The Employee Voice
We all want to feel that our experience, ideas, and opinions matter. We want to feel valued by our employers, by our supervisors, and by our teams. In other words, we want to feel heard. The level to which employees feel they can voice their input to an organization that listens, understands, and responds, is what we call, the employee voice.
Nearly every employee engagement survey that DecisionWise runs has items designed to measure different aspects of employee voice. “We listen to and value each other’s thoughts and opinions,” is a common item included in our surveys. This item helps us measure team experience, organization values, employee input, feedback, and suggestions.
Another item we frequently use is, “This organization is responsive to ideas and suggestions for improvement.” Employees want to know: Are you listening? Are you responding? Do you value our feedback? Often a company is confident they have an effective employee voice. However, a survey reveals their employees have not seen or felt the organization’s response to their input.
Address the Opportunity at 3 Levels
I recently worked with a large manufacturing client whose employee survey results showed they were struggling with employee voice. The client asked me, “How do we fix this? How do we make sure our employees feel heard?” I recommended addressing the opportunity from three levels:
1. The Executive Level
2. The Team Level
3. The Organizational Support Level
In my experience, considering the challenge through these lenses is an effective way to design a meaningful response.
Fostering the employee voice must start with the executive team. Their opinions and behaviors directly influence the larger culture of the organization. If senior leaders demonstrate that employee input is important, the rest of the leadership structure will notice and follow. Here are some things that I’ve seen executives do to support healthy employee voice:
- Increase visibility and organic touchpoints – Look for opportunities to interact organically with employees throughout the organization. Walk the floor. Employees often feel that when an executive is visible, they are accessible and listening.
- Share stories of employee voice – Identify and share stories of employee input benefiting the organization. Champion innovations or improvements that have come from frontline employees.
- Respond with authenticity – When input from the employees is received, respond promptly and authentically. Even if the answer is “no,” employees value sincere communication and confirmation that they were heard.
If you want to address challenges with employee voice at the team level, managers must be developed appropriately. Train all managers on the importance of listening and how to demonstrate to their teams that they and the organization are listening. Some things a manager can do to improve employee voice:
- Conduct frequent 1:1 meetings to discuss growth & development and to listen to employee ideas, questions, and concerns.
- Appropriately respond to employee ideas and suggestions to close the feedback loop.
- Take action on the team’s employee survey results. Enlist team members to prioritize areas of focus and take meaningful action. Frequently discuss progress.
Strong employee voice requires organizational alignment and support. Technology, process, policy, and the physical environment can all help or hinder employee listening.
It is wise to start with a communication channel audit. Explore which channels are currently available for employee communication. How are they working? Are you reaching everyone (including remote employees)? Large organizations need to have a few more options available if they want to frequently hear from all employees.
Do you have an effective employee listening strategy that helps capture frequent input across the employee lifecycle? The best strategies include onboarding/exit surveys and effective pulsing to help capture and organize employee input.
Employee Voice Matters
One of the most important items included in DecisionWise surveys is the simple statement, “I feel like I belong here.” This item frequently emerges as a statistical driver of deeper engagement. However, how do you help someone feel like they belong? It turns out…you listen to them. Employee voice items are highly correlated to this important area of belonging.
Are you ready to ask yourself that critical question now? What experience are you creating as an executive or manager to help your employees feel heard and understood?