News and Events

Individual voice and organizational voice: are they different, and does it matter? 


At Nottingham Business School, I together with colleagues have for some years worked in partnership with the CIPD on the topic of Employee Voice. A first stage of the research involved a survey, administered through YouGov, which reached out to a cross-section of employees based in the UK (2374 individuals).  In the survey, we asked about employees’ perceptions of leadership, their levels of commitment to the organization, experiences of HR, individual differences, wellbeing, and burnout. 

Most importantly- indeed, central to our study- we sought to capture the extent to which people in our sample perceived that they had voice in the workplace. But here we faced a dilemma.  Although the CIPD strongly believes, as we do, that voice is important for its own sake, regardless of whether it leads to improvements in organizational functioning, most studies focus on voice as a tool for positive change. We wanted to understand not just whether people felt that their suggestions and ideas helped promote better functioning (important though this is) but also if employees felt able to express their opinions, concerns, and suggestions- and for these to have an effect. 

Accordingly, after searching the literature, we developed a new measure, which we labelled ‘Individual Voice’, asking employees about their essential humanity at work, probing areas such as whether ‘In my work unit, I can express my true feelings regarding my job’. We also captured in the measure whether employee believed that voice could make a difference on matters important to them.  

We also measured, using a pre-existing scale, whether employees experienced ‘Organisational Voice,’ that is if people felt able to offer ‘constructive challenge intended to improve rather than merely criticise’ (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998, p. 109).  

 Uniquely, based on these two measures, and using this nationally representative survey, we were able to explore several important questions. 

First, we wanted to understand whether the two voice constructs- individual and organisational voice- were indeed distinctive from one another- that is, whether the study does indeed tap into different ways in which people experience voice at work. 

Second, we sought to understand whether the enablers of individual voice would be different from those giving rise to organizational voice. 

Third, we wanted to understand what kind of effects the two voice forms might have on employee attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. Would individual voice, for example, make a difference to employees’ levels of burnout at work?  Would organisational voice be especially beneficial to promoting employee innovative behaviours? 

Finally, we needed to explore the reasons behind the apparent differentiation of the two forms.  If the constructs are unique and different, why might this be so?  What might explain any different patterns in terms of antecedents and outcomes? 

In detail 

We used the idea that human behaviour is regulated through two independent systems- the behavioural activation system and the behavioural inhibition system- to inform our interrogation of the data (Carver & White, 1994; Sherf et al., 2018). These systems operate separately from one another to guide goal choice and influence the degree of effort expended.  

Based on this theory, we argue that individual voice arises where people are (relatively) free of threat and anxiety.  Psychological safety- ‘peoples’ perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context such as a workplace (Edmondson & Lei, 2014) is likely to be especially important for individual voice because it creates an atmosphere when discussion can be opened to cover areas that stand out for the employee. 

On the other hand, for organizational voice to occur, people need to be clear that speaking up will lead to an improved situation- this behaviour is ‘activated’ towards a positive end result. One powerful activator is the line manager.  Where the line manager actively solicits voice, people are likely to respond with their suggestions for improvement (but less likely to talk about their individual concerns).  Line manager solicitation of voice- the efforts made to encourage people to speak up, make suggestions and effect change- is likely to be a key predictor of organisational voice. 

There are consequences too arising from the two voice forms for employee attitudes and behaviours.  How people feel about work, their levels of commitment to the organization, and the extent to which they embrace creativity and innovation in their daily tasks- are all linked with the form of voice they experience.  Our work has only just started to explore the antecedents and effects of the two voice forms. 

Please see the following links for more details: 

CIPD’s Guide to group voice channels 

CIPD’s guide to individual voice channels 

CIPD’s practical advice for employers and HR practitioners  

Employee voice helping organisations manage employee relations in new and emerging workspaces. 


Summary and next steps 

For too long, we have assumed that only one voice form- that focused on improving the organization- is the only one that matters.  This research uncovers that there is a neglected voice form – individual voice- which highlights that people have distinct and unique personalities, that they value being listened to, and like to believe that what they say has the potential to effect change, even if this is not directly related to improving practice for the organisation. 

