Skip to main content
Commsy creative stuff straight to your inbox


Why employee voice matters

< Blog home

Why employee voice matters

Here we share why employees need a voice and our top five tips on how to give them one…

If you watched the recent TV show Chernobyl, you will have undoubtedly been fascinated by the depiction of what went on in the control room on the night of the disaster.

Rules were broken left, right and centre by the most senior person in the room and the employees around him struggled to speak up and challenge his authority. It echoes the premise of the book Black Box Thinking which talks about cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that the more firmly we hold beliefs, the harder it is to let them go when contradictory evidence is presented to us. Having to admit we were wrong doesn’t come naturally, we’d rather insist we were right. And this is particularly a problem for people in senior roles or positions of trust.

And this of course has implications for employee voice. While Chernobyl is an extreme example, it does demonstrate the importance of everyone having a voice, a safe space in which to share it, and for it to be listened to.

It’s also worth saying that for employee voice to be effective, it needs to be informed. In his research, Dr Kevin Ruck has found that

“there is limited value in giving employees a voice unless they are well informed in the first place”

Let’s apply this to the Chernobyl example. One of the many reasons the employees didn’t challenge more confidently is because they couldn’t understand why their manager was insistent on pushing ahead, so therefore couldn’t address the root cause.

Obviously, in this example there were some dodgy dealings at play, so employees would never have been party to that information, but the scene demonstrates the point of how difficult it is to challenge when you don’t understand the bigger picture of what’s going on.

And while it’s not possible for employees to know everything that goes on in a business, it is important that overall they understand the strategy and direction of the business and why decisions are made so that they’re in a position to engage with the organisation in a meaningful way.

So, how do we facilitate employee voice inside our organisations? Here are our top five tips…


For employee voice to be effective, it needs to be listened to. It sounds obvious but so often ideas, opinions and feedback are shared and then disappear into the ether.

Encourage leaders and managers to really listen with an open mind and be willing to take on board what’s being said rather than treating it as a tick box exercise.

But that does mean being vulnerable and realising that it’s OK to not know everything and to change your views based on new information or a different perspective. That’s one of the things that went wrong in the Chernobyl control room, the team leader’s inability to admit he’d lost control and didn’t know what to do.

And don’t forget to communicate changes that have been made as a result of employees’ suggestions. It may seem obvious to you that an initiative was started following an employee’s idea, but it may not be obvious to others. It’s important to share examples of the business listening for other employees to trust that their voice will be heard too.


Trust is a key component in employee voice. There needs to be a culture that supports and welcomes employee voice and where employees feel safe to speak up. A culture where trust is waning or non-existent is not the sole job for internal communications to fix, but it needs to be recognised as being detrimental on your efforts to engage employees.

When workers at the nuclear power station tried to speak up, they were quickly shut down. Their colleagues who witnessed it were then unlikely to raise their voices.

A lack of trust can manifest in other ways too, such as whether leaders and managers respond to employees in a transparent way. There will always be some things you can’t say, and it’s ok to say that. If you fudge an answer filled with half-truths, employees will know. Once broken, trust is very hard to get back.


When employee voice is missing, it’s often because there isn’t clarity on where to share it and how to respond to it.

Provide a clear framework for how to facilitate employee voice. Help people understand where and how they share it and how leaders listen and respond.

This doesn’t need to be a rigid set of rules that restricts authentic conversation, but simply guidance that helps people understand that they can share their voice on Workplace for example, and leaders know to be visible and active on that platform. Or that it’s done via regular face to face opportunities or line managers.

Line managers

The latest Gatehouse State of the Sector research found that line management is still a major barrier to effective internal communication. This is despite it having been identified alongside employee voice as an enabler to employee engagement back in 2009 as part of Engage for Success.

Line managers can be an important way for employees to have a voice inside the organisation, but they’re often unsupported by not having the right skills and resources to help them communicate and might not know where to share the feedback or questions they’ve received.

Provide communication skills training for line managers that includes how to listen, where they can keep informed themselves and how to respond to employees.


When leaders or line managers respond to employees, they can often adopt a very corporate tone of voice (verbally or in writing) and start throwing in jargon and complex explanations. Employees won’t engage if they can’t easily understand what’s being shared and if they feel the person sharing it isn’t being genuine and is hiding behind complicated language. This quickly erodes trust.

Encourage leaders to imagine explaining a work situation to their friend in the pub and think about the type of language they’d use. It’s unlikely they’ll mention paradigm shifts or boiling oceans.

We need to focus on having conversations rather than cascading information up and down our organisations, and conversations work best when they’re natural, relaxed and jargon free.


While it’s unlikely most of us will deal with the extreme type of toxic culture demonstrated in Chernobyl, it was a stark reminder of why employee voice is so powerful and important. As internal communicators, we have a clear role in enabling and facilitating it and advocating its place inside our organisations.


By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
Alive logo