Employee Voice

11 November 2016

Employee voice enables workers to effectively communicate their views to management and be actively involved in decision making. Voice arrangements allow employees to express their ideas, raise concerns and help solve problems by influencing workplace decisions and choices. (Gollan, 2006:349; Pymen et al, 2006:543). The various forms of voice available today in the current industrial relations system include both direct and indirect mechanisms. Indirect mechanisms include unions, non union representative bodies, the media, lawyers and consultative committees (Bryson et al, 2006:445).

On the other hand, direct voice can be described as ‘the presence of any two-way communications practices’ (Bryson et al, 2006:445), and includes staff and team meetings, group discussions, training, attitude surveys, quality circles and suggestion schemes (CCH, nd; Pymen at al, 2006:549). Today, direct forms of voice are generally favoured amongst employers, as it is claimed that they allow management to better respond to employee interests and concerns, because there is no intermediary, so eliciting more cooperation and commitment from employees (Bryson et al, 2006:443).

Employee Voice Essay Example

It has also been argued that ‘union-only voice reflects a narrow conceptualisation of the alternative regimes available to employees to advance their rights and interests at work’ (Pymen et al, 2006:544). In saying this, until recently, union voice was the most prominent voice mechanism (Bryson et al, 2006:440). Many people have scrutinised the use of direct forms of voice, believing they have little or no collective power and access to independent sources of advice and assistance, and therefore more susceptible to managerial influence and control (Pymen et al, 2006:544).

Overall, employees believe organisational objectives are most successfully achieved through the combination of indirect and direct channels of voice as they are the most efficient and legitimate, when used together (Pymen et al, 2006:556). Thus, it will be outlined throughout this essay that having various voice arrangements in place is not only socially and economically beneficial for the employer and their employees, but is important in maintaining a positive relationship between both parties and a more consolidated viewpoint. Furthermore this essay will address and evaluate issues in the current employment relations environment, and how hese impact on employee voice. It was noted by Luthans and Stajkovic (1999:49) that ‘while considerable deserved attention is being given to developing global strategies and information systems, the human side of enterprises still tends to be slighted or given a low priority’. This emphasises the important fact that employees are not always valued as the most important resource of a business, and their level of autonomy can be quite restricted, limiting their ability to contribute and be involved in the decision making process.

Employee involvement and voice is increasingly important in retaining employees as well as increasing staff morale and job satisfaction. This inturn leads to higher productivity and a more efficient and effective workplace (Bryson et al, 2006:443), not only to the benefit of the employees, but also the employer. The availability of voice mechanisms in the workplace can provide numerous benefits to employees. Voice enhances employees opportunities to negotiate with employees over working conditions, and gives them a greater opportunity to share their ideas and opinions, therefore enhancing their sense of autonomy and job satisfaction.

As proven by Cannel, whom insists that Voice ‘enables employees to represent their views to management, and for these views to be taken into account’ (Cannel, 2007). Voice mechanisms can also be used as a motivational tool. As voice plays an important role in negotiating issues such as salary and benefits, as well as acting as an important channel to articulate grievences, it can also encourage worker involvement and skill development. Employees of organisations that do not develop their staff, in ways such as providing them with certain channels of expression, have little motivation to stay (Woodruffe, 2006:3).

Voice gives employees the opportunity to generate a sense of purpose and self worth and therefore helps to maintain higher workplace morale. It was emphasised by Cannel (2007), that if employees knowledge and skills are developed and better utilised within an organisation, it can lead to ‘higher valued enterprises and an increasingly knowledge based economy’ – giving employees better opportunities and greater job security. There are a number of ideologies behind the use of voice mechanisms and how beneficial employee voice is to the employer in manegerial decision making.

Some methods of management, such as the Radical or even Pluralist approach, argue that employers have very different objectives and ideologies compared to that of their employees and corresponding union bodies. For example, in regards to profit maximisation, management believe that the decline in union power has lowered the pressure on wage levels, ‘leading to lower production costs and greater profit margins’ (Hammer, 2004:172). Another argument against the implementation of voice mechanisms is that of the inncurred costs compared to the percieved benefits and if implementation of voice mechanisms will be worthwhile.

While managemnt see such issues as costs and potential conflict of views as the main downsides to implementing voice mechanisms, they need to understand that without giving employees a voice, conflict is inevitable. It is more or less the area of interpersonal communication that causes the main problems experienced by organisations. ‘Many misunderstandings, disputes, accidents, errors, delays or other problems at the workplace are attributed to communication barriers and breakdowns’ (CCH, nd).

