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Employee Voice – Engage to Succeed

Employee Voice

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Voices Excluded

On 6th February 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed. Celebrations and events are taking place throughout this year, as the historic law allowed all men and some women to vote. After 86 years of women and men asking for women’s voices to be heard in the political landscape, 8.4 million women were granted permission to vote. 10 years later, a further Act was passed allowing parity for voting qualifications between men and women.

They paid their taxes, with little say in how they were spent. The significance of this is that women felt their voices were not being heard. The Suffragette movement called for militant action, which led to arrests, hunger strikes and new laws being passed to respond to this crisis – all because of not allowing voices to be heard. The 1918 law was passed; there was no return to violence despite the inequality still in place, the peaceful Suffragists continued with their campaign and succeeded within a decade.

Voices Included

The pub chain, Wetherspoons, encourages employees to make their voices heard. On their Intranet system there is a mechanism to make suggestions. Employees are paid £5 per suggestion they make and are strongly encouraged to make 2 suggestions within their first fortnight of working there. Employees can make their voices heard on rota systems, uniforms and even menu items. One employee returning from a holiday in Sweden suggested they sell a fruit cider, discovered whilst over there. Some of the Head Office management team went to investigate and decided to import and sell Kopparberg. Due to its huge success Kopparberg was then picked up by other stockists and other fruit ciders were then distributed. In 2014, Kopparberg’s UK sales totalled £112m, there was a dip due to inclement summers in 2015 and 2016, but in 2017 Kopparberg’s growth was up (+21%) across the the year. The employee who recommended the brand was given several thousand pounds by Wetherspoons for their suggestion, as well as the initial £5.

Another recommendation by an employee was to have a midweek deal on a curry and a drink. This was developed into the ‘Wednesday Night Curry Club’. The first of a themed menu on a particular day of the week to be tried, which was such a success, many other incarnations along the same lines followed. The employee who made the suggestion receives 1p for each ‘Curry Club’ meal sold. He is now a millionaire and still works for Wetherspoons.

71% of companies felt it was very important that employees were engaged, but only 24% of companies felt that their employees were engaged.

The Impact of Voice

Employee engagement was identified as one of the most important elements of company performance when Harvard Business Review looked into the matter in 2013. The Review found 71% of companies felt it was very important that employees were engaged, but only 24% of companies felt that their employees were engaged. Where employees have the ability to express their views and concerns, make suggestions and have an influence on decisions, is the definition of ‘Employee Voice’. CIPD report that “effective voice contributes to people’s experience of meaningful work.” Enabling ‘voice’ is one of the key ways in which companies can increase engagement.

Looking into how to engage employees and how to measure engagement is one of the most studied topics in management literature. CIPD produced a report in 2017 which looks at the different types of voice and how organisations can implement rules and policies to facilitate this engagement. The report investigates both the positive and negative aspects of the different types of voice as well as the various motivations which are behind them.

As many businesses are finding their business works better by using zero hour contracts, the risk of employees feeling disengaged from the business is increased. The rise of the virtual office is also a contributing factor in disengagement. It is important to consider ways in which Employee Voice can be heard which is useful and practical for the business as well as employees. The increase in staff retention with employees who are engaged with the company is well documented.

One of the most common practices to engage employees is to have a representative on the board, which is compulsory for listed companies in the UK. Policies such as this are presumably why HBR found that a large number of senior managers thought employee engagement was at a much higher level that it is within their companies.

Flexible working, where possible, is found to be positive for voice. Team members can communicate when they prefer to work and coordinate with colleagues to ensure essential duties and skill requirements are met. Establishing a social media policy, covering internal as well as external communication forums, allows employees to know they are protected against negativity as well as the company.

Harvard Business Review found the leading companies with high levels of employee engagement ensure company goals are well communicated to all levels of the organisation; recognition programmes from customer feedback are in use with carefully crafted engagement surveys, which look beyond people being ‘satisfied’.

What Does Engaged Look Like?

‘They’ versus ‘We’

HBR also found that customer satisfaction was improved when employees were engaged with the company. When a customer interacts with a staff member in-store, over the phone or over an internet chat, as soon as the staff member explains ‘Our’ policy versus ‘Their’ policy, it is clear to the customer that the employee is engaged and sounds more authoritative in knowledge of the business.


John Lewis employees are not staff, they are partners. This immediately communicates that the company has a strong emphasis on people. The partners are involved in decisions and solutions, so they feel empowered. With employees knowing they can make a difference, it engages them to do more, helping John Lewis create a better customer experience.


Virgin tries to make a habit of listening to their employees, to increase the creativity of the company and help them to continuously innovate. Listening is a core element of employee engagement. Flexibility was always the style of Virgin management, ensuring they listen to all levels of employees allows the company to adapt in ways most beneficial for all.

What we know for sure at SWL… effective communication creates engaged employees. Empowering employees to get their voices heard has great benefits for the company as well as the employees themselves. Operational improvement and colleague well-being can be improved with SWL’s Sustained Employee Engagement (SEE) by providing the pivotal reach across the management divide.

Get in touch with us to find out more.

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