CPWOP News blog 31.07.2020 – Focus on Employee Voice

The UK government recently announced that those who could not work from home were being actively encouraged to return to work. Since then 1000’s of employees have begun that process of returning, with many potentially uncertain about what they might find. The majority of these will be front-line and operational workers who are not able to work from home because they work in factories, construction sites or warehouses amongst other places, the likelihood is that their office-based colleagues will still be able to work from home.

In our research, conducted in partnership with the CIPD on Employee Voice, we found that even before COVID-19 the divides between office and front-line workers were already considerable. We uncovered that the ‘command and control’ structures of many operational roles has led to a “culture of verbal abuse and management structures” which did not allow for employees to raise concerns without fear of reprisals. Being reprimanded could include being shouted at or being provided with a worse task. Frontline staff were also more like to face demanding key performance indicators (KPI’s) throughout their working day. Consideration of these command and control structures during the current crisis may be required because of the potential for increased pressure on individuals to meet KPI’s while also adhering to new policies on social distancing and the wearing of PPE. However, the crisis may also provide an opportunity for pressure in some areas of productivity to be relaxed due to reduced demand and the provision of limited service.

Office-based staff, on the other hand, were more likely to feel confident to speak out and had access to communication channels such as computer systems, which also support access to timely advice and information. Additionally, office-based staff were often managed in ways ‘more likely to elicit voice’. COVID-19 and the phased return to work has the potential to exacerbate these divides, as operational staff are now more likely to be exposed to some of the risks of COVID-19.

These divides are both physical in terms of access to a working area that is ‘safe’ according to social distancing guidelines, but also linked to wider societal divides. Many of these frontline staff returning to work are in lower paid positions compared to their office-based counterparts. In addition to this, the BBC website currently has a ‘how exposed is your job?’ calculator, highlighting the point that not all jobs carry equal risk.

Our research has also revealed that there may be certain industries and organisational cultures that have employee voice that could have important ramifications during the current crisis. One such industry is construction where it is often the case that a ‘masculine’ culture prevails. This type of culture is one that may inhibit the effective wearing of PPE, and the restriction of voice because of a desire not to stand out or be the one that ‘tells’ on a colleague for not wearing their PPE or observing the distancing rules.

In combating these divides, it is vital to ensure that effective internal communication procedures and employee voice protocols are in place which can then help to build trust among employees, minimise or negate any brand reputation damage, and help to manage productivity levels. This also provides an opportunity to let employees speak on behalf of the organisation in counteracting reports which can damage brand reputation. In this sense, good employee voice can allow employees to become spokespeople for the organisation, building upon a feeling of teamwork amongst coming through the crisis together. This communication is vital as work situations become more heavily imbued with senses of fear, confusion, or reluctance. Work life becomes ever more intertwined with considerations of family life and looking after relatives that could be put risk by your return to work. The link between worries at home, work, and for society are highlighted by the recent publication of correspondence from some NHS Trusts, instructing staff not to talk about the shortages of PPE, with guidance on what they should and should not post about on their personal social media with regards to the crisis for fear of damaging the reputation of the Trust, the NHS, or inciting panic in society.

Returning to work in the current situation requires open and honest conversations between management and employees. Achieving a ‘new normal’ requires collaboration with voices from both sides.

Employee Voice – Phase 2

The second phase of the centre’s research into employee voice, in partnership with the CIPD, is currently underway. This phase of the research builds on the national survey, conducted in conjunction with YouGov and the CIPD on Employee Voice, which focused on two types of voice, promotive voice (for the purposes of the organization) and human voice (for individuals to express their true feelings). The second phase takes these findings empirical work will investigate the practices and experiences of employee voice within six (or more) case study organizations. This will enable in-depth insights to be generated, examining the organizational practices and experiences of line-managers and employees in how voice works in practice.

This approach helps to fill current gaps in knowledge:

First, the managerial and work-based practices that elicit voice are not clear. In particular, we lack knowledge about what leadership forms foster voice and the way in which formal structures guiding employees’ interactions, such as meetings, might help precipitate voice.

Second, insight is called for regarding why individuals remain silent despite having something to communicate (rather than articulating the reasons for not speaking up). What role do leaders and other contextual influences play in circumventing the tendency of dissatisfied employees to remain silent?

Third what are the innovative practices that organizations are adopting to seek to elicit employee voice, for both promotive and human voice? How do employees experience such practices and what can other organizations learn from such attempts?

