Well-being, commitment and innovation are negatively impacted when employees feel they are without ‘voice’ in an organisation. We believe all employers should have policies and practices in place which enable employees to effectively voice themselves on matters important to them.

The situation

Employee voice is key to ensuring that ideas and knowledge from across the workforce can be harnessed to drive innovation in product design, service delivery and improvements to working practices.

However, evidence suggests that, in recent years, there’s been a fall in the proportion of organisations with collective arrangements for employee representation and voice in the workplace. This is a concern. Unless employees are confident enough to speak out at work, issues like sexual harassment, discrimination, health and safety failings and unethical behaviour can be hidden – or papered over.

CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD believes all organisations should have effective policies and practices that allow employees to easily voice their opinions and raise concerns.

There are three main purposes for employee voice:
  1. To contribute to the way in which the organisation functions (through idea-sharing, problem solving and employee commitment)
  2. To highlight issues with potentially damaging consequences
  3. As a fundamental right of individuals in the workplace which contributes to a sense of meaningful work.

Employers should provide both individual and collective ways to ensure that employees feel they have a voice, and that their views are listened to and respected.

An essential aspect of employee voice is the role of line managers in listening and consulting with the people they manage. It’s also critically important to support collective voice through arrangements like employee representatives in staff councils; forums; or trade unions.

Feeling unable to share matters important to them can have a negative impact on people’s well-being, undermining their commitment to the organisation and blocking innovation. Leadership style, and the creation of an environment where people feel safe to speak up, influences people’s ability to express their voice.

Actions for Government

  • Ensure the Industrial Strategy has a strong focus on boosting the quality of people management in organisations, including on employee voice and representation.

  • Work in partnership with organisations such as Be the Business, Investors in People, employers, professional bodies, unions, Growth Hubs and Local Enterprise Partnerships to improve line management skills and encourage leadership styles that support employee voice.

  • Roll out the CIPD’s People Skills programme to all 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships in England, providing small businesses with free, locally delivered, transactional HR support.

  • Increase the resources available to Acas so that it can work proactively with organisations to improve their working practices.

  • Support the development of best practice guidance on atypical working, setting out the key principles of good work and responsible employment.

Recommendations for employers

  • Implement a range of communication and consultation methods to encourage employee voice and genuine two-way dialogue. These should be both individual and collective.

  • Consider how to create an organisational climate in which people feel safe to speak out, and empowered to suggest new ways of working. Assess how job design, organisational policies and processes, values and behaviours can be developed to provide better opportunities for people to have a meaningful voice at work.

  • Train line managers on the behaviours needed to manage positive relationships at work, such as conflict management and having difficult conversations.

  • Encourage consultation and partnerships with recognised trade unions, as well as staff representatives through regular forums.

  • Conduct regular staff surveys to collate employees’ opinions and evaluate their experiences of workplace issues.

  • Improve employees’ engagement in decision-making by designing mechanisms and systems that enable employee involvement at all levels.

  • Provide training for line managers to understand the value of employee voice, encourage individuals to voice issues that are important to them (particularly during one-to-ones), and demonstrate ethical leadership.

  • Develop a standalone ‘speak-up’ policy that is supported at the top of the organisation and effectively communicated to the workforce. This policy should:
    • make clear to all staff what to do if they come across malpractice in the organisation
    • encourage individuals to inform someone who is in an appropriate position to act on the disclosure
    • include reassurance that disclosures will be dealt with in confidence.

CIPD resources and references

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