Is there more to employee voice?

By Ksenia Zheltoukhova , Head of CIPD Research 

A couple of years ago a team I was part of completed a values-based survey, reflecting on what was important to us both at home and at work. When the results were revealed, my personal and professional profiles appeared as if they described two rather different people. The “personal me” was driven by ideas, asked questions, and enjoyed exploring uncertainty. The “work me” prioritised process and order to the extent that – according to the facilitator – was “most likely to complete performance appraisals forms on time”.

Not exactly what I wanted to be known for.

At the same time my insight echoes some of the observations from our Future of Work is Human community on the need for more humane workplaces. It is notably difficult to organise people to achieve a common goal, and so in many organisations process and tangible goals take center stage. But, what would happen if employers braved to embrace the creativity, curiosity, but also a degree of chaos that makes us all human?

Employee voice is one aspect of the working life that is affected by lack of humanity. Too often employee voice is confined to the box of occasional consultations and staff surveys, where no comment box is large enough for people to tell their employer how they really feel at work. Our new paper examines the many dimensions of voice that organisations could be missing out when taking the narrow approach.

One of the pertinent issues is employers’ ability and need to put boundaries around individuals’ desire for self-expression. Social media is a convenient arena for exploring and even experimenting with their identities, sharing knowledge and skills, as well as finding a sense of belonging through connecting to others with similar views. Some organisations have benefited from these technologies, encouraging their workforce to share ideas to aid knowledge transfer and foster engagement. Yet, unlike our personal lives, behaviour at work is constrained by formal and informal employer expectations. Was the Google engineer behind the so-called anti-diversity memo out of line, or just providing an alternative view?

The other interesting take on voice is the idea of it being bought and sold as a commodity. Relating this to the world of social media again, we are aware that some users are not always expressing their authentic opinions, but are endorsing products and services in exchange for a reward. Parallels to this behaviour could be seen through the lens of workplace politics, where employees may choose to give or withhold their voice on an issue depending on how that decision impacts their career. Can employers be expected to control such manipulations with voice, even if it is disadvantaging particular employee groups?

This paper is just the start of our thinking on the future of voice at work, but the ultimate aim is to help organisations create the conditions for all forms of voice to flourish, resulting in more creativity, passion, and connection at work.

Find out more about our work on voice.

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