Does every employee in your organisation have a voice? Is it encouraged or discouraged via social media and how do you react and respond to the thoughts of your workforce?
In this my final column for Windmill Networking, I’m going to look at employee voice and the role social media can play to build communities inside organisations. You will still be able to read articles by me via my own blog, All Things IC and I’d like to thank Neal for the opportunity to contribute here.
When thinking about employee voice I recommend reading the book Exploring Internal Communication: Towards Informed Employee Voice (Pearson, 2012), by my fellow Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Inside committee member Kevin Ruck, for a comprehensive overview.
Ruck, who champions ‘informed employee voice,’ says: “If organisational identification is not equal to employee engagement then it is at least a critical component, one that is worthy of special attention in the context of informed employee voice, as without it role and work activity have less meaning.
When thinking through social media’s role to amplify employee voice, there are many considerations, not least ensuring equal access and opportunities. E.g. are there differences between how your head office employees access social media compared to frontline and remote workers? How informed are they? Do you actively listen and have channels in place for effective two-way conversations?
Building communities through social media
The first part of the 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey was conducted in April 2013 in 290 large and midsize organisations across North America, Europe and Asia.
It reveals that 56 per cent of employers are using social media as part of their overall internal communication strategy and are doing so to build communities; creating a sense of employees and leaders ‘in it together’ to share the challenges and rewards of work. The tools they looked at included social networks, streamed video/audio and blogs.
Interestingly, when asked about effectiveness of social media tools, only 30-40 per cent of respondents rated most of them ‘highly effective’ and only 40 per cent said they are cost effective. You can see full information from the study on the Towers Watson website and its infographic.
“We believe that social media can be a great tool for communicating with employees in the workplace,” says Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Towers Watson. “By its nature, social media is designed to build community and could help engage employees on key topics such as performance, collaboration, culture and values. As the need for global collaboration increases, we expect more companies will join those already leveraging social media to creatively communicate those messages.”
The survey also found that while four in 10 employers (41%) say they are effective at building a shared experience with their employees as a whole, the percentage drops by roughly half (to 23%) when it comes to building community with remote workers.
“As today’s workforce evolves, we know from our research that the growing number of remote workers are looking for clear communication, to be treated with integrity, and want coaching and support from afar. For employers to effectively engage and retain remote workers, they will need to connect them with their leaders, managers and colleagues. We think social media tools can be a real help in making this connection,” says Yates.
Looking to the past to help shape the future
On 25 June the International History of PR Conference is taking place in Bournemouth, England. As part of it, Kevin Ruck will be presenting the results of a study he has conducted with Heather Yaxley on the history of internal communication. The full paper will be published as part of the conference proceedings later this year.
They’ve discovered that the first formal employee publications date back to 1840 and were written by employees for employees, before journalists took over as “industrial editors.”
Kevin says: “For a long time, House Organs dominated practice. These were often used to counter organised labour in the 70s and 80s and to paint exciting visions of the future in the 90s. With very few exceptions, the voice of the employee was ignored. Internal Communication practitioners play a vital role in keeping employees informed. However, if this is all we do, we are open to the accusation of being internal propagandists. Being involved in giving employees a voice and listening to what they say is therefore as important as keeping employees informed.
“If history teaches us anything in this study, it is that challenges to established processes are often marginalised and the importance of employee voice has taken a very long time to be recognised. However, with growing professionalisation through education, practice may finally be changing.”
What’s the current landscape?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the world’s largest Chartered HR and development professional body, recently published a report called Social Media and Employee Voice: The Current Landscape.
It states: “Social media allows people to connect with each other to create and share information. It is people-powered communication, an authentic dialogue motivated by a basic human desire to share information. As social media has matured, so has the ability of people to voice their opinions as customers and consumers. In turn, this has also raised people’s expectations of how they should be heard inside organisations.”
The report highlights the shifting patterns of communication, from being one-way or two-way to being multi-directional and highlights how for the first time, social technologies are allowing new forms of collaboration that comprise mechanisms for making collective decisions.
It says: “This aggregation is crucial in the evolution of employee voice because it is a necessary condition under which the wisdom of crowds can be harnessed. The result is a new form of collective employee voice that is mobile, organised and intelligent. To date, much of the conversation within organisations has been about the risks and threats (especially to employers) that may be associated with social media. However, the perils of an open approach to employee voice and the benefits of more traditional closed systems are often overrated. Moreover, there is little organisations can do to stem the rise of social media.”
Organisations should be designing their future in employee voice, before it designs them
It also states that there’s no doubt that drastic changes are afoot to the way in which employee voice is expressed within organisations. Yet, however voice channels and the conceptualisation of employee voice change in the future, one hard truth remains:
If it is not heard, it is not genuine voice.
The report says that this is the principle on which organisations should base their voice systems, irrespective of the channels they use and I echo its sentiment. What’s the reality in your workplace? Do your employees have a voice?