TUESDAY 31 OCT 2017 4:42 PM


Technology is providing opportunities for business conversations to take place inside and outside the workplace. Suzanne Peck examines how internal communications can help transform organisations for the better

You can’t control employee voice. Never could, never will. Admittedly, it was easier when employee views on an organisation were mostly channelled internally through formal routes like suggestion schemes, trade unions or employee forums. Then came the annual employee survey as organisations began to understand and value the role employee voice plays in employee engagement.

With its strong links to better productivity, innovation, profitability and happy workplaces, asking employees for their views helped employers understand people’s attitudes, motivations and satisfaction with work.

But now, the employee engagement survey is dying. It is less relevant in a real-time world in which employees are using social and collaborative platforms for daily conversations inside and outside the workplace. Social channels have opened the door and unleashed employee voice. Today it’s not just what is being said inside the building, but also outside on social media sites like Glassdoor, Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, Instagram and Pinterest. That is changing how we view – and should respect – employee voice.

Two years ago, Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) published research called ‘Going Digital? Harnessing Social Media for Employee Voice’ which said that organisations used social media externally in marketing and in engaging with customers. Only one in six employers were using an enterprise social network internally to engage with employees and promote employee voice.

Where social platforms were being used internally it was mostly top-down and for business updates and HR issues, rather than to collaborate or involve staff in dialogue. There was a suspicion and concern about misuse of social channels at work and how they might slow down productivity, breach security and damage corporate reputation.

But that has changed.

In 2015, three out of four employees used social media in their personal life, but just one in four did so as part of their work. This year, McKinsey is estimating that 70% of workplaces will be using an enterprise social network. That’s amazing progress, but investing in the technology and the platforms doesn’t automatically result in engagement or support voice at work in a fully connected and collaborative digital workplace.

As Acas says, if organisations do what they always did and use platforms designed for networking and open communication in a controlled, more traditional way, then we’re going to get what we always got.

Internal communicators can embrace technology. We’ve never controlled employee voice but we can help it be heard more clearly, supporting and influencing effective dialogue and using its valuable insights to influence our wider approach to comms.

At this year’s Insight seminar on 14 November, the IoIC is thinking more deeply about the meaning of ’voice’ and the role of the employee. At the seminar, we’re hearing case studies from leading organisations like Nationwide and Time Inc UK that are using employee voice to transform conversations in business, especially during times of change, and from the government’s engagement experts, Engage for Change, about the future of employee voice.

We’re exploring how the ultimate performance of an organisation is in the hands of its employees and considering how the benefits of taking a more strategic approach to making the employee the star of the show changes the dynamic. Employee voice and conversation is happening anyway – be a part of it, listen to it and use it for a better connected and productive organisation.

Suzanne Peck is president of the IoIC