Removing the barriers that prevent employees from raising their voices

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The global economic downturn continues over the last five years has meant that businesses have had to work doubly hard to address market concerns as well as maintain employee engagement and confidence levels.

It's meant that executive management and internal communications teams have been involved in an uphill battle to provide regular updates through internal newsletters, blogs, physical town hall meetings and virtual video conferences (to name but a few), and while these methods have been successful in disseminating information from the top down, what they haven't done is foster two-way communication or enable employees to voice their concerns and opinions and really engage with the teams and management.

This needs to change because according to an employee engagement benchmark study by the Temkin Group (in 2012), research shows that just 31% of employees are highly engaged.

Their report goes on to say that highly engaged employees are 5.8 times more committed to helping their companies succeed and 4.7 times more likely to recommend that someone apply for a job at their company. Statistics that businesses can ill afford to disregard in the current economic climate.

Many companies are already engaged in giving employees a voice as they fully recognise the value of garnering feedback, however getting them to actually engage, post questions and initiate discussions is a different challenge.

For example, management blog posts on a corporate social platform are probably read by most employees, but very few provide comments or feedback for fear of being held to account. There are a number of reasons why this is the case and barriers include anxiety about raising hands in front of hundreds of others, asking "stupid" questions, or concerns about bringing up issues that might "rock the boat".

It's important that we turn this around and encourage employees to feel empowered within their organisations.

I believe organisations need to carry out a review of how they actually communicate with employees. It cannot be a one-way street. Talk to them and see what their particular barriers are - also consider using virtual online events, where employees have a means to ask questions of management in a safe yet open and transparent forum.

These kinds of events can of course be moderated, but more importantly, they enable participants to post questions - with the added option of doing so anonymously. Questions are queued and presented to a group of moderators who can reject questions that are inappropriate (while privately responding to the individual who asked the question), or accept the question and allocate it to the most appropriate moderator. As each question is answered, both the question and answer can be posted in the public area for the entire group to view. When the sessions ended, the entire transcript is captured and shared for future reference on an internal portal.

Open communication encourages a flow of honest and open dialogue - unprecedented in comparison to a more formal, town hall approach. By providing employees with a voice and taking on board their perspective, organisations can make decision, which benefit the business and lead to greater employee engagement and satisfaction.

Annekathrin Hase, director of strategy at MindLink Software

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