Right back to when we first presented our results at an Engage for Success event held at NBS, well before the pandemic struck, HR and Engagement practitioners have wanted to explore the implications of the insights arising from this research for practice.   

In subsequent discussion with people specialists, including our recent presentation to the Scottish Employment Relations Network, it’s clear that those working in the HR space have wanted to know how they might reflect the notion of individual voice, as well as organisational voice in their policies and practice.  One key factor is supporting line managers as they reward, encourage, develop and assess those who report to them.   

We look forward to sharing further details from our Voice project as they emerge. 

Please get in touch if you are interested in participating in this project and/or if you would like to share good practice from your organisation.  

Professor Helen Shipton: [email protected] 

Dr Nadia Kougiannou: [email protected] 



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.

Early Career Researcher Event

In July 2019 the British Academy of Management and Cranfield School of Management hosted an event focusing on supporting early and middle career researchers in: Alternative Career Options; Resilience and Success in Publishing and Getting Known in Your Field. The event was highly interactive and delegates were encouraged to bring questions to share with the plenary to gain insight from individuals who have excelled in their career.

The different speakers who bestowed their wisdom were:

Session 1: Alternative Career Options – Prof Katie Bailey, Prof Nicholas O’Regan and Prof Sue Vinnicombe

Session 2: Resilience and Publication Success – Prof Pawan Budhwar, Prof Mat Hughes and Prof Helen Shipton

Session 3: How to get known in your field (Prof Emma Parry, Prof Karin Sanders, Prof Mark Saunders)

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.

Research World Café

The research centre recently held a school-wide forum using the World Café format to bring together the different and diverse research ideas and interests of the staff members. The aim of the forum was to determine where researchers whose research didn’t quite match the centre’s main groups could fit in and perhaps establish a new research group, so that that centre would be better able to provide assistance where possible. An additional aim was to raise awareness about the type of research that is going on in the school so that individuals with similar research interests would have opportunities to collaborate.


Some of the main research themes which were topics of discussion included employee engagement and employee voice, HRM and innovation, diversity and inclusion and gender in management, information business employment practices, HRD and leadership development, and good work, decent work, and meaningful work. Researchers whose main interests did not fall into these themes grouped together to discuss how their expertise might be used, such as experimental methods and a taking a more interdisciplinary approach to research collaboration. Overall, we felt that the forum was a success and enabled the centre to establish what other researchers in the school would find most useful in terms of support, including research and funding opportunities, career development, writing and publishing, as well as sharing expertise in methodologies.


HR Forum

On the 13th of March, 2018, the Centre hosted an HR Forum inviting practitioners from various organisations to attend and discuss the outcomes of the first phase of the CIPD funded research on employee voice. Instead of merely disseminating our findings in front of a PowerPoint, it was decided that we would use a World Café methodology. This method is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue and facilitates active participation from everyone involved. To get everyone in a state of mind which was focused on employee voice, we developed a simple diagnostic tool using some of the concepts we tested for in the main regional survey, such as promotive voice, human voice, and silence. Attendees were asked to compare their own scores against the person sitting next to them, and discuss the context which they believe might have been the cause of their scores, such as seniority, tenure, and sector.

Next, the World Café began in earnest and attendees moved around the venue to talk about specific aspects of voice and underlying questions. Some of these included ‘My voice – how can i increase the likelihood that my voice influences change at work?’ and ‘Promotive voice – how can leaders prevent the burn-out associated with promotive voice?’. Overall, we felt – based on both our experience and attendee feedback – that the format worked well. Practitioners expressed strong interest in keeping in contact with further updates, and some organisations initiated talks about being part of further research on voice.

Contextualising Good Work after the Taylor Review

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices has become a cornerstone for a renewed focus on job quality within the UK. Even if, for some odd reason, you have been actively seeking to lower your job quality in the past couple of years, you will have been hard pressed to avoid hearing about the report after it was published in 2017. Now that the review has ended, and the Government have provided their response, Matthew Taylor has urged that the good work agenda needs to move up a gear in order to bring about the cascade of positive changes for society that are possible by increasing job quality. What needs to happen next? Where does it need to happen? How can you play a part?