The centre will be presenting some initial findings at the Applied Research Conference (CIPD) in January next year.

Hidden Inequalities in the Workplace: A Guide to the Current Challenges, Issues and Business Solutions

Edited by Valerie Caven and Stefanos Nachmias, this book offers a comprehensive understanding and awareness of managerial and organisational practices that perpetuate social exclusion and discrimination towards individuals in the workplace

The book presents a critical framework for assessing whether organisational practice and function reinforces unseen potential differences amongst individuals in the workplace. It offers a comprehensive understanding and awareness of managerial and organisational practices that perpetuate social exclusion and discrimination towards individuals in the workplace. The book draws together themes of non-declared medical or physical conditions, voluntary and involuntary disclosure of difference, dietary requirements, lifestyle, organisational engagement and cognitive bias. As a result, the book provides a unique blend of scholarly and professional research, and brings those who have been affected by social stigmas and discrimination in the workplace to the fore. Hidden Inequalities in the Workplace also offers practical and strategic insights for practitioners, students and policy-makers, and delves the strategic nature of policy intervention and thought-provoking dialogue.

Exploring the role of line managers in the implementation of employee engagement

The aim of the research is to explore engagement in practice, specifically, the role of line managers in the implementation of employee engagement.

Principal Investigator: Dr Sarah Pass

Research Team: Derek Watling, Dr Nadia Kougiannou, Dr Maranda Ridgway, Dr Valerie Caven, Catherine Abe

In 2016, Engage for Success established the Line Manager Thought and Action Group (TAG) to explore the role of line managers in driving and sustaining employee engagement. Engage for success is a not-for-profit, voluntary movement, raising awareness and understanding of engagement in the workplace.  A key focus of the group is to undertake case study research to better understand the crucial role of line managers. The aim of the research is to explore engagement in practice, specifically, the role of line managers in the implementation of employee engagement. In collaboration with several public and private sector organisations, this research will study the relationship between line managers, HR, senior managers, trade unions, and its impact on employee engagement. The team recently submitted a bid for the BA Leverhulme Small Grants to further develop this research.

Visit http://engageforsuccess.org/ to find out more about Engage for Success.

Human Resource Management, Innovation and Performance

New book by centre leader Professor Helen Shipton

Centre Leader Helen Shipton is proud to announce that her latest book: Human Resource Management, Innovation and Performance has had over 5900 chapter downloads.

Human Resource Management, Innovation and Performance investigates the relationship between HRM, innovation and performance. Taking a multi-level perspective the book reflects critically on contentious themes such as high performance work systems, organizational design options, cross-boundary working, leadership styles and learning at work.

The book is available from SpringerLink and is a part of the Business and Management Collection.

Knowledge Brief

Professor Helen Shipton shares her research on innovating from the bottom-up

In July Professor Helen Shipton was invited by Knowledge Brief to share her research on innovating from the bottom-up – and looked at whether we should treat ‘non-creatives’ differently from designated creative staff.

The full interview is available here: https://www.knowledgebrief.com/blog/release-the-creative-potential-of-all-your-people-in-seven-steps.

Human resource management, creativity and innovation: job requirements and levels of analysis

A conceptual paper by Helen Shipton, Veronica Lin, Paul Sparrow and Pawan Budwar

QUEENS BELFAST, Wed 23rd November, 2016

Helen Shipton

Veronica Lin

Paul Sparrow

Pawan Budhwar

The innovation literature is dominated by research on scientific and technological innovation and commercialisation and this is reflected in policy debates, priorities and interventions. There is, however, an increasing understanding that focusing on this alone, while important, is insufficient. Organisational effectiveness and performance may depend as on the ability of an organisation to explore and engage the creative and innovative capacity of all employees, including those who do not have a specific remit to contribute to deliver innovation.   In this conceptual paper (which is a working document), using creativity job requirement and level of analysis as two dimensions, we consider the HRM practices/ configurations that promote expected and unexpected innovation at both individual and collective levels.  HR architecture research suggests that organizations may utilize a variety of HR configurations to manage different employee groups (Lepak & Snell, 1999; 2002). We work towards a typology that distinguishes between the creative and innovative orientation of employees, also reflecting levels of analysis.   Taking a holistic yet differentiated approach towards managing different employees group would allow an organization to allocate its resources efficiently and enhance its innovation output.

