Home' HR Monthly : February 2019 Contents February 2019 HRM magazine 27
hile it has only recently come to the
attention of scholars, leaders and
policymakers alike, the notion of
‘employee voice’ dates back thousands of years.
An early advocate was first-century Roman
farmer and agriculture writer Columella, who
refers to consulting his slaves before putting
them to work. According to him, the practice
made them “more willing to set about a piece of
work on which they think their opinions have
been asked and their advice followed”.
Researchers have found the same holds
true today. Giving employees autonomy
and decision-making power over their work
increases engagement and performance rates,
reduces tu rnover and, su rprisingly, has a
spillover effect into political engagement.
The idea is not new, but the realisation of
its importance is. This could be due to the
rapid decline in union membership. A recent
parliamentary report showed that 50 per cent
of employees belonged to a union in 1976. By
2018, that number shrunk to just 14 per cent.
Andrew R. Timming FCAHR, associate
professor of human resources management at
the University of Western Australia, suggests
HR could have influenced this shift.
“H R managers have been effective in realising
their role isn’t just to squeeze productivity out of
workers. If they viewed that as their only role,
my guess is that unions wouldn’t be declining in
the same way they are,” he says.
As the union-led voice has continued to fade,
a new type of voice has emerged. Rather than
staff shaping work through collective action,
many organisations offer individual employees
the opportunity for voice. While some may
question this alternative, Timming saw a chance
for some interesting research.
What is voice?
To define the different varieties of voice,
researchers look at depth, form, level and scope.
The depth of voice refers to the degree to
which voice is offered. Is an organisation merely
seeking employee feedback on a new policy, or
is it soliciting employee advice in creating it?
The scope looks to the topics on the table.
Is an organisation seeking employee input on
superficial matters, such as where to host Friday
night drinks, or is it willing to include them in,
say, a restructure planning process?
The level of voice looks at the seniority of
employees. Is it given to subsidiary staff or
focused on top-level management? And form
is how voice is delivered. Is it communicated
directly to management, or indirectly, through a
trade union-like framework?
For example, a fast food restaurant that lets
staff switch shifts with one another would be an
example of voice without much depth, limited
scope, but a wide level and a fairly direct form.
In the US, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed
a bill that would require companies with more
than one billion dollars in revenue to let their
employees select 40 per cent of board members.
In the UK, Moira Jennings, former project
manager for Virgin Media, found she was
spending up to 80 per cent of her time on “voice
work” and pushed to make it a full-time role.
“Voice provides a critical ‘two-way
street’ for debate between employees and
leaders on a range of topics including reward
and recognition, engagement, policies,
communication and organisational change,”
says Jen nings, now the employee voice lead at
Other countries take an even more forward-
thinking approach. G ermany has a system of
co-determination, meaning workers have legal
rights to sit on supervisory boards.
Timming says Australia sits somewhere along
the spectrum between Europe and the US, and
rates us as “a strong employee voice country”.
A recent Wellbeing Lab survey found that
workers with autonomy – usually directors (41.2
per cent) and C-suite leaders (40.3 per cent) –
are more likely to thrive than other roles (e.g.
administration, sales, etc). It quotes professors
Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research on
self-determination, which shows that “when
people feel a sense of autonomy, competence,
and relatedness, they feel more motivated,
energised, and willing to act”.
24/1/19 3:47 pm
Links Archive December 2018 Navigation Previous Page Next Page