It had been eight months since factory employees at a leading global medical technology manufacturer had started working 12-hour shifts.
They were finally starting to feel the churn of the long hours when one employee had an idea to energize the team. Those four o’clock breaks would feel a lot better, he suggested, if employees had new vending and coffee options to enjoy. The employee took to his plant’s Bonfyre community to make his voice heard, with several colleagues co-signing the idea in the comments section. One coworker even went so far as to provide a link for corporate vending suppliers.
The next morning, a plant supervisor saw the thread. Instead of rejecting the idea, he let the employees know he would be exploring how to implement their suggestions. One month later, the supervisor returned to the thread to let employees know plans were in progress to not only supply their requested machines, but also to renovate the entire break area.
This change was only possible because this organization has been taking the steps necessary for creating a company culture where everyone has a voice. It never would have occurred if employees didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. “This is an experience I believe will make a difference for us going forward,” the plant supervisor said. “When people see their suggestions turn into something tangible, it’s going to empower them to say what’s on their mind.”
Cultures that value employee voices operate on the belief that work is a reciprocal relationship; it’s not just about what employees can do for the company, it’s about what the company does for the employees too. No one wants to be unhappy at work, and in many cases, people do have the power to make basic changes that can improve employee job satisfaction. The problem? Employees often don’t speak up, not because they’re afraid, but because they don’t feel managers will take the steps to make changes.
There are several clear benefits to creating a company culture where employees can speak their mind. Improved retention is chief among them; 75% of employees would stay longer at an organization that addresses their feedback and listens. When people feel valued and included, they likely won’t want to leave any time soon. That retention is often a sign employees are happier, and happiness is a driver of workplace engagement and all its associated benefits (higher productivity and lower absenteeism just to name a few).
If any of those perks sound appealing to you, then consider these suggestions as you start creating a company culture that values employee voices:
Listen to employees
Feedback is fundamental to creating a company culture that’s truly collaborative, inclusive, and will engage employees. Set up feedback loops at the team and company levels for the most actionable insights. You want a channel mix that encompasses both face-to-face and digital communications to cover the gamut of employee preferences. Leverage town halls, team meetings, even one-on-one conversations to support your relationships with employees as you listen to what their ideas. Use technology tools like mobile platforms that grant real-time insights into employee perceptions of company culture to see how your workforce is responding to programs and processes you currently have in place. Make frequent use of pulse surveys through a quick-deployment survey tool to build a steady pipeline of feedback.
Let employees champion their ideas
Don’t just sit on the employee feedback you collect. Act on it, and keep the employee involved in the process where possible. When the change is finalized, let other employees know just whose idea it was to make changes. If it’s a process improvement, give that employee the latitude to introduce the change to their peers. As Bonfyre HR Director Rob Seay notes, most on-the-job learning occurs through informal, social communication. By driving these types of interactions as you let employees introduce change, you’re making more likely that change will stick.
Close the loop
Sometimes, however, not every employee suggestion will make it to implementation. Always close the loop for with those employees who don’t see their ideas come to fruition. Make it clear, whether by email, team meeting, or whatever communications channel you choose, that their input is valued, and communicate the reasons it can’t be implemented.
Recognition isn’t just a way to motivate and engage employees, it’s a way of showing that you value employees’ voices in the workplace. And if you’re creating a company culture where everyone has a voice, you’ll need to recognize often. Research shows employees want recognition more than they receive it. Gallup recommends employee recognition be performed weekly for maximum effectiveness, but only one in three U.S. workers say they received recognition for their work within the past seven days. You don’t have to break the bank to turn the tides; go micro for recognition at work. It’s simple. Make informal, social praise a routine element of your culture and spread the love to as many diverse employee voices as possible.
Don’t forget the hard to reach
Everyone means everyone. Company culture doesn’t only exist for the employees who are convenient to reach. Currently, nearly half of the U.S. workforce performs remote work, and that’s increasing every year. If you’re not already building company culture for remote employees, then in all likelihood you will be very soon. The key thing to remember when being inclusive of remote employees is that reduced visibility should never equate to reduced opportunity. Leverage technology like video conferences that gives these employees a visual presence in meetings, and be rigorous about soliciting their feedback in these communications.
When you start to value the voices of employees, it sends a powerful message. Not only are you signaling an investment in your workforce, you’re signaling an investment in the genuine betterment of your company and its culture. And only by working hand in hand can leaders and employees can cultures that inspire, engage, and endure.