“In the past it was very informal. I was a project manager in my day job and was also leading the national voice on the side,” explains employee voice lead Moira Jennings.
“Voice was taking up about 70% to 80% of my time, so about three years ago it was decided that, if the business really wanted to take voice seriously, the national voice lead needed to be a full-time role.”
This way, Jennings says, voice has been made more of a structured process, with formal elections “rather than managers tapping people on the shoulder”, regular meetings, and reps being given training and objectives.
So Jennings was brought out of her day job to become national employee voice lead. Then there are around 360 voice reps across the organisation, who are also elected by employees for a four-year tenure.
As a result voice now has a formal structure in the organisation. Local voice forums represent teams in areas of more than 2,000 people. Divisional voice forums (DVF) represent the 11 different business divisions (so 11 forums) to discuss matters affecting the particular division.
One rep in each division is elected as the division lead who runs the DVF. A business lead (the director of the division) and people lead (HR representative), together with the division lead, make up the division leadership team and attend the DVF meetings. “it’s important we have these different heads at the table,” Jennings explains. “We bring the head of the people, but the director will bring the business head that we might sometimes lose sight of.” What’s important is that the voice reps truly represent the workforce, with 80% currently non-managers.
While the 360-plus voice reps aren’t pulled out of their day jobs, they now have job descriptions for their voice roles. Rather than being an added responsibility to find time for outside of their day-to-day roles, they have time allocated to voice. For example, for a local rep this is expected to take up 5% of their time, for divisional 10%, and national 20%. These proportions can be adjusted in situations where gaining employee input is more pertinent.
“Right now we have some big changes happening,” says Jennings. “One is the possibility of closing a site. So we’ve brought a national rep out of the business full time until we’ve been through collective consultation so they can focus on it [full time].”
Jennings says that since voice has been formalised at Virgin Media the forums have achieved significant wins for employees, including overhauling the bonus scheme. As the structure continues to be refined more work is underway in 2018, such as plans to raise the profile of voice in Ireland and holding a celebrated Voice Day.
“Sometimes the business doesn’t like what it hears but it appreciates us being honest as we’re speaking on behalf of the people, not ourselves,” says Jennings. “If it doesn’t listen to us [things will] come back and bite it on the backside.”