Culture reporting: Employee engagement and employee voice

Posted in White Papers, Engagement and Reporting on 26 April 2019 By Darryl Mead, Head of Employee Communications and Engagement

Providing an effective platform for the employee voice to be heard can be a challenge for companies but will have a real impact.

Employee engagement remains a holy grail for business success. Since the term emerged in the 90s, companies and leaders have shifted their focus from satisfaction, to commitment, and then on to engagement.

The ‘service-profit chain’, another 90s model, established a link between employee attitude and bottom-line performance, which led to many studies and an entire industry built on helping people to feel more engaged with their work and therefore go the extra mile for their employer. 2009 saw the publication of the MacLeod Report and the setting up of the Engage for Success movement. That report found four common themes that created successful engagement: strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice, and integrity.

Fast forward to today and engagement – or to use its most current iteration, employee experience – is not only a strategic driver for many companies, but now an important governance consideration, recently becoming part of the latest UK Corporate Governance Code, QCA Corporate Governance Code and the Wates Governance Principles for Large Private Companies.

Under the most prominent of these, the UK Corporate Governance Code, boards must engage with employees and the wider workforce to enhance the employee voice in the boardroom and explain how that feedback is being used for decision making. In the Code, there are three engagement options: a director appointed from the workforce; a workforce advisory panel; or a designated non-executive director. Or a combination of those options; for example, a designated non-executive who is working with an advisory panel. If the company does not opt for any of these it must choose, explain and justify an alternative. So far, it seems most companies are opting to appoint a designated non-executive director to lead engagement and culture.

Engagement is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but an absolute requirement.

How companies are harnessing employee voice

Providing a platform for ideas, feedback and knowledge can drive innovation and engagement. It also allows organisations to be agile and adapt to changing market needs, customer demands, and employee expectations.

Some of the ways the voice of employees can be heard include:

Engagement surveys

Most companies are now using regular surveys to replace or supplement the annual survey. A percentage score in isolation is meaningless, so it is important to compare the results with sector or existing benchmarks. Response rates are also not a true indicator of engagement.

Pulse surveys

These are increasing in popularity as companies seek to act quickly on employee feedback. They are useful to validate a specific topic or issue following a larger survey.

Employee forums

On the back of the reporting requirements, some are establishing employee forums. A couple of best practice examples include:

  • PayPoint has set up a forum to provide a communication platform for consultation on relevant business related issues and selected Board matters.

  • Connect Group PLC has created a Colleague Advisory Forum, chaired by one of the non-executive directors who meets with the Chief Executive Officer on a regular basis. Its purpose is to give the Board direct access to the important views a voice of frontline colleagues and to act in a consulting role on major business and people-related initiatives.

Internal social channels

A number of platforms have emerged as part of the communications channel mix. Yammer is prevalent within Office365 organisations, Facebook’s Workplace is gaining strong momentum as a social and listening tool, as is Slack and Jostle. Employee feedback platforms such as PeakOn, Culture Amp, Happiness Lab or Glint are also complementing intranets.

Social media

Platforms such as Glassdoor and Indeed allow employees to share feedback and rate their work experience. This is your employer brand in action. Companies without a mechanism for feedback often see employees using public channels to air grievances. Candidates browse these channels so negative comments can damage your reputation.

One-to-one meetings

Direct, personal engagement with a line managers is still the most common channel for the employee voice. A recent survey by carried out by the Centre for People, Work and Organisational Practice found 62% are expressing their views through this channel. The survey also revealed that almost half (49%) of employees express their views through team meetings, while only 17% mention trade unions as a voice channel.

Don’t just listen, take action

The goal for engagement is to build trust and transparency. Listening and feedback are an integral but alone aren’t enough. The key is action. That is the role of both the leadership team; to respond to issues at a macro level through policy, systems and practices, and local managers, who should be close enough to their teams to listen and regularly take action.

Employee engagement is also a key element of people reporting. Our research showed that only 26% of companies have a ‘People’ section in their annual report that refers to culture and values and describes their activity to engage and listen to employees beyond a survey. Only 19% demonstrated alignment between culture and values.

Man Group’s people and Culture section in the Annual Report stands out as best practice, with extensive coverage of recruitment, retention and development, and a specific engagement section that describes their approach to the employee survey. The senior management team were able to access the feedback directly on a real time basis, seeing detailed comments and deeper analysis. This is a shining example of how the employee voice is informing leaders and the Board.

Top Tips

  • Identify and report on the material issues for employees and what action is being taken to address them at a macro (company level) and micro (local manager-led level)

  • Connect and report on the ‘people’ metrics that have shifted as a result of changes made in response to employee feedback. For example, retention, absence, productivity, turnover.

  • Develop an employee voice plan, covering appropriate channels and make sure managers are equipped to support action on a few, important things.

Follow our culture reporting research

Over the next few weeks we'll be releasing the findings of our research and tackling the topics that matter:

  1. Leadership   
  2. Performance and strategic progress
  3. Measuring and demonstrating culture
  4. Alignment and linkage to business
  5. Engagement and employee voice

To receive the full research findings, email Sarah Eklund at [email protected].

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