Helen Shipton has been Professor of HRM at Nottingham Business School (NBS) since 2013 and before that was a senior academic at Aston Business School (ABS), Birmingham (2003- 2013).   Helen is the Director of the NBS Centre of People, Innovation and Performance and having had responsibility for leading vocationally-oriented academic programmes such as the DBA at NBS and the CIPD accredited MSc in HRM at ABS has written and consulted widely on developing organizational cultures to foster employee creativity, learning and performance.  Helen’s research interests centre on HRM, workplace learning and innovation and she has recently co-edited a book entitled Human Resource Management, Innovation and Performance which is unique in adopting a multi-level perspective, with a particular focus on building skills and capacity from the bottom up. Helen has published in many top-tier journals including Human Resource Management; Human Resource Management Journal; British Journal of Management; International Journal of Management Reviews and Journal of Organizational Behaviour.  Helen has been invited to speak at venues including the Scottish Centre for Employment Research, Strathclyde Business School (June 2016) and Knowledge-Brief, London (July 2016).  Helen is a member of the British Academy of Management Council and UK ambassador for the Academy of Management (US).


Power point Presentation here: queens-nov-2016


Developing talent through apprenticeships

Centre Director Professor Helen Shipton discusses how HR departments can utilise the recent changes to apprenticeship schemes to develop their employees

The changing economy means that apprenticeships are undergoing reform and development. How can HR departments use this growth to develop their employee talent? Read the below article by Centre Director Professor Helen Shipton to find out more:


An Examination of Organisational Trustworthiness and Stakeholder-Organisation Relations in Challenging Contexts – Dr Konstantina Kougiannou and Dr Matthew Wallis

This project investigates organisational trustworthiness and stakeholder relations



This project investigates organisational trustworthiness and stakeholder relations; an investigation of opinions of stakeholders concerning operational decisions made by firms in challenging contexts. With a focus on the firm trustworthiness (Mayer et al., 1995), we can make a contribution by bringing together the stakeholder literature with the literature on trust (Greenwood and Van Buren, 2010).

For firms, engaging in community stakeholder relations offers an opportunity to gain ‘social license to operate’ (Deephouse and Suchman, 2008, Dowling and Pfeffer, 1975) and manage social risk. Another way of conceptualising these issues of legitimacy is through whether organisations possess the trust of relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, it is in the interests of firms operating in close range to communities to understand what impact the perceptions of such stakeholders, with regard to organisational trust, can have on the achievement or otherwise of organisational goals. We focus therefore on the community stakeholder with regard to organisational trustworthiness, specifically the firm’s ability, integrity and benevolence (Mayer et al., 1995). This research brings together the stakeholder literature with the literature on trust, and makes a contribution by empirically exploring the dependent stakeholder of the local community. How organisational trustworthiness unfolds in the organization-stakeholder relationship, and ‘how stakeholders, especially dependent stakeholders, might assess organisational trustworthiness’ (Green and Van Buren, 2010: 436) are under-researched. This paper attempts to shed light upon how decisions perceived as ethically questionable, and which potentially breach trust, change the dynamic of dependent stakeholder to organization relationship. The implications of this change for the firm and the stakeholder-organization relationship are also explored.

Most definitions of trust entail a three-stage process (McEvily et al., 2003): trust as a belief, where one party assesses the other party’s trustworthiness (Lewicki et al., 1998); trust as a decision, where one party, based on its previous beliefs, has ‘the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another’ (Rousseau et al., 1998:395); and trust as an action, where, according to Mayer et al. (1995) the parties engage in risk-taking activities after having evaluated their target’s trustworthiness. They propose that the level of perceived trustworthiness depends on the existence of three factors (i.e. ability, benevolence, and integrity) and emphasize that a lack of any of them would weaken trust.

When examining the trust relationship between the organisation and its stakeholders, such trustworthy behaviour would mean that the company has to demonstrate competency in its operations (ability)(A), awareness and active acknowledgment of the other party’s concerns (benevolence)(B), and adherence to corporate social responsibility principles acceptable by the stakeholder (integrity)(I). According to stakeholder literature, this can threaten the long-term sustainability of firms: the aim of the project is to investigate this assumption.

The literature linking trust and stakeholder-organisation relations is scarce. Greenwood and Van Buren (2010) was one of the few that added trust and trustworthiness to the study of organization-stakeholder relations. In their theoretical paper, they argue that trust is the only option for dependent stakeholders when interacting with an organisation. This project would empirically explore how the stakeholder-relationship unfolds when beneficial, favourable or at least not detrimental behaviour ends, and when a breach of trust is perceived by a stakeholder constituent.