On the Record: Why Employees Need a Voice

For real change to happen, we need good feedback. But anonymous responses can only get you so far. Here’s a look at why you should seek to build a psychologically safe space to foster a true employee voice.

On the Record: Why Employees Need a Voice

Employee voice is a fundamental right in the workplace and, in a post-pandemic world, it has become a critical part of what the future of work will look like. During the state of flux in 2022, a report from The Workforce Institute stated that 86% of employees don’t feel that colleagues are heard equally. And, 34% would rather quit their job or switch teams than voice their concerns with management. 

One of the report authors went so far as to say that there is a “troubling inequality in the feedback loop at organisations across the globe.”

With so much uncertainty about the world of work, it’s more important than ever to listen to your people. If there’s anything to be learned from the fallout of tech company Basecamp, it’s that it’s worse to seek out your people’s opinions and do nothing than to not listen in the first place. 

So, how do we listen to our people in a way that matters?  

It starts with psychological safety. 

Employee Voice and Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is key to employee wellbeing and the foundation of highly successful teams. People do not speak up unless they feel safe. It’s natural for people to be a little cautious when providing difficult feedback. However, it’s a key source on how you can improve your company. It’s unlikely that you will make meaningful change without it.

But encouraging people to be honest can be difficult. When it comes to people speaking up, there is a delicate balance between transparency and anonymity. Research shows that people are more willing to share personal information on the condition that it’s anonymous. On the other hand, nameless sharing does not develop a sense of togetherness in a company, nor does it create a shared sense of responsibility for organisational culture.  

In everyday life, we rarely enter into a conversation with someone nameless and faceless. All of our human interactions are based on the fact that we are accountable for our feelings and care about the outcome. While we can give honest answers when we feel psychologically safe, it’s not easy to speak up when we don’t feel safe. 

Anonymous messages are psychologically unsafe
Anonymity might feel safe in the moment, but it doesn’t lead to long-term comfort. There’s a truth about anonymity — it’s empowering and often in the wrong way. We’re usually less careful about what we say when we can’t be identified. This leads to more aggression and division. As we all know, the internet is an excellent source of knowledge. Yet, it’s also the relative anonymity of it that allows for the worst in troll behaviour.

We only need to look at the wonderful internet for an easy example of vitriol. The results of the UEFA 2020 Euro brought out the worst in racist behaviour. And it’s nothing new.

A study of online comments found that anonymity drove uncivil behaviour. 53% of anonymous comments were not civil compared to 29% that were attributed. 

As John Suler, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Rider University says:

“It’s very easy to take this shadowy image of this other person online and start using that to create this internal dialogue where you unleash all your stuff on this other person”.

In a company, this means a lot of time is spent second-guessing who said what, which ultimately leads to wrong assumptions, confusion, frustration and distrust. If we’re trying to build a psychologically safe workplace, then incivility or rude behaviour is out of the question. We should be responsible for what we say and do, and that means taking ownership. 

How Online Complements Attributed Feedback

Putting your name to words means you will accept responsibility — it’s why the practice of signing legal documents and contracts is still very much a reality. It comes back to psychological safety and what you are doing to create that kind of space. The best way to make these safe spaces is not just to show that you’re willing to listen but to act on what your people suggest. Action creates trust, and trust is the key to safety.  

Using both online and physical, in-person meetings companies can encourage better communication. It’s easy to imagine an office space where the more outspoken employees are more heard than the quieter ones, or a town hall where an outgoing person will voice their opinion over a reserved one. 

Thankfully, in today’s growing hybrid world, people can share their views online which tends to be an equal footing for outgoing and reserved people. And, for companies concerned with issues such as diversity and inclusivity, it’s necessary to complement any online experience with offline approaches like employee forums, resource groups and affiliate groups. 

A significant benefit of these spaces is that individuals expressing concerns can experience safety in numbers. While this is a different sort of safety than anonymity, it still provides some comfort to those that want to share their opinions. By casting the net and collecting both the quieter and louder voices, real change can happen and a third of your workforce will feel confident speaking up rather than searching for their next job. 

How Friday Pulse Walks the Line Between Anonymity and Transparency 

The people platform collects weekly happiness scores so that you can see how your teams are faring in real-time. It also keeps individual data scores private while allowing for group scores and open text questions and answers to be transparent. This dual format creates bonding trust and safety in a group while allowing everyone to be heard. For more on how we can help you today, please reach out to us.