Firstly, if you did miss the Taylor Review because you love that ‘I could be fired any moment now’ feeling, it might nevertheless help to have a quick overview. Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA) and his team presented 53 recommendations to the Government covering key areas of job quality including atypical forms of work contract such as involuntary freelancing and self-employment, the ‘gig’ economy, and the impact of ‘disruptive’ business models and technologies.

Job quality indicators and measurement tools are already discussed through the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, the RSA/Carnegie UK, as well as a wide range of academic scholars and institutions. The CIPD published their own report in 2018 which sought to bring together the lessons from across these tools, culminating in six key indicators; pay and other rewards, intrinsic characteristics of work, terms of employment, health and safety, work-life balance, and representation and voice.

Prior to the Taylor Review on Modern Working Practices, job quality was confined to its position below job quantity where getting people back to work was the main goal post-2008. The UK now basks in the highest employment rate since records began in 1971, with 32.5 million adults aged 16-64 in work as of the end of 2018 (ONS, 2018). Yet, the post-recession slump in productivity (17% lower than if it followed the pre-recession trend) is a concern, coupled with a slowing in real wage growth from early 2017, as well as a regional imbalance in unemployment rates (5.5% in the North East compared with 3.2% in the South East).

Nottingham and the East Midlands are no exception to this imbalance, if anything these areas represent a particularly acute case. Nottingham Civic Exchange (NCE) has shown in its latest publication that in 2017, Nottingham experienced its highest level of economic inactivity (people who are neither in paid work nor actively looking for employment) in more than a decade, surpassing even the levels experienced during the recession.  Moreover, although Nottingham has the highest levels of wealth production per head in the East Midlands (and the 4th highest amongst England’s 8 large ‘Core Cities’, despite Nottingham having the smallest population), it has the lowest household income compared to anywhere else in the UK and experienced a significant fall in employment between 2015 and 2017 that has not been experienced by other cities of comparable size.

In Nottingham, we have seen 136,000 economically active residents (employed plus unemployed) in 2007 and 136,800 in 2017.  This small increase fell well below the rate of population growth, resulting in an overall fall in Nottingham’s rate of economic activity from 67.7% in 2007 to 62.4% in 2017, which increased the gap with the UK rate from 8.7 percentage points in 2007 to 15.8 percentage points in 2017 (the largest gap in the decade).

The Nottingham Civic Exchange in cooperation with Nottingham Business School (NBS) and the University of Birmingham are focussing on addressing some of these issues by, first, understanding what good work means for the people of Nottingham, and the East Midlands more generally. Building this picture can help to move forward with concrete approaches to tackling some of these issues on a city-wide scale. As good work permeates different levels of society, creating a good work model for a city needs to tackle these issues from various angles. This includes at the individual and community level; NCE are conversing with individuals and community groups (particularly Nottingham Citizens Work and Wages Campaign) about their experiences in low job quality environments. Importantly, NCE are connecting these low job quality experiences with the struggles that this can cause in daily life such as the inflexibility of work places to allow parents to leave for appointments with their child, or how low job security impacts upon levels of anxiety. At the organisational level, NCE and NBS (particularly the Centre for People, Work, and Organisational Practice, CPWOP) are working on a program of research focussing on how companies can adopt procedures and create environments which stimulate high quality work.

As mentioned before, the Taylor review was useful to spread the word about making job quality equal with job quantity on a society wide scale. Yet, it’s harder to think about how at a personal level, you can make any changes to the quality of your job or the jobs of your colleagues. Whilst many of the changes required are structural, and it’s important not to place blame on the individual in many cases. Putting job quality on the agenda in your workplace can help to keep the momentum of this nationwide conversation. Make it explicit, bring it up at the lunch table when your colleague is talking to you about stress, take part in workshops and discussions run with the Nottingham Civic Exchange…this one is a bit forward sorry. Forthcoming sessions include ‘Designing work that makes us healthy and happy’ on the 8th May as well as ‘Making bad work good’ on the 8th July. Nottingham Civic Exchange are very keen to hear from practitioners themselves as part of these discussions so please feel free to come along.

