Can you hear the ’employee voice’?

iStock_000014030336MediumThere has been a lot of interest in the business news recently around the idea of ‘employee engagement’. This is not a new initiative; it has been an agenda item for government and organisations for a number of years now writes Meryl Bradshaw. 

The recent recession highlighted the need for organisations to create a sense of belonging and loyalty in the workforce, required to sustain retention of key skills and knowledge.

The thinking behind this is that a feeling of belonging would maintain a sense of stability, even where pay-cuts/ freezes, and the possible threat of redundancy were present. Therefore, engaged employees are far more likely to support the management’s efforts to cost cut and where called for, do more for less.

Cultural Change

To move towards an employee engagement policy, management may have to recognise that cultural change is necessary, and to achieve this they need to work closely with all staff members.

This common approach will be the starting point in establishing an employee voice, which is led by senior management and endorsed by line managers.

Indeed, it can be argued that the success of employee engagement is in the hands of well trained and committed line managers, to drive, guide and feedback to staff. It can therefore be justifiably stated that culture engages or in reality disengages staff.

When management recognise that the workforce needs to be ‘on board’ with the corporate vision through an engaged level of commitment, it naturally falls to HR to make this possible.

For example, HR can ensure that line managers have the right skills training to be able to support the policy. It is far more beneficial to have a line manager who can regularly communicate with teams, offering levels of autonomy, rather than being controlling with limited staff feedback.iStock_000024086772XXLarge

Supporting this is the necessity to understand that job satisfaction is only a part of engagement, employees’ behaviour and their expectations fall in line with what they see and hear within their work environment. Managers then should acknowledge that staff and customer attitude is based on how they see themselves as being treated. Hence, if staff feel ‘engaged’ they will behave accordingly .

Staff Surveys

When an organisation has committed to an engagement policy, the question of ‘How do staff feel now?’ and ‘How can this be measured?’ arise.

In order to answer these questions most organisations chose to identify the current levels of engagement. Again, this task should be led by HR and senior management; how it is organised is again a management decision based on advice.

Many organisations choose to ascertain current staff attitude through a staff survey. However, to make sure the responses are useful to the organisation, it is important to inform all staff of the reasons behind why it is being produced, and their role in the process.

The responsibility for informing staff of the value of the survey and what staff can expect to get from it, again will come down to the line managers, HR, and in some cases the union.

Many companies chose to outsource the whole process of employee surveys to specialist suppliers; this does not preclude those who wish to maintain an in-house approach however, providing the skills are available to do so. If a supplier is the preferred choice, the company will need to work closely with them to ensure they are clear about their objectives and expectations for the survey itself. A pay-off in deciding to outsource is the acknowledgement of confidentiality for staff, thereby encouraging honest participation; this may not be so for the in-house survey.

The evidence of monetary investment in this process also affirms for staff, the commitment that management have to the policy. The use of specialist suppliers allows benchmarking against comparable organisations, a useful resource for management decision making.

There are many different categories that could be included within such a survey, for example:

  • Day-to-day working life
  • Training
  • Values
  • Line management effectiveness
  • Teamwork
  • Flexible working
  • Job clarity
  • Workload
  • Career development …

These are generally fixed within three discrete sections:

  1. A demographic section
  2. An opinion section
  3. A space free for comments

Most surveys measure engagement by rating scales, which are answered by tick boxes, for example, strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Different systems can be utilised to distribute the survey, but most are now carried out online through the company intranet, with employees being sent emails linked to the questionnaire.

The initial survey will enable management to identify areas for possible change / development within the company. The very fact that senior management are recognised as implementing such a scheme and the appreciation of why it is being introduced may well boost initial engagement.

Companies that have used a third part supplier can expect to receive a break- down of results.

For example by ‘Headliners’ followed by departmental and then through the sectors, such as demographics. These results are usually presented to the senior management team initially.

Managers can chose to hold team meetings at local level to present significant results for discussion. It is important to review results with staff, enabling them to offer their thoughts and feedback to the management team. The evidence of action taken from the comments made is vital for the process of engagement to be recognised as upheld by staff.

Organisational Core Values

It may be said therefore, that any company that is actively looking to support their employees’ engagement, needs to carefully consider what the core values of the organisation are, and how they are evidenced in the culture of that organisation. If there is any cause for concern, for example in internal communication, there are strategies available to help in securing a strongly committed workforce.


Meryl Bradshaw, is section head and senior lecturer in HR at Warrington School of Management

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