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The employee voice: does it whisper or shout?

Do you act differently at work compared to when you’re at home? We each have our ‘work selves’, but how far is yours from your usual personality and how could this affect your employee voice? 44’s Tom Ives looks into the power of the employee voice and how this could shape the IC landscape…

The employee voice in a company is about how workers communicate with their employers, and how they’re able to have an input into the decisions that affect their working lives.

But under that we each have our own individual voices and behaviours as employees – and mine is definitely different to how I am at home. Tom at work is professional, using Google Chat to ask colleagues questions. Tom at home posts silly pictures onto a family-only WhatsApp group, and Tom on holiday posts sunset pictures to Facebook (but not much else).

We all act differently in different areas of our lives, but the question is: by how much?

Our authentic selves

There’s been a lot of talk about why we change when we get to work, how we’re perceived and why we act differently. Some think we should be our authentic selves at work, because only then can we be our best selves. But if that’s true then we have a problem, as Deloitte found that less than half of us feel we’re completely ourselves at work.

It makes sense. As a salesperson, you have to be more direct than you would be outside of work, where it could be considered rude. You have to be unemotional, logical and objective. If you overly empathised with everyone else’s challenges you wouldn’t be delivering on your sales objectives.

According to the many personality tests I’ve taken over the years, I’m the kind of person who likes to keep parts of my life in different boxes and have clear lines of separation. So I’m one of the 50%+ who aren’t their ‘true’ selves at work.

For decades the internet has allowed us to have new online identities. Social psychologist Aleks Krotoski is an expert in this field and concludes that amazing things are possible when anonymity allows you to be someone different. You can try new things without being judged, let go of secrets and guilt, find communities that share your interests, and enjoy the fantasy of playing a role (like in a computer game).

Using your voice

Extreme double lives aside, the difference between a home and work persona is usually much softer – but whoever we are, we expect to be listened to.

Last week I attended an IoIC Insight Seminar where Cathy Brown, Executive Director of Engage for Success, said we’ve all become used to being asked for our opinion, to rate, review and feed back on every customer experience we have. We expect to be listened to and have action taken accordingly.

Digital natives that have grown up with this social/online world where they can make their voices heard are going to take this for granted when they enter the workplace. But how will this digital-savvy vocal generation use their employee voices to change the comms landscape?

Peer-to-peer/bottom-up social network sites like Facebook’s Workplace could appeal to the communication styles employees use in their spare time – depending on their preferred work/home separation. Platforms that are more like chat than email will naturally be all about the employee voice – on numbers alone, top-down company comms are going to be in the minority.

So who knows, the comms industry could be moving more towards the role of facilitator rather than message owner and creator, to accommodate this growing employee voice. How would that suit the IC professional that you prefer to be at work?

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