Do your employees believe they have a voice in the workplace? The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) publishes an annual list of top 10 workplace trends and “capturing the voice of the employee” was on the list. It shared, “Employees’ voices will become more important to organizations as they focus on collecting employee feedback more frequently, utilizing innovations for capturing that feedback, and taking action to drive engagement based on those results.” The SIOP also details the importance of leveraging continuous listening tools and pulse surveys. Organizations need to promote and encourage employee voice and turn that voice into productivity, innovation, and engagement.

What is employee voice?

Employee voice is often defined as giving people opportunities to express ideas, concerns, and perspectives with authenticity and without fear of social or workplace consequences. That means employees have the ability to influence decisions at work through their feedback.

Having influence means leaders act based on dialogue with employees. Action could represent a new way of completing work, embracing ideas and innovative work processes, improving culture, or resolving problem areas in the company.

Voice isn’t all talk 

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 survey recognizes the importance of employee listening, followed by some kind of action by leaders.

IBM researchers found the most important aspect of employee voice is the follow-up with meaningful and appropriate actions. This is only possible when managers learn to actively listen to what employees are saying and learn to take action. In fact, 90 percent of workers said that they are more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback. Start taking employee voice to the next level across your organization by incorporating its four key ingredients.

1. Make active listening a priority

The power of active listening can’t be overestimated. It’s a critical skill for people leaders who believe being a coach to employees is crucial to individual success in the organization. Active listening is a technique in which the listener thoroughly absorbs, comprehends, responds, and retains what someone else is saying. The Center for Creative Leadership recommends leaders to learn active listening skills to be better coaches, whether holding long conversations or short coaching moments. Active listening has six elements:

  1. Paying attention
  2. Withholding judgment
  3. Reflecting
  4. Clarifying
  5. Summarizing
  6. Sharing

An active listener has empathy but doesn’t necessarily agree with what is being said. Actively listen to your workforce by providing an always-on channel for employees to provide feedback any time of the day. An annual engagement survey won’t cut it and it’s important to adopt a more continuous listening approach at your organization.

By opening up these always-on avenues atop of in-person conversations, employees will feel there is always a welcomed invitation to share their feedback. Managers can also gather valuable insights that they can take action on in real-time to effectively move the needle when it comes to employee engagement.

2. Give feedback for future performance 

Giving employees feedback on everything from work performance to career development is a powerful engagement skill. Proper feedback can strengthen employee voice and build employee-manager trust. People only accept feedback when they believe the person giving it is interested in their welfare. It’s a psychological aspect of communication.

The catch is the performance-related feedback must be useful and forward-looking. Yes, it’s important to recognize someone for their daily wins and offer praise for team accomplishments. It’s equally important to provide performance-related feedback, which refers to employer-employee interactions focused on helping the employee improve from that point forward.

According to Gallup, only 26 percent of employees strongly agree the feedback they get helps their work performance. For feedback to be effective and strengthen employee voice, conversations need to be personal and have two-way dialogue. Think about ways to problem solve together and empower employees to contribute their ideas and recommendations.

Bonus tip: How can you ensure your employee feedback is valuable and making an impact? Check out 10 employee feedback examples and how to use them.

3. Provide transparency 

Neuroscience studies found that employees must feel like they are in the loop, or else they will lose trust in managers and colleagues and feel less motivated to perform. In one study, employees feeling out-of-the-loop had a 58 percent drop in their perceived group standing – an employee’s perception of where they rank compared to others. The brain, according to neuroscientists, interprets ambiguity as threatening.

Ambiguity is common in organizations that don’t give employees a voice. If employees aren’t given transparency and feel unheard, they won’t feel empowered to contribute to decision-making and offer valuable input. Be thoughtful during your team meetings and performance reviews, and open up time to keep employees informed and updated. If an employee feels they’re lacking information or resources, let them share their feedback anonymously through direct surveys or always-on channels.

Keep your employees in the loop and make sure they feel heard by management. Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

4. Recognize and reward participation

Encourage employee voice by recognizing and rewarding your employees for sharing their feedback. Show appreciation for their participation and they will most likely repeat that action again. In fact, 92 percent of workers agree when they’re recognized for a specific action, they’re more likely to take that action again in the future. The more you recognize and reward employees for sharing their feedback, the more they will repeat that behavior.

Moving forward, make it a habit to recognize and reward employees for participating in pulse surveys, providing their feedback, and collaborating on effective action. Employees will feel valued and motivated to continue sharing their input.

Getting down to the business of employee voice 

There is plenty of global research on the business case for employee voice as an engagement strategy. As the authors in the Harvard Business Review so succinctly suggest in their article titled, “Want Fewer Employees to Quit? Listen to Them.”

So, how can organizations encourage employee voice? There are plenty of ways, including the following:

  • Solicit employee feedback through listening tools, surveys, and chatbots 
  • Let employees be anonymous when providing feedback or let them choose representatives who can share their concerns, suggestions, and ideas with managers
  • Crowdsource decision-making
  • Implement an open door policy
  • Encourage managers to hold team sessions to review employee engagement survey results, discuss top areas of success and improvements, and build an action plan together
  • Hold periodic company-wide meetings led by top executives in which employees are encouraged to speak their mind and present ideas
  • Respond to employee ideas and go full circle, telling each employee when the idea was presented, why it was accepted or rejected, and next steps
  • Frequently recognize and reward employees for sharing their feedback

This is just a short list of ways to strengthen employee voice across your organization. Employee voice should be deeply weaved throughout all aspects of the employee experience.

Encourage your employees to speak up 

Do your employees feel empowered to speak up and share their honest feedback? In order to effectively encourage employee voice across your workplace, you need to first build trust. Learn more by downloading the our white paper, “Empowerment and Trust : The Keys to Employee Engagement.”