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Factsheet:

Employee voice

Resource summary

This factsheet was last updated in December 2015.

What is employee voice?

Employee voice is the process of employees communicating to their employers to make improvements and right perceived wrongs. 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 dates back to Hirschman’s description of dissatisfied customers’ using their ‘voice’ to affect change instead of either showing ‘loyalty’ or deciding to ‘exit’. In a work context, because employees often have less power than customers, another important eventuality is employee ‘neglect’. More recently, the idea of employee ‘silence’ has increasingly been used to describe 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 is also a core feature in research on high performance work systems which points to links between ‘high involvement’ management and performance, and it’s also seen as a central pillar of employee engagement and one which is often neglected.

Some see voice in terms of activity: employees representing their views to managers through whatever means and those views being taken into account. Others take the more limited view that voice concerns the mechanisms for employees to transmit ideas to managers. </>

Employee voice and communication clearly have a lot in common. However, the concept of employee voice particularly focuses on opportunities for employees to be involved in decisions collectively, whether through trade unions or by other means, as well as individually. It is thus about influence as well as communication.

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  • What is employee voice?
  • A brief history of employee involvement in decisions at work
  • Mechanisms of employee voice
  • Benefits and success factors
  • CIPD viewpoint
  • References
  • Further reading

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