Employee Voice: A Critical Element of Organizational Success

In times of uncertainty it is more important than ever that employers pay attention to a concept called employee "voice." Why? It can enhance workplace productivity through its impact on employee engagement, creativity, retention, and effectiveness.

Voice has two relevant meanings in the workplace. The first addresses the notion that people want to be heard. For example, there are times when we are faced with having to do things we don't like, or with which we disagree. When we are permitted to "speak our minds," we subsequently are much more likely to go about our business matter-of-factly than to obsess about the situation and let it fester. As a result, there is no negative effect on workplace productivity.

A more recent meaning of voice that has gotten researchers' attention¹ is a behavior that constructively challenges the status quo with the intention of improving it. Making innovative suggestions for change, or modifications to standard procedures, are good examples of this meaning of voice. Because organizations can optimize business results when their employees are fully engaged, their creativity is given full rein, and their interests are aligned with business outcomes, employers would do well to foster an environment in which all workers feel they can exercise their voice. Here are five suggestions to help you get started:

  • Resolve to view voice as a sincere attempt to improve the organization. Because voice challenges the status quo, be on guard against reacting defensively.
  • Help everyone see the big picture and the value of their individual contributions. Employees who feel connected to the organization are more likely to speak up because they have a vested interested in its success.
  • Make it safe for employees to engage in voice. For example, reward the courage that employees show by challenging standard procedures.
  • Teach managers how to be exceptional listeners, and to receive and respond appropriately to constructive feedback.
  • Teach employees how to make suggestions even when they feel uncomfortable or when others don't agree with them.

The expectancy theory of motivation teaches us that individuals will be motivated to do something when they believe they are capable of performing the task, when they see a clear link between the performance and an outcome, and when they value that outcome. So make it easy for employees to speak up, and then reward their efforts with things they value. Your ROI will be tremendous.

¹ LePine, J.A. & Van Dyne, L. (2001). Voice and cooperative behavior as contrasting forms of contextual performance: Evidence of differential relationships with Big Five personality characteristics and cognitive ability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 326-336..
Whiting, S.W., Podsakoff, P.M., & Pierce, J.R. (2008). Effects of task performance, helping, voice, and organizational loyalty on performance appraisal ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93:125-139.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. Pat can show you how to apply relevant research findings in practical ways to create immediate results in your organization. Contact us today to see how we can help you make a difference!

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