Ciphr report | A quarter of workers feel voiceless - what can HR do to increase engagement?

A quarter of workers feel voiceless - what can HR do to increase engagement?

A quarter of UK workers feel voiceless at work, according to new research from Ciphr.

Whether it’s that they aren’t given an opportunity to voice their perspective or opinion, even when they do their manager doesn’t act on their feedback, or their involvement isn’t actively encouraged – many employees don't feel they’re being valued in the way they should at work.

Unsurprisingly, the same research indicates that it’s mostly women and young people in a workforce that feel this ‘voicelessness’, with female employees being less likely to speak up compared to their male counterparts.

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The consequences of this feeling can be dangerous. Feeling unheard at work will certainly lead to staff being disengaged, unenthusiastic, and eventually, seeking work elsewhere. But what can managers do to prevent this?

Getting rid of the ‘top-down’ structure

Staff reporting they’re voiceless indicates a flaw in the structure and flow of an organisation. You don’t have to be non-hierachical to have a better flow of communication and creativity, but older, more traditional structures are less likely to have everyone’s perspective heard, and higher levels of voicelessness.

"All too often leaders assume they know what’s best for their people rather than taking the time to find out,” says Ian Barrow, Senior Employee Experience Consultant at, WorkBuzz. “And, when employees aren’t asked for feedback and input, the outcome is a workplace experience that’s been created from the ‘top down’ rather than collaboratively. Employees don’t feel their opinion counts, and will feel powerless to bring about change.”

Regular check-ins are key

As part of this open flow of communication, regular check-ins are key. Regular check-ins are good for a number of reasons that go beyond only getting feedback from staff, they’re also important in performance management strategies. Managers having open dialogue with their team members can be the difference between employees feeling ownership over their role, or not.

Barrow continues: “On the flipside, organisations that regularly check in on their people – asking them how they are and what’s important to them – will gain invaluable insights they can action to ensure their people are motivated, and that the culture is both attractive and ‘sticky’.

“This ‘active listening’ approach must become the foundation of any business strategy, and not just seen as an ‘add on’ by HR. After all, no matter how much leaders want to march ahead in a particular direction, if their people are going in the opposite direction the outcome won’t be a good one.

“Leaders must adopt a few different mechanisms to gather feedback – such as one-to-ones between managers and employees where discussions take place beyond the job role, for example around wellbeing; and focus groups and workshops that look at breaking the barriers that make the day-to-day job difficult. These approaches allow employees to share stories, bring their ideas to life, and feel heard in a very personal way. Organisations must also make use of engagement surveys for gathering detailed and quantifiable insights that can ‘check the temperature’ of employee feeling throughout the year."

Weed out your toxic culture

It can’t be denied that disengagement can often arise from a toxic work culture. A culture where gossiping, cliquey-ness and micro-management are allowed, can certainly foster disengagement and make workers feel like they can’t speak up in fear of being shut down. In contrast, if staff already feel disengaged because of other factors, this unaddressed disengagement can cause a toxic culture.

"It's worrying but not surprising to hear these results. With findings showing that two in five employees have experienced workplace bullying and one in two places tolerate discriminatory banter, there seems to be an undercurrent of toxic work environments that make it difficult for people, especially younger people and women to have a voice,” says Tina Chander, Head of Employment Law at Wright Hassall.

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“HR teams across the UK must try to close this gap to make their workplaces safer for those they work with to come forward if bullying and/or harassment is happening to them, not just if they spot it happening to someone else. Otherwise, they risk losing talent, gaining a bad reputation and even, in some cases, an employment tribunal, which can be costly in more than one way.

“Whilst training is part of the solution, organisations need to do more to cultivate a culture and have set processes that are widely understood if someone is experiencing bullying and/or harassment.

A voiceless staff is bad for business for a myriad of complex reasons, but there are things managers can do to try to solve this. Rethinking top-down systems of communication is a first step to creating a more creative and collaborative workspace, whereas having regular check-ins with employees allows them to express concerns, grievances or ideas in a trusted place. Rooting out and addressing toxic work cultures is also necessary for confident team members and a thriving business. All of these factors contribute, ultimately, to a healthy, thriving business.

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