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Why Voice of the Employee Needs a Little More Trust

August 11, 2022 Employee Experience
Annette Corbett
By Annette Corbett

How broadly is the term "Voice of the Employee" understood outside of HR, comms and leadership teams? Full disclosure: I had to Google "Voice of the Employee" to make sure it wasn't the name of a karaoke competition run by the social committee.  

Despite the slightly obscure strapline, Voice of the Employee initiatives are intended to bring about positive change, but bringing about such change requires far greater synthesis between organization and employee.

So, Just What Is Voice of the Employee?

CIPD (the UK professional body for HR and people development) believes the employee voice is the sum of two parts: organizational and individual.

  • The organizational voice speaks to employees' efforts to help the organization to perform better (for example, through sharing ideas).
  • The individual voice is the scope for self-expression at work, reflecting whether people feel recognized and valued as human beings, and for views to influence decisions at work.

CIPD subscribes to the belief that having a "meaningful voice at work" is the primary mechanism by which individuals influence matters that affect them (also a key aspect of the CIPD’s ‘people matter’ principle, which holds that people are unique and worthy of care and investment, with the right to be treated as legitimate stakeholders in the work relationship).

This narrative goes on to emphasize the key role of people professionals at all levels to "put individuals at the center of their approach, to build shared purpose and create a culture of enablement where individuals can thrive at work" (I’d add that technology could greatly benefit from a similar philosophy, but that’s a story for another time).

Related Article: 5 Tips to Get More From Your Voice of Employee Program

How We Capture the Employee Voice 

Workplace surveys are perhaps the most prolific medium for wholesale employee engagement, alongside 360 feedback (usually an annual occurrence as part of performance reviews), monthly "check-ins" with your manager, team meetings and more generally, social channels such as Yammer.

Related Article: Employee Feedback Is Critical to a Great Employee Experience

Here's the Rub

This all sounds great in theory. Organizations are interested in the employee perspective, workplace and personal well-being and employees increasingly seek value and purpose at work. But did I just spot an elephant in the room?

As part of its research, CIPD polled respondents on blockers to employee feedback. A whopping 45% responded that their specific issue “was personal and had nothing to do with work.” Yet, it's unlikely that a personal issue of any magnitude won't have an impact on performance in the workplace, which arguably makes it a work issue too?

Which begs the question, does the Voice of the Employee model need to focus less on engagement and more on establishing trust between the organization and its employees?

Playing devil’s advocate, you could argue that trust is reciprocal and the ability to work in a hybrid model — or fully remote — is an implicit expression of trust on the part of senior management. These work models bring with them the complex challenge of ensuring employee well-being, engagement, support and connectivity are optimized (with currently so many unknowns). This problem is largely one for the organizations to solve.

So, (more devil advocating) shouldn’t this be a journey that employees at least try to get on board with (and no getting off at the halfway house — e.g., midway through that dreaded survey)? Because this could be the beginning of a relationship built on inclusivity and trust far beyond anything we have seen pre-pandemic. But only if engagement tools come from a place that recognizes performance in the workplace and personal well-being are intrinsically linked.

Jason Avebrook, CEO of Leapgen, contends that "once a year employee surveys leave a lot of guesswork as to the results, as well as leaving managers and leaders with mostly unactionable insights."

He goes on to advocate Mood Tracker, an AI-based survey that performs an employee pulse check and was "built by behavioral psychologists at Workhuman to empower business and HR leaders to listen and act upon the voice of their employees."

The app is somewhat generic, tracking mood, anxiety, sleeping patterns and exercise, as well as including a journaling option — all of which can be summarized in a nifty visual. Tailoring these themes to an organizational context, recognizes that professional well-being and proficiency has personal dependencies.

It also acknowledges that difficulty sleeping, e.g., due to menopause, can affect all areas of a person's life and might start an important conversation. The boundaries may have to blur, but that well-used saying "bring your whole self to work," implicitly invites a little human chaos too.

So, we have a catalytic moment, a playing field in which the participants have something to gain by jumping into the deep end together. Could this be the start of a beautiful relationship?

About the Author

I have delivered knowledge related content and internal communications (often based on transformation initiatives) applying content design principles — in particular, GDS — and UX writing to provide a relevant, informed, and positive user experience for external and internal audiences. My background includes product management and I'm a keen advocate of “clean digital” practices — to minimize our carbon footprint and promote sustainability — across intranet and content channels.

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