Employee Engagement and Employee Voice: Do You Hear What I Hear?

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Employee Engagement and Employee Voice: Do You Hear What I Hear?

“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes”. - Maggie Smith

Managers, if we’re talking about “giving employees a voice,” we’re doing it wrong.

Today, we’ll touch on the “employee voice” which the UK-based Engage for Success movement identified as one of four enablers of employee engagement (the other three are strategic narrative, engaging managers and integrity). Engage for Success demonstrated the evidence through research and case studies of the power of the four enablers to improve engagement and organizational success.

What is the employee voice? Essentially, it’s when “an organization sees its people not as the problem, rather as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas.”

This post offers background and perspective on the power of voice in employee engagement and organizational success. Later, I’ll share a second blog post offering voice lessons—lessons helping employees to be ready, willing and able to bring their voice to work.

So what’s the deal with “employee voice?”

We seem to understand the importance of strategy, managers and integrity but I believe we struggle with voice. For example, I saw a recent post title with the phrase, “giving employees a voice.” This is a false and naive statement since employees already have a voice and it is not ours to give to them! I also saw a reference to employee voice as a management tool. Yes, voice may assist management but employee voice is not a tool. It is much deeper and fundamental than a manipulative tool to increase engagement.

We have made strides away from simply ignoring or actively stifling employee voice. I am reminded of Archie Bunker in the old TV series, “All in the Family,” telling his wife, Edith, to stifle herself because he believed she was talking too much. I believe organizations have more to fear by employees talking too little than talking too much.

In today’s workplace culture, sometimes employee voices are stifled and sometimes they are stolen. It’s a bit like Disney’s Little Mermaid story where Ursula the Sea Witch tries to steal Ariel’s beautiful voice, in exchange for three days as a human. Organizations must be on guard against “stealing” employees’ voices in exchange for a paycheck. The days of show up, keep your head down and your mouth shut are not tenable for good work in 2018 and beyond.

Many voices are present

Our voice is human. Yet we often refer to employee voice as if it is a single entity—employee voice. There are many employee voices—a pluralism of experiences, perspectives, expressions, ideas and evaluations. The pervasive pluralism of voices can add rich understanding to organizations even if that understanding may at first be disruptive to the organization.

CIPD, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has championed better work and working lives. CIPD defined employee voice as:

The means by which employees communicate views on employment and organizational issues to their employer. It’s the main way employees can influence matters that affect them at work. For employers, effective voice contributes toward innovation, productivity and business improvement. For employees, it often results in increased job satisfaction, greater influence and better opportunities for development.

CIPD took a further step and deeper exploration of employee voice in their September 2017 insightful position paper: Have Your Say: Alternative Forms of Workplace Voice. The authors offer seven dimensions of voice: self-expression, well-being, relationship-building, power, service, morality and commodity. They make the case that“We need a new framework for voice that would enable workers and employers to fully benefit from sharing of expertise, ideas and opinions in the context of modern working practices. Traditional approaches to employee voice have been limited in their scope...” (Page 2).

I encourage you to study Have Your Say: Alternative Forms of Workplace Voice to further your understanding and perspective on employee voice in the workplace.

In Part Two of this series on employee voice, I will focus on voice lessons— the things employees can do to give voice to their experiences, engagement and work. I believe we are responsible for own engagement and this includes offering our voice to the organization.

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” – Madeleine Albright

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