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Voice is a term that has been more widely used in the practitioner and academic literature on Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations in recent years (Breadwell 1998, Sako1998, Benson2000: Roche, 2000).
"Employee voice refers to the participation of employees in influencing corporate decision making. Employees are given a voice through informal means to minimise, improve communication and encourage staff retention through motivation and fair treatment" (By Stone, 2005).
As defined by Boxall and Purcell (2003):" Employee voice is the term increasingly used to cover a whole variety of process and structures which enable, and sometimes empower employees, directly and indirectly, to contribute to decision making in the firm".
According to Hirschman's classic study (1970) of African railways, he said that voice is an option for customers in a context of how organisations respond to decline, since then the term as been used in different applications. But Freeman and Medoff (1984) argued that it would be better for both the employer and employee to have a voice mechanism.
Employee voice is said to be a two way communication between the employer and the employee. It is a process in which the employers communicate to their employees as well as receiving or listening to communication from the employee. Employee voice mainly focuses on how employees can be part of decision making in the firm, which can be done through trade unions or by any other means of support. Employee voice is one of the most important characteristics of employee participation.
Employee Voice can be reached out by different forms of medium, but the main forms of means sated by (Millword et al.(2000)) are via trade union membership, recognition and representation, via indirect or representative participation mechanisms such as joint consultation and via direct employee involvement in the management .Freeman and Medoff( 1984) believed that trade unions were one the best means of approach for the employees to put there point across to the management as they remained independent of the employer which added a degree of voice legitimacy.
Purpose of Employee Voice
Michael Armstrong (2006) four main purpose of Employee voice are:
First voice talks about Individual Dissatisfaction, in this situation the main aim is to solve a problem or an issue with the management, like finding expression in a grievance procedure or speak up programme. The second voice talks about expression of collective organisation where voice provides a countervailing source of power to management, which is either done with the help of unionisation and collective bargaining. This can be related to Freeman and Medoff theory. The third voice is about contribution in management decision making, the main purpose is concerned with decision making which is generally regarding work organisation, quality and productivity. This view is evident in high involvement. Forth voice is all about mutual understanding between the employees and the employer. Basically it is a form of mutuality, with partnership seen as delivering viability for the organisation and its employees.
Types of Employee voice
There are various forms of Employee voice. Lewin and Mitchell (1992) distinguished voice between mandated voice (e.g. co-determination and legislation) and voluntary voice (e.g. collective bargaining and grievance procedures).
The framework for employee voice has been modelled by Marchinglon et al (2000)
EMPLOYEE INVOLVEMENT PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT
DIRECT INVOLVEMENT INDIRECT INVOLVEMENT
GRIEVENCE PROCEDURE TRADITIONAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
Voices can be divided into two different parts:
Individual- which is purely based on employees.
Collective- which is based on unions or any forms of groups.
Shared and Contested Agenda- which covers four ideal types which are upward problem solving, grievance process, partnerships and collective bargaining. Organizations can see one of these dimensions, whereas organization can have more than two dimensions at the same time. This frame work of voice is more on the broader perspective and systematic.
Mechanisms of Employee Voice
Employee voice mechanisms can be divided into two categories:
Upward Problem Solving- refers to an technique in which managers use to tap into employees ideas and opinions, either through two way communication or through any specific systems set up for the employees to express their voice, it is structured such that it can be operated directly between managers and employees rather than any employee representatives. Techniques included in upward problem solving are:
-Electronic media= sharing and seeking of ideas via electronic means such as email.
-Two-way communication= sharing and seeking ideas face to face between managers and staff to whom they report, e.g. By having one on ones or by regular meetings.
-suggestion schemes=where each of the employees put their ideas and suggestion to the management, who then make sure the relevant ideas are implemented.
-Attitude Survey= is basically sending out questionnaires or conducting survey to check on the level of satisfaction with a particular aspect of work or organization.
-Project Teams= group of employees brought together to discuss quality of work in the organization or any issues regarding the organization.
b) Representative Participation= refers to a scheme in which the employee representatives meet up with the managers on a regular basis. The main characteristic of that there is no direct involvement of the employees and their managers. Techniques used in Representative Participation are Partnership schemes, European work council, Joint consultation, and Collective Representation and Employee forum. All of these mechanisms are formal, but informal mechanisms can be very effective form of voice at small organizations.
Union and Non-union forms of employee voice and it impact on organisational performance as a whole
Lot of research and study has been conducted and different theories have been collected regarding union and non-union representation of employees. Freeman and Medoff (1984) said that unions are the key mechanisms for improving workers' productivity, reducing economic inequality and stabilizing the work force. Whereas according to the Human Resource Management (HRM) there has been an increase attention on collective decision making, information sharing and employee participation (Benson, 2000).
Unionised Employee Voice
According to Boxall and Purcell (2003) in industrial relations, the main reasons for employee voice representation are collective bargaining and consultation. Freeman ( !976) defined unions as the institutions of collective voice in the labour market, Freeman further stated that collective forums for employee voice is more effective as its strengthens up the worker communities and provides a direct contact between the employees and management; but Addison and Belfield's( 2004) argued that this union structure would create an communication gab between the workers and management because they have to deal with issues through an third party. Freeman and Medoff (1984) also stated that unions play an important role in minimising the turnover rate as they provide their employees with voice mechanisms through which they rectify work related problems and also negotiate higher compensation package. Freeman and Medoff (1984) arguments was supported by Batt, Colvin and Keefe(2002) who also believed that employees have to be given an higher compensation than what they would earn in an non-union set up and also unions strengthens employees, by providing them voice which would help them in reducing the grievance and pay inequality. Unions not only help in strengthening the employees, but they also help employers in minimizing turnover ratio, reducing hiring and training for new employees. Pettinger (1999) states that many organisations prefer to have a unionised set-up rather than unstructured approach for employee voice recognition, as it consumes less time and energy. Freeman and Medoff further added that unions can stop the organisation from engaging themselves into an opportunistic behaviour, which could cause damage for the workers. Basically unions help the organization to take proper care of their workers concerns so they would be motivated and committed in fulfilling their job responsibilities.
Unfortunately unions have an negative impact on the organisations as well. Many researchers and employers state that, one thing which hurts the business and employers badly is stoppage of work by conducting strikes for fulfilments of their demands. A recent incident can be considered as an example, which is about Royal Mail (UK).Where Communication Workers Union (CWU) went on series of strikes from July to october,2007 which was regarding increase in pay, which not only caused damage to Royal Mail but also other business. This Example gives rise to the argument that unions tend to be selfish and not consider the needs or repercussions which is going to be caused, which could affect the long-term future of the organization. Most of researchers believe that unions help in increasing workers efficiency and productivity, but Addison and Hirsch (1989)denies this statement because according there average effect of unions on employee's productivity and efficiency is quite less, as they are located in industries with low growth rate, they further believed that unionised set-ups experience lower profit margin; but this statement cannot be supported with any sort of evidence, as most of the Asian organisation such as Sony, Tata Motor (India) and others, have a very well established union structure and still making huge amount of profit, probability a lot more than other organizations, so the efficiency and effectiveness of unions also depends on environment of business.