Social Media and Employee Voice: The Current Landscape

Social Media and Employee Voice report

Many people have been talking about the impact of social media on employee engagement and employee voice, but for time-constrained organizational leaders and human capital professionals who want to understand the connections, it’s virtually impossible to find those conversations, let alone read and make sense of them. A recent report by Silverman Research can help. Commissioned by the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), it synthesizes the relevant literature and discusses its implications. This article provides a summary and links to the full (free) report. (April 28, 2013)

Author: Laura Hillman


Many organisations, as part of their efforts to be an employer of choice and provide a better experience for their employees, are committed to enhancing employee engagement. A key aspect of this effort is the annual “employee engagement survey”. But in spite of their good intentions and sincere investments, employee engagement surveys often don’t provide the meaningful insights they claim to. What is advertised is an opportunity to speak up where all opinions are heard, but in reality what is conducted is a tick box exercise that is often tiresome for employees to complete. With the decline in response rates to engagement surveys, getting employees’ views seems more difficult than ever. This is contradictory to the ever increasing online presence people have where thoughts and feelings are shared willingly.

There is a mass of literature demonstrating the link between employee engagement and various organisational benefits. These include a more satisfied, trusting, cohesive and productive workforce. However, where there is an increased prominence of employee engagement, employee voice still remains in the shadows and in many organisations never gets beyond the annual employee survey. Apart from transitioning to the internet and some advances in analytical capabilities, the basic model of employee surveys has broadly stayed the same for the last 50 years. When we consider that social technologies are offering some pioneering ways of eliciting voice, it is a particularly pertinent time to review current thinking in this area and embrace social media platforms in order to encourage advancement and change.

In early 2013, Silverman Research were commissioned by The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) – the world’s largest HR professional body – to write a report reviewing the current literature on social media within the workplace and the impact it is having on employee voice. The idea behind the report was to create a summary of existing literature on the subject and to act as a guide for future research. Using a range of literature materials including journal articles, blogs, discussion forums and books, the most up to date thinking and practices were captured to cover existing ideas on employee voice, uses of social media within organisations, the benefits and barriers of social media and how social media should be embraced to allow for an authentic employee voice.

The report (available for free here) proposes the adoption of an approach that focuses on social media within the workplace, empowering employees to speak up. Companies are encouraged to mirror the use of social media in our everyday lives to cultivate an information sharing and communicative environment where people feel as though they can voice their opinions and really are listened to – something which has not been possible until now.

The report also argues that our conceptualisation of employee voice should not be static, but rather should evolve in line with technological and social developments. In recent years, as a result of the relentless advance of social media, employee voice too, is evolving rapidly. The greatest difference is the shifting patterns of communication, from being one-way or two-way to being multi-directional. This has developed from giving employees a say behind closed doors to enabling them to engage in an open forum. It is hard to ignore and as such, is voice with muscle.

Social technologies allowing new forms of collaboration also lend themselves to collective decision-making. This aggregation is crucial in the evolution of employee voice because it is a necessary condition under which the wisdom of crowds can be harnessed. The result is a new form of collective employee voice that is mobile, organised and intelligent.

To date, much of the conversation within organisations has been about the risks and threats (especially to employers) that may be associated with social media. However, the perils of an open approach to employee voice and the benefits of more traditional closed systems are often overrated. Moreover, there is little organisations can do to stem the rise of social media. This reiterates the point that organisations should be designing their future in employee voice.

We still don’t know which aspects of organisational culture will be most affected and what new advancements will arise to enable an enhanced employee voice. Despite these uncertainties, one thing is for sure; drastic changes are afoot to the way in which employee voice is expressed within organisations.

Laura HillmanLaura Hillman is a Research Manager at Silverman Research. She has an MSc in Organisational Psychology from Goldsmiths in London and specialises in the application of social technologies to employee research.

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