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Employee voice: how does it impact the culture?

Employee voice is critical to sustainable organisational success for many reasons; one of the most important is its ability to positively influence organisational culture and climate.

Culture and climate affect wellbeing, collaboration, communication, innovation and decision-making, all sources of competitive advantage in the modern world. Turning the dial on employee voice to drive culture and climate therefore has important knock-on effects.

Climate is how the organisation ‘feels’ when you’re working there, while culture is the ‘way things are done round here.’ Climate refers to the here and now, the prevailing mood; culture is the organisational personality, established and more resistant to change.

So how does employee voice affect culture and climate? We look at six ways.

It can encourage behavioural authenticity

It’s psychologically damaging to act out emotions when we don’t genuinely feel them. This is more likely in organisations with low employee voice, in which employees naturally lean towards displaying behaviours inherently encouraged by the prevailing culture.

If the culture is macho, for example, showing fear or uncertainty may be seen as a ‘weakness,’ encouraging people to look busy or angry in spite of how they really feel.

High employee voice encourages staff to act in a way that is congruent with how they feel, so they don’t have to suppress genuine feelings and ‘put on’ fake ones.

Employee voice combined with transparency makes it much harder for senior leaders to make decisions arbitrarily or without conveying their logic to the rest of the business.

It can help social and cognitive diversity flourish

Social diversity and cognitive diversity can improve idea-generation and decision-making, but only if managed progressively and viewed positively i.e. if tolerance and respect are used to tease out and celebrate difference.

Strong employee voice is pro-diversity because it intrinsically celebrates the importance of different viewpoints. If employees feel empowered to speak openly without fear of reprisal or without fear of upsetting the ‘established’ viewpoint, diversity is more likely to flourish.

It can boost feelings of personal responsibility

Embedded and nurtured correctly, employee voice can instill a sense of responsibility among employees to speak up where necessary to create positive change. In cultures with strong employee voice, managers do not solely ‘pull’ information from staff; employees ‘push’ it up the organisation too.

When organisations respond to this increased ‘push’ by taking feedback on board and commit to sharing broad organisational information across the workforce, employees feel a greater sense of responsibility and a greater sense of control on impacting organisational direction. In effect, they get more power, but it comes with more responsibility.

As senior leaders start to see the benefits of participative management, they’ll be more likely to share information and commit to further distributed decision-making in the future.

It can strengthen feelings of self-empowerment and ambition

Employee voice can create a greater sense of personal empowerment as employees feel able to leverage organisational resources to achieve their personal and professional aims.

They may feel more able to achieve stretch goals or engage in self-directed learning when they can speak up and receive appropriate support. Self-empowerment through employee voice is crucial for organisations looking to create a modern learner-centric culture.

Additionally, when an employee’s voice aligns with others - in terms of similar thinking, values or goals - this can create valuable new in-group connections that boost motivation and commitment.

It can reduce cynicism and cultivate openness to change

Organisations that take positive action in response to employee voice encourage greater openness to change among employees. Why? Because a track record of positive action shows that senior management are actively listening, building trust and closing the say-do gap.

Employee voice channels help encourage buy-in and transparency to reduce the incidence of change fatigue.

Employees are more likely to believe they’ll be able to voice authentic concerns around change - and that these will be listened to - to mitigate against the negative effects, such as reduced certainty.

Change is a constant in the modern world, making change fatigue a real concern and a significant threat to motivation and performance; employee voice channels help encourage buy-in and transparency to reduce the incidence of change fatigue.

It can promote a sense of equality and non-hierarchy

Employee voice helps balance the natural tendency for seniority and political capital to dictate visibility and decision-making authority in the organisation.

The more channels there are for employee voice, the greater the spotlight on diversity of opinion, and therefore the greater need for senior managers to respond to and act on that voice.

Employee voice combined with transparency makes it much harder for senior leaders to make decisions arbitrarily or without conveying their logic to the rest of the business. This may also help reduce individual or systemic biases in established decision-making processes.

Collective voice, whether through unions or through employee groups, gives greater weight to employee concerns and ideas and increases the sense of non-hierarchy, although it’s important that the situation doesn’t become an us v them arrangement.

Excited by the idea of employee voice boosting engagement, motivation and performance? Take a look at our article on how organisations can enable and embed employee voice in the workplace.