Researching employee voice

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

Kevin Ruck presents
Kevin Ruck presents

The full paper is freely available as a downloadable PDF. Here’s a summary.

The CIPD describes employee voice as:

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

If employee voice is listened to and acted upon, employees may respond with heightened engagement. My research evidences positive and statistically significant correlations between senior manager receptiveness to voice and organisational engagement.

Research conducted

A qualitative research methodology was used. Employees at five different organisations in the UK participated with a total of 27 interviews completed.  Nine focus groups were also conducted involving 77 employees.

Three primary themes emerged from template analysis of qualitative data:

  • active listening: adopting an open mind to what is said by employees
  • authentic responsiveness: being prepared to seriously consider what is said by employees
  • safety to speak out: alleviating the fear of retribution.

Implications of research

The results of this study suggest that organisations need to go beyond the simple provision of opportunities for employees to have a say.

Not surprisingly, employees expect their comments and suggestions to be treated seriously. And they very quickly detect sham employee voice processes. This requires leaders to understand how to listen and to embrace meaningful dialogue with employees based on an open mind, heart and will. Participants stated that they prefer informal communication settings for employee voice, where senior managers talk the language of employees rather than corporate jargon. These can be face-to-face or using enterprise social network (ESN) platforms; it is the informality that participants stated creates trust and safety to speak out.

This runs counter to some aspects of transactional and transformational leadership based on ‘telling’ and ‘selling’ approaches to communication. Instead of coaching senior managers to use slick, corporate PowerPoint presentations, HR and internal communication managers could emphasise listening as a valuable leadership capability that can lead to increased organisational engagement.

In summary, communication approaches based solely on informing should be complemented by systemic employee voice that incorporates authentic listening if the full potential of employee engagement is to be realised.