Listening to your employees is essential if you want to grow your business and be profitable. You need to carry your employees along that journey with you.
They are the face of your business, as well as the engine room, and their actions on your behalf are key to your business success. Critically, you must listen to their ideas, hear their concerns and ensure they have the means to voice their ideas and suggestions.
And there is little cost for a huge business advantage.
I am Jill Aburrow and I have been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades.
The purpose of this article is to explain “employee voice” and why you should care about listening to your employees. I will share some of the mechanisms you can use and some of the barriers you may come up against.
Most of all, I hope to inspire you with some of the benefits if you get it right.
What is “employee voice”?
We all spend a great deal of time at work. How tragic it is that some people are very unhappy at work and just live for the working day to end, or the weekend to start.
The reasons why people are unhappy at work are many and varied. But if you can give your employees a chance to be heard, then that will be a big start to improving things. We all need to feel that our opinion matters.
There is a great deal of discussion in management circles and the HR world about “employee voice”. But this is not just about giving employees the chance to have their say. It is also about the channels of communication. Additionally, it is about the arrangements the employer makes for employees to be consulted. It is about employees being involved in decision-making. And it is a way of ensuring that your workers can influence things which affect them at work.
So it is not just about hearing your employees. It is also important for you to consider what they say and act on it.
Why should employers care?
Your employees are the best placed to tell you what works and what does not work in their individual part of the business. If you can gather that information and make productive use of it, then you will improve decision making and innovation in your business.
From an employee perspective, they will feel more motivated and get more enjoyment from their work. You will benefit from their creativity and increased commitment. You are likely to see higher productivity and reduced absences and turnover.
What are the benefits of listening to your employees?
Your employees are also in a good position to warn you about any potential problem areas or difficulties. This might be for them personally, or in the wider team arena. You can then adjust the working arrangements accordingly. Or you might need to provide training, or move people around to make the best use of their skills.
If you create opportunities for employees to be heard at work, then you are treating them as valued stakeholders in your business. They will feel able to influence their working conditions and this will help to build trust between employer and staff.
Where the working relationship is good, your employees will feel able to share suggestions for improvements in the organisation. For this to happen, they need to trust that you will listen to their suggestions and that they will not be blamed if things go wrong.
Mechanisms for listening to your employees
The obvious way for you to be able to listen to your employees is to arrange regular one-to-one meetings with their line manager. Of course, you need to ensure your managers (including you!) are equipped to listen properly. They must have the communication skills to hear, deal with and respond appropriately to anything raised.
Some other potential channels for employee voice to be heard are:
- Team meetings;
- Trade unions (where they are recognised within the workplace);
- Staff forums;
- Suggestion schemes;
- Attitude surveys;
- Workplace social media.
It is unlikely that you would use only one of these mechanisms, but you can use a variety which suits your business.
If you have 50 or more employees in your organisation, then the Information and Consultation of Employee Regulations (ICE Regs) apply. This means your employees have the right to request that you make arrangements to inform and consult with them about workplace issues. If you need support and advice on this, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.
What can go wrong?
If your employees do not feel they can raise issues, concerns and suggestions at work, then it is very likely that they will become disengaged. The symptoms of this are likely to be an increased absence rate, higher staff turnover, clock-watching. Their performance may get worse and they may have difficulty in relationships with managers and colleagues alike.
Additionally, employees may use other channels to express their feelings about work. They may complain about work through external social networking channels. They are likely to complain to friends and family. This will not be good for your employer reputation and may have a negative impact on things like recruitment and marketing. You may find your clients become less satisfied.
Barriers to effective “employee voice”
Sadly, it is not uncommon for employers to find that their employees fail to speak up about concerns or suggestions. Even where people feel their suggestions could make a positive difference to their work or workplace, they are often reluctant to raise things.
This can be caused by a lack of trust between managers and employees. There can be a perception that people may be blamed, or even punished, for speaking out. Even if this is not the case, it can cause people to remain silent, which can lead to major organisational failure. When the emissions scandal hit Volkswagen in 2015, one of the factors was shown to be that people felt fearful of speaking out.
Employees may stay silent because they are frightened of being viewed negatively or of damaging working relationships. In order to combat this, you need to make sure that people feel safe to raise issues or suggestions. They also need to feel safe to raise a complaint. This can only happen where there is trust between employees and employer. It is not good enough to say that there will be no blame. You must demonstrate that this is true.
People may also think it is not worth raising suggestions because “nobody listens”. This is why it is critical to respond to all suggestions. This does not mean you have to agree to every suggestion. But you need to give reasons why you are not going to take up the suggestion.
The changing work environment
The way we work is constantly changing and this brings new challenges with listening to your employees.
The rise of remote working, variable working hours, alternative work arrangements all have an impact on when and how you can ensure you hear your employees. Changing technology can also have an impact. It is important that you consider this when you are agreeing to changes or recruiting for new jobs.
Another challenge is the increased diversity in the workplace. There is a need to consider how you communicate with everyone. Some may have mental or physical challenges. Others may be affected by cultural differences. All of these things must be considered to ensure that you consider all needs when you identify mechanisms for your employees to give their views over their work conditions.
Getting it right
Listening to your employees can bring positive outcomes for your business and for the individuals who work there.
Being able to participate in decision making is important for employees – both for their wellbeing and their motivation. It can be the means of improving their working environment and conditions. It can give them a sense of control over their own work. And it can help them to use their knowledge and develop their skills.
If you listen to your employees and engage with them, you are likely to benefit from their improved job satisfaction. You will see higher productivity and innovation. Your absenteeism levels will reduce and staff turnover will improve. You are likely to see reduced workplace conflict.
If you get it right, your employees will be involved in decision-making and managing change as you will have effective communication and consultation in the workplace. Your managers will be skilled in listening to people. They will seek the views of employees and make sure their responses are appropriate and timely.