Cyber voice: how is voice changing, in today’s technology-driven world?

Louisa Baczor, CIPD Research Associate

Social media enables ideas and opinions to spread almost instantly, but people don’t necessarily adhere to normal social rules online. You only need to look at sites such as ‘Mumsnet’ to find the evidence; where innocent and innocuous posts are beleaguered with internet trolls spouting abuse and foul language. The ability to post anonymous comments online appears to remove people’s sense of accountability for what they’re saying.

Personally, I think that technology is creating a level of inauthenticity in voice.

The rise of the ‘clean-eating’ bloggers, for example, claiming to be nutritional experts and warning their followers not to eat dairy or gluten, often have no scientific basis. The blurred line between falsehood and reality is a broader societal trend, which we’re seeing in politics such as Trump stating that Obama is the founder of ISIS, and the Brexit campaign based on misinformation (e.g. that EU membership costs the UK £350m a week). It’s no wonder that people no longer trust experts, as Michael Gove pointed out before the referendum.

Technology is driving this phenomenon, since anyone can publish material on social media, and we tend to filter out all the information that doesn’t agree with our world view, resulting in our looking at the world through a narrow lens. Your Facebook newsfeed contains content similar to that which you previously ‘liked’, and only news posted by people in your personal network. So, it’s not unrealistic to say that many of us are developing a warped sense of reality, surrounding ourselves with sympathetic voices, so that we encounter opinions that are diverse or different to our own less and less often.

Our research on principles for the profession outlines the importance of considering multiple viewpoints when making a decision, in order to create sustainable value for everyone.

In the context of increased public voice, then, are more people having their say or is this adding to a climate of distrust?

At an event on ‘Voice’ we ran back in July, some people said they felt discouraged from freely expressing their views because there were cameras in the room. With situations increasingly recorded and broadcast to a wide audience, this is creating a polarisation whereby some people are embracing the opportunity to amplify their voice and push their opinions, while others are withdrawing from it.

Putting this into an organisational context, employee voice might appear to be growing more open and democratic with tools like Glassdoor, which are not controlled by management. A report by IPA on the impact of social media in the workplace says that enterprise social networks provide an open forum for any employee to have their say. But do they really create more space for multiple perspectives to be heard, or just the ‘loud’ voices? It’s important for us, as HR professionals, to think about how we can best listen to a diversity of voices, enabling cooperation to find good solutions. We also need to be aware that voice through social media is not the ‘be all and end all’ of employee voice – it’s just one of the ways in which employers can enable their staff to speak up. By closely linking open communication channels like ERPs and social media tools to realising organisational objectives, employers can, to a large extent, drown out the ‘noise’.

To quote one of the participants at our ‘Voice’ event; ‘giving people’s opinions a forum for genuine expression and consideration is important in making the decision seem acceptable and the process fair’. For me, that means we need to better understand how newer mechanisms for voice actually function, to enable meaningful employee voice. 

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