We need to talk with and listen to our employees; why employee voice is the route to sustainable business success

Over the past year the Involvement and Participation Agency (IPA) and Tomorrow’s Company have been working together with the support of a number of major companies to learn more about employee voice. Today we launch our final report ‘Releasing Voice for sustainable business success’.

Based on in-depth case studies, a large survey of employers and analysis of annual reports, the report examines how organisations help their employees to speak up, the conditions that have to be in place for voice to flourish, and the contribution it can make to business success.

It calls for a paradigm shift in our relationships at work arguing that without active, confident and vocal employees companies and organisations will not be able to achieve sustainable business success.

Voice is everywhere and having a voice matters in today’s world. Citizens increasingly expect to be able to speak freely and honestly; and to be listened to and taken seriously. If voice matters to citizens and is important to society then voice also matters in our companies and organisations. But there are few companies that have yet to really find ways of encouraging and supporting employees to speak up, to do so safely and without fear and to feel heard.

Our report outlines some of the good things that some companies are doing to create more effective, open and collaborative structures that engage their employees and facilitate employee voice. The results are remarkable; we show that employee voice can improve decision making, stimulate innovation and drive engagement and productivity. But it also has direct benefits for employees in terms of their sense of satisfaction and value at work.

Key findings include:

  • Voice is the foundation of sustainable business success. It increases employee engagement, enables effective decision making and drives innovation.
  • Voice is about both culture and structures; first you need to get the culture right, then you need to provide the processes and channels through which voice can be expressed.
  • Authenticity and trust are essential. Employees will only speak up when they feel safe and when they know their opinions are both valued and will be acted on.
  • Organisations need to use a variety of channels to access employee voice, and ensure they support both the individual and collective voice of employees.
  • There is some unease about voice and social media; seven in ten organisations either forbid or discourage the use of social media to express opinions about the company.

Employee engagement through effective employee voice should be at the heart of any modern successful and dynamic enterprise. As companies of all shapes and sizes reflect on the impact of the financial crisis and the many challenges of environmental, social and economic sustainability, employee voice has a central role to play in helping them navigate the difficult and uncertain territory ahead.

Effective employee voice means challenging our traditional notions of organisational design, of command and control, of us and them and instead reaches for a new and slowly emerging culture which expresses a deeper faith in employees as the solution to the challenges ahead rather than simply a source of problems and cost.

In our modern, successful, globally savvy businesses it is through employee voice that value is created and through voice that value is shared.

David MacLeod Co-chair Engage for Success employee engagement task force said;

“The importance of feeling listened to – and therefore valued and respected – at work, by colleagues, by line managers and by the organisation as a whole, cannot be over-estimated. We know that it is one of the key factors influencing how much employee value their organisation, and that being heard is vital for authentic workplace relationships based on trust…. That is why this comprehensive report from IPA and Tomorrow’s Company is so welcome”

Nita Clarke, Director of IPA said;

“Voice is a critical part of achieving sustainable business success – it is no longer an option but an essential part of creating value through the multiple relationships organisations have with their stakeholders.”

Tony Manwaring, Chief Executive of Tomorrow’s Company said:

“Without voice, value cannot be created. Value is not only created through people, it is co-created through people inspired by a common purpose, working to shared values, inspired and engaged, giving more of themselves to a common and shared endeavour”

Brenden Barber, General Secretary of the TUC said:

“I am delighted that the IPA and Tomorrow’s Company have produced this timely report. The voice of employees, individually and collectively, represents the day to day experience and views of those who really do know what works and what does not work. Successful organisations are those that recognise this.”

Nick Tatchell, Director Organisational Surveys and Insights, Towers Watson said:

“Tapping into the employee voice within organisations is a critical part of delivering sustainable engagement, innovation and continuous improvement. Companies that take voice seriously stand to benefit enormously from employee insights on business issues that matter.”


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