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Sir Brendan Barber: The little 'big picture'

Thursday 14 January 2016

Sir Brendan Barber discusses the value of employee voice in the workplace.

Sir Brendan Barber

Sir Brendan Barber is Acas' Chair, joining in January 2014. Previously Sir Brendan was the TUC General Secretary (2003 to 2012) and sat on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council (1995 to 2004). Sir Brendan was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to employment relations.

Acas Chair Brendan Barber blog

In his article in our recent Workplace trends of 2016 report, my colleague Dave Prince, spoke of the need to "stand back and see the big picture" in order to communicate effectively. I know from my own experience that the 'breathing space' that Dave speaks of is critical in those often high pressure negotiations between employers and unions and employee representatives.

My own reflection on the value of employee voice in the workplace also echoes some of the sentiments expressed by Frances O'Grady in the same report. She hints at a need to transform the way we view employee voice and to make it something that helps people "shape and influence their working lives". As Frances says, voice is too often seen too narrowly as just 'communication' and as "something done to staff".

Acas Head of Strategy, Gill Dix, has made the point that the trouble with voice is that it has become a bit of a 'Jack of all trades' - the 'Scarlet Pimpernel' of workplace relations, it can feel as if it is everywhere and nowhere.

Over the last few decades there have been very many advances in the way we view workplace relations. Equality and diversity, for example, are principles many workplaces promote and individuals have legal protection relating to specific 'protected characteristics'.

Wellbeing is another workplace issue that has become absorbed into the mainstream of our working lives. We no longer see work and home life in isolation, but try to see the whole person.

I think voice has gone out of fashion a little and needs to be brought back into the fold and recognised as a core workplace value. Voice is an intrinsic part of how we interact and underpins equality, fairness and wellbeing. Of course, voice needs to be supported by the right workplace policies and procedures and practised using the right line manager skills.

As Dave says, standing back to see the big picture is important: that way you can take a look at your organisational culture and reflect on your values. But standing back also gives you the chance to listen to individual concerns. Voice isn't just about the big picture, it is also about what matters to individuals.

For me, voice can mean everything from teams agreeing on what constitutes acceptable behaviour to counter the threat of bullying, to managers creating the right environment and space for staff to open up about personal issues, such as mental health problems. It can mean the effective use of Joint Consultative Committees through to workers on boards and more active forms of participation. And, of course, it often involves employers working closely with trade unions.

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  • Posted by Jess  |  22 January 2016, 10:34AM

    Hi Janet. Suggest you contact the Acas Helpline for advice. 

  • Posted by janet  |  20 January 2016, 6:45PM

    can two councils in different districts eg: calderdale council and kirklees council advertise the same job but different contracted hours