Putting employee voice centre stage

By Louisa Baczor, Research Adviser at the CIPD

In today’s world of work, with many insecure jobs, long working hours cultures and the decline in collective representation, how much influence do people have over their employment conditions? Opportunities to express voice within the organisation are an essential way by which individuals can shape the working relationship (as the CIPD’s UK Working Lives research has shown). From the employer point of view, there are significant risks associated with a failure to address their people’s views and concerns, from negative reviews on Glassdoor to poor productivity and innovation, and potential damage to company reputation if unresolved issues escalate.

There are different ways of looking at the ‘why’ of employee voice: 1) as a driver of engagement and, ultimately, enhancing organisational performance; and 2) as fundamental to treating individuals with respect and dignity at work. The perspective on voice as a democratic principle is reflected in our new Profession Map, which highlights the key role of all people professionals in giving individuals a meaningful voice on matters that affect their working lives. However, previous CIPD research suggested that this principle is often not upheld in practice or is seen as a ‘nice to have’, despite practitioners believing it to be important.

Our new survey report puts the voice of the employees centre stage, by exploring their experiences of voice in the workplace. We found that a quarter of employees do not feel able to raise matters that concern the organisation, and the same proportion are often reluctant to voice issues that are important to them. In addition, nearly two in five reported that they have no say over their working terms and conditions. Overall, these findings indicate that there’s some way to go for organisations to create environments where people feel confident in expressing both views that could improve the way things are done in the organisation, and those that are important for them on a personal level. Employers are missing out on valuable contributions to innovation and organisational learning, as well as opportunities to enhance the job satisfaction and well-being of their staff.

Technology is facilitating new ways of working and opportunities for individuals to have the power to shape work in their own way. For example, digital platforms are enabling workers to network and campaign around workplace issues. The next phase of our research will investigate the practices that facilitate voice in various organisational contexts, and how employers can develop practical voice solutions to enable positive outcomes for individuals and the business.

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