This factsheet was last updated in August 2016.
What is employee voice?
Employee voice is the means by which employees communicate their views on employment and organisational issues to their employers. It's the main way employees can influence matters that affect them. Voice implies that communication between management and employees is a two-way exchange that enables employees to ‘have a say' about what goes on in the organisation. Employees can have voice directly, by giving management their views themselves, or indirectly through representatives.
The notion of voice dates back to Hirschman’s description of dissatisfied customers’ using their ‘voice’ to affect change instead of either simply showing ‘loyalty’ or deciding to ‘exit’. A key difference in the work context is that employees can risk earning a reputation as a troublemaker and damaging their relationship with their employer. Thus, the additional idea of employee ‘silence’ has increasingly gained currency. This describes an employee’s decision not to use their voice when they have the opportunity because they see it as ‘futile and/or dangerous’.
Employee voice can appeal both to those seeking business improvements and to those pursuing employee rights. Our research suggests that organisations that seek to promote voice are those that believe that ‘employees want to contribute to the business’ and that ‘for employees to have an effective voice, the important part of the communication process is not what the employer puts out but what it gets back. Good managers recognise that much of the knowledge required for businesses to be competitive is actually in employees’ heads’.
Employee voice features prominently in research on high performance work systems, which points to links between ‘high involvement’ management styles and performance. It’s also seen as a central pillar of employee engagement, but one which is often neglected.
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