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The Curious Case of Employee Voice

The recent announcement by Infosys to set up an internal portal (similar to Facebook) to give  employees a ‘voice’ intrigued me.

According to the news report, the intranet called the ‘Infy Bubble’ is supposedly a platform for disgruntled Infoscions to vent on. 

Is the assumption that employees don’t have a voice? I would disagree. The fact that organizations are made up of people coming together for a common purpose denotes that all ideally have a say in the company’s agenda. That said, employees may feel that their voice isn’t valued if they aren’t heard or their suggestions are considered.

Strangely, as Wikpedia puts it, the Employee Voice page is an orphan since it has very limited links and people taking active interest to update the topic.  The definition on the page talks of the spheres of influence – refers to the participation of employees in influencing corporate decision making – “employees are given a voice through informal and formal means to minimize conflict, improve communication and encourage staff retention through motivation and fair treatment”.

While there have been examples of organizations in India that involve employees for decisions on corporate initiatives or seek feedback on policies asking employees to vent internally takes engagement to a completely new dimension.

With the explosion of social media India based firms have struggled with managing employees who voice their thoughts on external sites. From a personal concern to a company program that didn’t go down well everything has the potential of showing up in the public domain.

Probably the questions that need addressing are:

  1. Why does an organization need a portal to help employees voice their opinion?
  2. Will employees voice their opinion just because organizations build systems?
  3. What is the role of the immediate supervisor if an employee didn’t trust him or her and went elsewhere to vent frustrations?
  4. How can organizations coach supervisors to be more approachable for employees to ‘voice’  opinions?
  5. How can organizations surface concerns before they explode on to social networks and become a PR debacle?
  6. Can internal communicators play a role in improving transparency and engagement in the organization considering the evolving social media landscape?

Here are some recommendations which according to me will enable improved dialogue between management and employees.

Encourage accountability for periodic conversations

According to the 2011 BT-Indicus-PeopleStrong Survey of Best Companies to Work For  only 36% of those surveyed were extremely satisfied with their supervisor’s communication, an alarming indicator.

This obviously relates to why they end up going elsewhere to surface their concerns. It should be an essential and a non-negotiable expectation of supervisors to connect regularly.

Gauge the mood before employees vent-out

It isn’t enough to run an organization health audit annually to know how employees feel. Have pulse checks more often to know the mood. Some organizations in India have taken the issue to employees directly and come up with innovative ways to pre-empt ‘venting’. One of them introduced a ‘mood meter’ on everyone’s table to gauge how employees felt about the organization and their work. The supervisor is expected to notice any changes in the color codes (red indicating dissatisfaction as opposed to green which means ‘happy’) and take preventive measures. Only the employee is allowed to turn back the color again on the meter once the issue is resolved.

Penalize supervisors who don’t make listening a priority

Take the supervisors to task if their team members surface frustrations on the wrong forums instead of first discussing concerns with them. Unless there is skin in the game employees will always feel let down.

Recognize people for surfacing concerns

To prevent employees from not sharing issues on their minds externally ensure you have a culture of openness and transparency. It helps to demonstrate commitment to the cause by recognizing employees for bringing their issues to the table. Storytelling their episodes also help percolate the messages further.

Remember that with a great deal of cynicism by the younger generation in India for numerous governance lapses in the public sphere every organization, a best employer or not, is under watch.

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