Employee voice – speak to the wind or make a difference?

I had the privilege of providing a case study about the University of Kent’s Change Academy at the Universities Human Resources conference last month. The topic of the session was the power of employee voice and it discussed similar themes to those shared at an earlier plenary session featuring Nita Clarke of the Engage for Success movement who spoke about the power of staff engagement.

A few gems stuck in my mind from Anita’s talk:

“Engage for Success surveys have revealed that of the 30 million employees working in the UK, only one third feel fully engaged with their work with a resultant impact on productivity, innovation and organisational results. Of those surveyed, 64% feel they have more to give.”


By way of comparison, a parallel example was given: “What if we said our IT systems only worked one third of the time? Would that be seen as acceptable?” I won’t go into the details of why that particular example resonates for me personally at the moment but these results could be extrapolated across a whole range of other parallel scenarios. There is no question that fulfilling work is a key factor for human happiness as well as positive organisational results so why do we do so little in our organisations to get the best from everyone?

We live in an environment of complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty. There is no ‘normal’ any longer and we find ourselves struggling to keep up with the pace of change and the speed of technology. Many organisations are having to make tough decisions about how to deal with issues of staffing and workload and the fine skill of prioritisation is becoming ever more important. However, there will be no return to the easier days of yesteryear, if, in fact, that time ever really existed.

Effective prioritisation requires the ability to hold in our minds the vision and purpose of what is important to our organisation and what we want to achieve. We can then return to this vision when we need to make tough decisions on how we spend our time.

Given the challenges we face, we will only succeed if we work in partnership with staff across the whole organisation and listen to their voices. An average of thirty percent of engaged staff is simply not enough. We must articulate what we value within our organisation and have the courage to have honest conversations.

It is the responsibility of managers to get to know their staff as individuals, to coach them and help them to develop, to not allow bad behaviours and to show appreciation that is both authentic and specific. Similarly, all staff must take personal responsibility to know what drives and motivates them as individuals and to get to where they they need to in order to work in roles and organisations that they care about. This is where people will make a difference for themselves and for their organisations. This is where staff will find their true voice and this is where real engagement will occur.

By Cindy Vallance, Head of Organisational Development, University of Kent, Twitter @cdvallance


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