Creating employee voice

Caroline Mboijana. PHOTO/FILE 

What you need to know:

  • Addressing the trust issue is more complex and generally starts with some fundamentals, such as confidentiality and honesty.

I am a human resources business partner in an organisation. My role is to bridge the gap between the various departments and the human resources department.

In the lower structures of the organisation, the staff feel that they are not listened to and there seems to be a disconnect between the managers and their teams. I have been tasked to develop a plan to address this matter. Where do I begin? Mathew

Hello Mathew,

In an interview back in the day, I was asked whether I should pay attention to corridor talk as head of HR. At the time, if I recall correctly, I said no. In hindsight and as I quickly learned, listening to corridor talk is important, but listening to it does not mean you act on it. I share this with you because if corridor talk is happening, then there is an issue brewing within the organisation.

Your issue raises the question of whether your organisation has a platform, forum or structures that support communication and provide room for employee voice. In addressing the issues you have raised, you will need first to review the problems, which means that you spend more time on the “factory floor” engaging with staff to hear their stories. This is understanding their concerns, remember an experience informs each tale.

In addition, you want to cluster the stories so you can assess whether it’s banter and simply an account or whether some severe issues need to be looked at. Where the stories are severe or have resulted in severe consequences, you need to validate them and understand them with facts; in the same spirit, you must also engage with managers and hear their stories.

No doubt you will likely listen to their frustrations. It’s essential that you then collate all the data you have collected and then assess whether there is a trend and pattern that links the issues from the two groups. I suspect that from that analysis, you will also see the thematic issues that need to be addressed and from there you will be able to define the interventions that can then be put in place to address the problems.

Please be careful. It’s not one intervention that will fix everything. Each issue may require a unique approach to solving them.

In doing the above, it’s also important to consider how internal communication is managed within the organisation and, importantly, assess whether the organisation provides a platform for employee voice. Employee voice means that you have activities that allow for employee engagement to have fun and where they can freely give feedback in a safe environment on issues of concern.

This could be quarterly town halls, regular “coffee sessions” in small groups with specific table topics, a whistle-blowing platform, a well-being platform, and regular team-building activities where fun and learning occur concurrently. These interventions allow for fun and are all platforms where you can hear feedback. People will give you feedback when relaxed, and their guard is down. 

Addressing the trust issue is more complex and generally starts with some fundamentals, such as confidentiality and honesty.

It means that managers and leadership must be honest in managing their teams, including being bold enough to give challenging feedback and being available to support team members who need the support to improve. 

Caroline Mboijana,
Managing Director, The Leadership Team (U)  [email protected]