Employee voice: what is it and why is it so important?

All employees like to feel they have a voice in their workplace, but would yours agree that they are actually being listened to? Do they have the chance to freely voice their thoughts, opinions and reservations, without worrying about the personal or professional outcomes? If your workforce is to truly believe that its organisation takes employee voice seriously, you will need to convince it that it can influence managerial decisions and actions via its feedback.

A survey from IBM in 2015 revealed that the crucial element of employee voice is what happens after the conversation i.e. the nature of the action taken. Embedding employee voice throughout your organisation means ensuring that concrete steps are taken in line with employee recommendations. To make employee voice a reality in your company, follow these three simple principles.

1- Focus on active listening

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of active listening. Managers who want to mentor and guide employees simply cannot do so without this vital ability. Active listening involves the listener completely concentrating on, understanding, replying to and remembering what the speaker has said. There are six components to active listening:

  1. Paying attention
  2. Reserving judgment
  3. Reflecting
  4. Clarifying
  5. Summarizing
  6. Sharing

You can be an active listener without agreeing with what you’re being told. One way to demonstrate active listening to your staff is to provide a suitable channel through which they can offer their comments and suggestions whenever they want. Continuous listening is the order of the day, which means going beyond the annual engagement survey. The jump from once-a-year to always-on is likely to be a shock, so start by implementing quarterly pulse surveys. Combine one-to-one communication with an always-on channel and your employees will begin to understand that their feedback is always being sought.

2- Provide feedback on future performance 

Providing valuable feedback bolsters employee voice and improves trust levels between managers and employees. This is crucial if you want your feedback to be well received, as employees will only take notice of feedback which they feel is offered in a spirit of generosity and care. Make sure that the feedback is performance-related, actionable and directed towards the future. Although recognizing individual actions on a daily basis and praising team wins is important, it’s just as important to give performance-related feedback which aims to help employees develop in their future career.

Research has found that as few as 26 per cent of employees feel that the feedback they receive enables them to improve their performance in the workplace. Feedback that is genuinely helpful and supports employee voice has to take place in a personal context and involve two-way, balanced communication. A good way to encourage this type of dialogue is to collaborate with your employees on problem-solving, inviting their comments and suggestions.

3- Be transparent

Neuroscientists have discovered that employees must believe they are being kept informed of all significant company developments if they are to retain trust in their leaders and peers, and feel sufficiently motivated to maintain their performance levels. Employees in one study who felt they were being kept in the dark by management reported a 58 per cent decrease in their perceived group standing – in other words, where they thought they ranked in comparison to their colleagues. According to neuroscience, our brains view ambiguity as threatening.

And ambiguity is often found in companies where employee voice is lacking. Deny your employees transparency and the right to be heard and they will feel barred from taking part in decision-making, meaning their valuable contributions will be lost.

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Look at team meetings and performance reviews as opportunities to keep employees informed. Allow employees who complain of a dearth of information or resources to provide their feedback anonymously via direct surveys or an always-on channel. Make sure that your employees feel aware of company developments and are convinced that management is listening to them.

Click here to find out more about Achievers’ employee engagement platform.