This inturn leads to conflict, resentment and blame shifting and overall a non efficient workplace, thus employee voice is essential to control such managerial problems. To remain competetive in the market, both parties need to acknowledge that there needs to be an equilibrium between revenue making and Human Resource Managment within the organisation, and communication, both structured and non structured plays an important role in doing this (Gollen, 2006:341). This can be achieved through ‘Two-way communication’ which generates an environment that fosters effective information sharing and collective and individual performance (CCH, nd).

For the employer, having particular voice arrangements in place can also contribute to the success of the business, as employees are more able and therefore more valuable to the organisation. (Woodruffe, 2006:3). Research on the European car industry, for instance, revealed that a combination of direct and indirect forms of voice was linked to better performance and a greater willingness among employees to participate and contribute to organisational decision making (Pymen, 2006:554).

Another study, on nursing home care quality found that ‘allowing workers to have a voice on the job increased problem reporting which may reduce the incidence of serious quality violations’ (Anonymous, 2007:5). The study concluded that this may have been because the employees were less afraid to speak up and state their concerns and therefore could ‘negotiate over key factors that improve care such as staffing levels, training, pay and benefits that help retain qualified caregivers’ (Anonymous, 2007:5).

This study proving that employee voice is largely associated with maintaining and enhancing quality control and safety. If these issues were not reported and dealt with, they could have led to serious violations and extremely costly outcomes. The study also emphasises the importance of voice mechanisms in retaining qualified employees in a labour short market. Retaining employees is increasingly important today, as it is not only harder to find skilled workers, but the costs in recruiting and retraining new employees can be quite substantial, if workers are dissatisfied and turnover rates high (Bryson, 2006:440).

Using direct and indirect forms of voice cooperatively can also aid in preventing disputes and resentment between management and their employees, as it helps to resolve situations without workers using disruptive methods, both covert and overt, in an effort to be heard (Gollan, 2006:349). High absenteeism, staff turnover, strikes and stop work meetings can all be linked to workplaces with poor or ineffective voice arrangements in place, which often result in more damage, socially and economically, than good.

There can also be major direct social benefits to management through the use of voice mechanisms, for example, managers can increase their competence levels and interpersonal skills by engaging with employees. This inturn can help them enhance their general social skills and leadership skills, handle conflict more professionally and increase their ability to motivate (CCH, nd). Ultimately giving management the opportunity to gain respect and trust, and inturn make it easier to retain and recruit good employees (Cannel, 2007). The effectiveness of employee voice mechanisms has become particularly pertinent since the 1996 election of a Liberal–National Party coalition government, which is committed to marginalising union influence and encouraging direct and non-union voice’ (Pymen et al, 2006:543). It is quite clear focus has shifted from union voice to more direct methods, with membership in Australian unions declining from 51% in 1976 to less than 30% today (Hammer, 2004:166).

In the current Industrial relations system the liberal government sees a lower need for union participation, due to the fact that the new system allows for more independent bargaining, through AWAs, and settling of disputes without union involvement. For many this has opened up new doors of voice in negotiation and employee participation, but has caused other workers to dispute the decision, particularly lower income earners who are not highly skilled or in heavy demand.

These workers are particularly reluctant to abandon union voice all together, as they see themselves having a ‘reduced capacity to initiate issues and articulate grievances’ and see unions as their ‘only source of genuine voice’ (Benson, 2000:543). In response to this, the liberal government has established the new fair pay commission, which has been set up to ensure a specific minimum wage is met and has introduced the workplace ombudsman to provide a safety net for employees in regards to wages and entitlements and protect workers with limited voice.

Employee voice is also becoming more important in the workplace as Australia’s unemployment rate is currently very low, and there is a greater need for implementation of voice mechanisms in order to attract and retain staff, and limit the potential effects of worker dissatisfaction(Hammer,2004:172). In contrast, another quite prominent issue today is that many industries have come under increasing pressure from other sources, such as globalisation, ideology and low economic growth, to remain competitive within the global market (Hammer, 2004:161-162).

Because of these forces, allowing employees to voice their concerns over entitlements such as pay rates and benefits can cause a greater conflict of interest. Overall, in regards to the current work situation, employee voice remains a prominent and important issue both socially and economically. Voice mechanisms are notably important for both workers and their employers in negotiation and decision making, and give both employer and employee the opportunity to reach a more consolidated viewpoint.

Voice assists with ‘building organisational commitment through legitimate and effective participative decision making and consultation procedures’ (Pymen et al, 2006:547), therefore enhancing organisational performance and job satisfaction.

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