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Emma Birchall: Employee voice - How organisations can really start listening to their people

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Emma Birchall discusses how social media can help with employee voice.

Emma Birchall

Emma Birchall

Emma Birchall joined the Hot Spots Movement to head up our Future of Work research. Emma previously worked at Accenture Management Consulting, and studied Business Management at King's College London before completing a Master's Degree in International Development at the University of Cambridge.

Looking for a great restaurant, a flat-share or help changing a printer cartridge? You simply have to ask the question via social media and the response is almost instant.

So, why isn't it the same at work? Why do so many organisations rely on engagement surveys that can feel a chore to fill in and can take months to analyse, let alone act upon?

We recently contributed to an Acas report 'pdf icon Going Digital? Harnessing Social Media for Employee Voice [1Mb]' looking at how internal social media platforms can be used to harness the views of employees at work. Although the potential for being heard, sharing thoughts and problem solving is immense, take-up from employers has been slow.

Social media platforms enable leaders to interact with employees in a two-way conversation instead of simply cascading information down the hierarchy and hoping for the best. They also create a network of ties across the organisation, increasing the reach of employee voice and influence.

But employers often fail to explain how employees should contribute in such virtual spaces, or how their insights will be used. This means people often see very little point in raising questions or sharing insights.

Also, the outputs from social media can be chaotic - with thousands of messages, comments and 'likes' getting lost in the ether. And, unfortunately, many organisations misuse social media platforms and end up giving information to employees rather than engaging with them. This turns social media into just another information cascading tool like email.

We have worked closely with dozens of organisations to help raise engagement levels and harness the real power of employee voice. Our top tips mirror those in the Acas report:

  • Have a clear purpose in mind. Is the platform there to crowd source people's views about their work and the organisation? Or is it there to help people connect in virtual teams and share knowledge?
  • Create a critical mass. Launching a platform to a wider population of employees without already having some activity on the site is a dangerous and easy pitfall. A great way to avoid this is to find groups of people around the business who are already social media savvy and/or are willing to act as champions.
  • Be prepared to listen and act. The only thing worse than not listening to employees is asking for their opinion and then doing nothing. Senior leaders must collectively buy-in to the process.

In the coming years we will hopefully see more and more examples of companies following these guidelines and getting it right.

For more information on the role of social media and crowd sourcing platforms in employee voice, read our case study in the Acas Report 'pdf icon Going Digital? Harnessing Social Media for Employee Voice [1Mb]'or contact Harriet Molyneaux, Head of Digital Engagement at the Hot Spots Movement


  • Posted by Ben  |  3 June 2016, 12:44PM

    Hi Tomas

    Thank you for posting a comment. It looks like you are dealing with a difficult situation.

    You should give the Acas Helpline a call. The Helpline provides free and impartial advice and guidance about workplace relations. One of the Helpline Advisors will be happy to outline the options available for your to resolve the situation.

    The Helpline is open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The number is 0300 123 1100

  • Posted by Malcolm  |  26 May 2016, 7:06PM

    This isn't really the place for this sort of query, but it sounds like you ough to start by complaining to your union - they will have a complaints procedure, and if you can't find it, you should contact their local office.  Even though you're complaining to them, they may still be able to represent you further, which will depend on the detail of your case, etc.

  • Posted by tomas kosina  |  25 May 2016, 2:39AM

    Hi i have recently been dismissed from work for absence .There is 5 stages and i was on a stage 3 when i got ill (chest infection)for 8 days with doctors note and after i returned i had a disciplinary meeting and been put on stage 4 when i been told that i am going on stge 5 review which i attended an got dismissed......but before it i collected all evidence needed for defence and explanation of my illnes ..but my meeting got cancelled on a day it should be and they told me to expect next one i n a week or so.......after this the very next day when i didnt have any evidence with me they pulled me of the job and within 10 min i was walking out dismissed......when i had my appeal my trade union representative ask me before hand for all my evidence and doctors letters to put them together with my file and i did so.......when i came for my appeal i asked him to give me my evidence and he couldnt find it and said he losted .And i did lost my case and now i am out of union rep is also an employee of my previous employer...i feel like i`ve taken a chances for my defence......what i should do?

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