According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey, belonging, along with well-being, is among the most important human capital issues. Survey findings revealed: Seventy-nine percent of respondents said that fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce was important to their organization’s success in the next 12–18 months and 93 percent agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance.
Another 2019 industry study by BetterUp found that workplace belonging can lead to an estimated 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and a 75 percent decrease in employee sick days. The study found that a single incidence of “micro-exclusion” can lead to an immediate 25 percent decline in an individual’s performance on a team project.
So, how included, valued and heard do your employees feel? Does employee voice have an influence on the evolving workplace norms and culture at your organization? Can workplace reforms be effective in the absence of plugging in employee voice? Let’s find out.
Employee insights vs Employee voice
It is important here to distinguish between employee insights and employee voice. Employee insights refer to the data collected on employee behaviour, performance, and utilization of tools that are indicative of factors such as productivity and morale, among others. However, employee voice refers to seeking employees’ opinions, ideas, suggestions, feedback, across various dimensions of the organization, for instance, culture, processes, product, change management.
The relevance of employee voice grew manifold as the pandemic forced the workforce to tackle challenges they were not prepared for.
Consequently, the initial months of the outbreak saw employees step up, and now it is time for employers to reciprocate the sentiment, be cognizant of employee needs and tailor their offerings, benefits and experience, in accordance with what individual employee needs, vs what employers might assume would benefit employees.
According to a CIPD report on “Talking about Voice”, the phrase ‘employee voice’ had no single meaning, and interviewees often used it interchangeably with other terms such as ‘engagement’ and ‘communication’. The report suggests that this lack of single definition makes the term highly mobile; it can mean different things to different people who project their own purposes onto the term. “However, this lack of shared understanding makes designing suitable voice initiatives more complex, as people within organizations have different goals and expectations for what employee voice is, why it matters and what it can achieve.”
While employee surveys and focus group discussions have been two widely accepted methods of listening to employees, technology has enabled employers to reinvent these mechanisms, making them more effective and less time-consuming.
Employee voice: The secret sauce for effective workplace reforms
Aon Hewitt defines employee engagement as "the level of an employee's psychological investment in their organization”. The last twelve months have been witness to the impact of encouraging employee involvement in decision-making and identifying innovative ways to shape workplace culture.
While employee engagement has been both a desirable outcome and a key metric to assess the effectiveness of people strategies, a crucial element has often been overlooked - employee voice.
Research shows that “effective worker voice can lead to positive outcomes for both individuals and organizations. Participating in decisions is important for people's well-being and motivation, as it provides a way to improve work experience and overall job quality.” In fact, employees who feel their voices are heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered and as a result will perform their best work.
Workplace interactions, across hierarchies, have often been carried top-down, with limited involvement of employees in organization-wide decisions. However, the importance of employee voice in designing strategies for the evolving workplace construct cannot be overlooked. Seeking out employee voice not only benefits employee morale and business performance, it brings authenticity to employee-manager interactions.
Louder the employee voice and action upon it, stronger the organizational connect
UK’s Engage for Success movement defines employee voice as one of their four main enablers of engagement. Why? The movement emphasizes leveraging ‘Employee voice’ throughout the organization, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally. “Employees are seen not as the problem, rather as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas.”
Interestingly, an IBM survey found that only 62 percent of baby boomers believe managers will act on their input, compared to 78 percent of millennials.
The most important aspect of employee voice is the follow-up with meaningful and appropriate actions, found the survey. In fact, 90 percent of workers said that they are more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback.
Often workplace strategies are more focused on driving higher revenue numbers and enhancing performance and profitability. But it’s time employers become cognizant of focusing on what employees truly need and tailor strategies catering to those needs, instead of losing time, money and energy in ill-informed strategies while wondering why engagement and motivation are low.
As employers leap forward with a vision to accelerate recovery and growth, factoring in employee voice is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. With engagement, retention and purposeful workplace relationships gaining prominence in the evolving business environment, how effectively employers leverage technology and shape mechanisms to make employee voice heard will be key to bolstering capabilities and accelerating growth.