on topics from a diverse cross-section of employees, not just by listening to what people have to say but by observing non-verbal cues and body language.
A workplace forum brings together leaders and employees to discuss and resolve issues. Employers can present their ideas, while employees can also raise ideas and ask questions of management. Forums work best when they include representatives from all parts of the organisation (especially if nominated by their colleagues), and the forum’s scope and the responsibility of members are clearly defined. Members could also receive training on the operation of the forum.
Organisations can utilise Intranet sites in very similar ways to employee apps. Intranets offer another tool to promote knowledge-sharing, from company news to policy updates, and encourage employee voice through suggestion boxes and the advertisement of focus groups and forum meeting days. They can even provide a private space for forum members to share resources and have online training.
Top tips for improving employee voice
So, your channels are in place, but now what? It’s not enough just to provide the opportunity for people to speak out – you have to act on it too.
Here are our top five tips for improving your employee voice:
- Embed employee voice in your culture
Employees will feel most encouraged to share their views if voice is embedded in your organisation’s culture. They need to feel assured that speaking up can lead to change and that they will not face consequences for suggesting ideas that challenge the status quo.
A way to do this is by ensuring all employees from all levels of the organisations get on board and join in. It’s particularly important for senior leaders to demonstrate their interest by actively encouraging people to share their views and suggestions (perhaps via a blog on the Intranet or a video posted to the employee app), staying informed of feedback, thanking employees for taking part and showing how they have listened to what’s been said.
- Welcome an employee representative to the C-suite
One way to ensure communication goes right to the top is to have a dedicated employee representative at the table, ensuring voice collected from the various channels is consistently fed back to senior leaders. In turn, they would be a listening ear to any concerns of senior leaders and advise on how best to communicate news, especially if it’s not easy news, to the whole organisation. The representative could be nominated and voted for by colleagues and would help to build additional trust between senior management and the wider workforce.
- Two-way communication is key
It’s not enough to simply have enthusiastic leaders who are willing to listen; they must be prepared to act and feedback on what they’ve heard. If leaders are taking an idea forward, communicate that with employees and keep them up-to-date on progress. Similarly, if suggestions are not deemed viable, explain why to manage expectations. When you ask for opinions on a subject or issue, make sure employees know why and what you’d like to do with that information to encourage participation and demonstrate leadership accountability. This two-way communication is key to building trust, showing you take employee voice seriously.
- Keep it up
Engaging employee voice and maintaining effective two-way communication takes effort, but don’t let the momentum slip! The more you work to improve voice, the more people will engage with it and the more it becomes a natural pillar of your organisation’s culture, making it easier to sustain.
- Make it fun!
When employees are busy, it’s not always easy to encourage people to spend a few minutes providing you with feedback or viewpoints. Then, make it fun! You could incentivise employees by offering a prize for a particularly innovative idea or business improvement. However, you must think carefully before offering such incentivisation. You want to encourage authentic voice, not voice for voice’s sake which would not provide the insights and influence the change you need. Decide whether the topic you wish to gain feedback on is appropriate for such an approach.
Tell Jane not only offers inclusive leadership coaching, which covers a full range of employee voice methods, but can also support you in the design of engagement surveys, facilitate focus group sessions on your behalf and analyse findings to ensure you truly understand the experiences of your people. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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