Why employee voice matters during periods of change

The world of work is going through what will likely be looked back on as the greatest upheaval in a generation. Social distancing and the need to self-isolate due to coronavirus has seen millions of desk-bound employees head home to often makeshift workstations in what has become the unlikely protagonist of the long-muted remote-work revolution.

By: Sinead Healy on

Physical upheaval aside, such a change brings many challenges for organisations. Managing remote employees for the first time, ensuring the right tech is in place to maintain comms and productivity and supporting the emotional wellbeing of colleagues have all become immediate, top-priority issues for leaders and HR teams alike.

And whilst some of the key elements noted above are always key during times of change, it’s also important to remember to listen to employees and take note of what they’re experiencing.

Employee voice, defined by the CIPD as the means by which people communicate their views to employers and influence factors that affect them at work, matters just as much during periods of change as making sure everyone can log in to their emails from home.

Here’s a look at why.

A third of workers say managers already don’t listen to them

A study released last summer by Vevox found that 34% of workers in large organisations said management rarely listens to them or addresses their ideas. More worryingly, only 7% said their voice was heard.

This is a key issue during periods of upheaval and change as encouraging workers to discuss what they are experiencing can help iron out teething issues. If they don’t feel confident enough to do so, or feel leaders won’t listen if they do, small issues can become big problems that affect more people.

Vevox MD, Peter Eyre commented that: “Management needs to take this on board and look at measures they can introduce to ensure they are listening to their employees and engaging with them more positively”.

Having a voice can negate negative emotions

This will be a stressful time for most workers, either from a job security standpoint or simply having to uproot from their usual working routine and settle into a new professional reality. The negative emotions that can arise through periods of change can be detrimental to a range of key factors from morale and productivity to mental wellbeing.

Employee voice has a role to play in helping allay these issues. A report from Perlow and Williams released in 2003 noted that, when employees feel unable to speak out, negative emotions like anger and resentment can begin to fester - slowly chipping away at motivation and performance.

In a period where organisations need their people to come together and pull in the same direction (which many naturally will), it’s important to not hinder this drive to overcome a shared challenge by failing to listen to what employees are saying.

Organisations are more agile when employees can speak up

Every company is having to show some degree of agility right now. From Formula 1 teams meeting the national demand for ventilators and sportswear manufacturers staying in business by switching from making football kits to protective gear for nurses, the degree to which a business can rise to a challenge and effectively make changes is key to negating the issues that coronavirus has brought about.

And that ability to adapt quickly relies more heavily on the ability of employees to speak up than you may think.

Read more: Recognition and remote working: the why and how

Research from Collins released at the turn of century notes that ‘a climate where employees feel able to speak the truth’ is essential for organisational agility. It helps to build a more detailed picture of what needs to change and where the biggest challenges on the front-line of service or product delivery may lie.

A quick scan of the latest news headlines to see Amazon and other delivery personnel threatening to strike due to safety fears are a real and timely example of why listening to employees when they do speak up (and taking action) is critical during times of change.