Employee voice and engagement at a record low
As the final report from the public inquiry into the failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is published, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is warning employers in all sectors to heed the lessons learned about the importance of employee voice.
The CIPD’s quarterly Employee Outlook Survey reveals a worrying deterioration in employees’ satisfaction with their ability to feed views upwards, particularly in the public sector – precisely the opposite of what the ‘appalling’ failings at Mid Staffs show is needed.
The net satisfaction score related to the ability to feed views upwards has been steadily declining across all sectors for the last three quarters (+12 this quarter from +14 and +16 in the previous two quarters). Just over a third of public sector workers are satisfied with their ability to voice concerns.
This is perhaps not surprising given that only a fifth (21%) of public sector employees trust their senior leaders, with 53% disagreeing (compared with 43% and 29% in the private sector). In addition, there is significant unhappiness among staff over the extent to which they are consulted by senior leaders about important decisions. Just 19% of public sector staff agree they are consulted about important decisions while almost two thirds (62%) disagree (compared with 27% and 50% in the private sector).
These findings help explain the low level of employee engagement (the extent employees are prepared to go the extra mile at work for their employer) in the public sector. According to the CIPD’s Employee Engagement Index, just 29% of public sector staff are actively engaged, compared to 37% in the private sector and 41% in the voluntary sector. Overall, across all sectors, just 35% of employees are engaged – a record low for the survey.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, comments: “Strong employee voice supports effective corporate governance and risk management by allowing staff to air concerns over problems, for example, with customer service, patient care, product quality or inappropriate behaviour. In some organisations, as in Mid Staffs, lives could be at stake unless employee voice improves; but in countless others the consequences could range from poor performance right up to failures to stop criminal activity and fatal damage to the organisation’s brand and reputation. Employee voice is also strongly linked to employee engagement and innovation. If employees feel able to feed views upwards, then ideas from the front line – where staff engage with customers or patients – are more likely to inform organisational strategy and lead to improvements in service delivery or product quality.
“For engagement and innovation to thrive, and for whistleblowers to feel protected, it’s important to create an open culture where senior managers consult staff about key decisions and employees trust their managers enough to be able to express their views whether asked for them or not. If you don’t consult staff as a leader you are saying we don’t think staff have a valid opinion and that senior managers always know best. Consultation also has to be meaningful, allowing enough time for the effective consideration of employee opinions before decisions are taken.
“Given the importance of trust in senior leaders, we see a need for a fundamental change in the nature of leadership in the public sector. There needs to be a shift away from traditional command and control styles of leadership to a culture in which leadership is distributed across organisations. CIPD research published late last year found that public sector chief executives recognise that the only way public services can be made more efficient and responsive to the needs of service users is if employees on the front-line are trusted to innovate and empowered to act with more autonomy. Leaders across all sectors should recognise this and make sure managers at all levels are equipped with the necessary leadership skills to involve and engage their staff.”
For organisations looking to give employees greater voice, the CIPD offers the following advice:
Employees will be much more likely to speak up if they receive recognition when their ideas or concerns are acted on and are given feedback when they are not.
Some employees are more likely to speak up than others, so employers should consider building in opportunities for employee voice as part of formal performance reviews as well as informal one-to-ones with managers, meetings and knowledge sharing forums.
A combination of both direct arrangements for informing and consulting with staff, such as through line managers, and indirect mechanisms, such as staff councils or forums, are the most effective way of providing employee voice in organisations.
Organisation values and leadership and management development activities should highlight the importance of employee voice.