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Smiling but not with his eyes: Authentic employee voice for inclusive organisations

A paper presented by Dr Kevin Ruck at the CIPD Applied Research Conference in Glasgow on 1 December 2017. The paper is based on qualitative research and identifies three aspects of voice: 1. Active listening: adopting an open mind to what is said by employees 2. Authentic responsiveness: being prepared to seriously consider what is said by employees 3. Safety to speak out: alleviating the fear of retribution.

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Smiling but not with his eyes:
Authentic employee voice for
inclusive organisations
Dr Kevin Ruck
Background: Qualitative research
 University of Central Lancashire PhD completed in
2016
 This paper is based on a qualitative research
methodology that was used as part of the study
 27 interviews and nine focus groups were conducted in
five organisations in the UK
 Template analysis
Background: Theory
The focus of the study is the changing nature of leadership
communication required for effective employee voice as a core
component of organisational inclusivity
 Ashman and Lawler (2008, p. 253) argue that ‘leadership…when all is said
and done, is communication’. However, they observe that ‘Taking account of
the intimate connection between leadership and communication it is
remarkable that the concept of communication is taken so much for granted
in the literature on leadership’.
 If employees view voice calls within their organisation as a sham then this
leads to frustration (Price et al., 2001 cited in Beugré, 2010).
 Exercising voice can involve employees placing their feelings of
psychological safety at risk (Tourish & Robson, 2006).
Research questions
 How important is it for employees to have a say
about what goes on?
 How does having a voice affect employee feelings
about their organisation?
 What are employee perceptions of the ways that
managers facilitate employee voice?
How important is it for employees to have a say about
what goes on?
“Employees feel that
managers should listen
to what they have to say
and this is a sign of a
progressive organisation”
How does having a voice affect employee feelings about
their organisation?
“Where responses
are made it led to
participants
feeling more
valued as
individuals”

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Smiling but not with his eyes: Authentic employee voice for inclusive organisations

  • 1. Smiling but not with his eyes: Authentic employee voice for inclusive organisations Dr Kevin Ruck
  • 2. Background: Qualitative research  University of Central Lancashire PhD completed in 2016  This paper is based on a qualitative research methodology that was used as part of the study  27 interviews and nine focus groups were conducted in five organisations in the UK  Template analysis
  • 3. Background: Theory The focus of the study is the changing nature of leadership communication required for effective employee voice as a core component of organisational inclusivity  Ashman and Lawler (2008, p. 253) argue that ‘leadership…when all is said and done, is communication’. However, they observe that ‘Taking account of the intimate connection between leadership and communication it is remarkable that the concept of communication is taken so much for granted in the literature on leadership’.  If employees view voice calls within their organisation as a sham then this leads to frustration (Price et al., 2001 cited in Beugré, 2010).  Exercising voice can involve employees placing their feelings of psychological safety at risk (Tourish & Robson, 2006).
  • 4. Research questions  How important is it for employees to have a say about what goes on?  How does having a voice affect employee feelings about their organisation?  What are employee perceptions of the ways that managers facilitate employee voice?
  • 5. How important is it for employees to have a say about what goes on? “Employees feel that managers should listen to what they have to say and this is a sign of a progressive organisation”
  • 6. How does having a voice affect employee feelings about their organisation? “Where responses are made it led to participants feeling more valued as individuals”
  • 7. What are employee perceptions of the ways that managers facilitate employee voice? “Participants said they sensed when there was a feeling that what was said was not going to go anywhere, described as ‘smiling but not with your eyes’”
  • 8. Research findings: summary Three primary themes emerged from template analysis of qualitative data:  Active listening: adopting an open mind to what is said by employees  Authentic responsiveness: being prepared to seriously consider what is said by employees  Safety to speak out: alleviating the fear of retribution
  • 9. Creating a relaxed space for conversation
  • 10. Theoretical implications  The results support a ‘discursive leadership’ approach (Carroll and Gillen, 1987, p.41) focused on unplanned, informal and brief conversations  The results of this study support the argument for a relational view of leadership where it is seen not as a behaviour, but as a phenomenon generated in the interactions among people acting in context (Fairhurst and Uhl-Bien, 2012, p. 1043)  Walker and Aritz (2014, p. 13) suggest that this approach to leadership means that communication becomes ‘the primary concern rather than a secondary or tertiary consideration’
  • 11. Practical implications: informal communication  Participants stated that that they prefer informal communication settings for employee voice where senior managers talk the language of employees rather than corporate jargon. These can be face to face or using Enterprise Social Network (ESN) platforms; it is the informality that participants stated creates trust and safety to speak out.
  • 12. Practical implications: small groups  Participants suggested that face to face communication events should be with small groups of employees, around fifteen to twenty people rather than in larger style ‘town hall’ events with eighty people. This is because employees feel intimidated in larger meetings.
  • 13. Practical implications: making authentic employee voice a primary concern  This study suggests that not only should managers develop specific communication capabilities required for employee voice such as authentic listening and responding, they should also consider communication to be a primary concern  This entails prioritising the allocation of time for systematic employee voice as part of a broader internal communication strategy