We have a real opportunity here to further develop a positive attitude towards job quality in Nottingham and the East Midlands which the rest of the country can learn from and adapt in their own ways. We can do this by pushing for and supporting structural change, developing research and practice informed procedures within our own organisations, and have renewed conversations about the role of work in our lives as individuals and communities. No other region in the UK has such a dedicated programme of research and conversation on good work. The Taylor review is complete, so let’s get to (good) work.

This article was based upon work from a recently published report by the Nottingham Civic Exchange on laying the foundations of a good work city. More information can be found at You can join the conversation using #GoodWorkNotts or by attending our upcoming events in May and July.

Gathering perspectives on Good Work – A Q methodological approach

Work can occupy most of our waking hours, it can provide us with money, it can give us a sense of purpose, and it can show that you are a willing and contributing member of society. Not only that, but the quality of your work can of course have a substantial impact on your health and well-being. This job quality approach as opposed to job quantity is starting to become more prevalent in the UK economy and across the globe.

In the UK, there has been a jobs boom over the past few years, with record high employment figures. By and large this is positive news, especially since this boom has brought some of the most disadvantaged groups into the labour market. A third of the working-age population with the lowest qualifications account for almost half of this rapid increase in employment. People with disabilities often fall disproportionately into this low qualification category. However, this boom has also been categorised by increasingly precarious jobs which can be flexibilised, low-paid, insecure, and often the relationship between worker and employer is redefined to the detriment of workers’ rights.

Here at the Centre for People, Work and Organisational Practice (CPWOP), we are involved in researching how these forms of work operate with a view to providing good job quality for employees, or not as the case may be. My PhD research involved gathering perspectives about job quality from those that were most disadvantaged in the labour market including people with psychological health issues, learning difficulties, long-term health issues, physical disabilities, and early school-leavers. Whilst people with disadvantages are no different with regards to the elements of work that make their job ‘good’, they may prioritise these elements in a different way to people not facing the same challenges.

Thinking about what you prioritise with regards to good work is difficult. If I provided you with a list of things that might make your job better and asked you to rank them individually from 1 to 10, this might provide a useful overview of what you consider important. The disadvantage of this approach is that it isolates each item. The approach I adopted, Q methodology, allows for the ranking of factors according to one another in a way which can be analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Whilst I cannot do justice to the methodology in this blog post, at least introducing it to you as a possibility for your own research as well as a potential indicator of what research the CPWOP might carry out in the future is, I think, valuable and hopefully interesting.

Q Methodology Grid

The picture above is of a Q methodology grid, with statements about good work. A participant is asked to sort these statements according to the question at the top of the picture. The shape of the grid forces them to make decisions on statements in relation to other statements. They might value work that is meaningful over work that is fun. This leads to questions around what the difference is between meaningful and fun in a work context, maybe it has to do with small amounts of beneficial stress? Then the statement on stress comes into play as well.

Almost everything about this grid is flexible in that you can have many more statements, you could use pictures, sound clips, objects, you can choose your grid shape to an extent, you can run it with focus groups, and with young children. It’s even possible to sort the statements yourself, then sort them again according to how you think someone else would sort them, like your boss for example. You can do this longitudinally, or to provide a snapshot. You can do it online, over the phone, in the post, or in person.

The analysis relies on the sorted statements but also the qualitative interview which is performed after the sorting. This interview allows for clarification on decisions made on deciding about priority of one card over another. It is this combination of the sorting and the interview which allows a unique insight into the subjective viewpoint of an individual on a certain topic. These viewpoints can then be compared to uncover shared viewpoints, as well as areas of disagreement. That’s why this methodology has already been used in a wide range of topics from river banks to children’s toys, the meaning of love to the organisation of local renewables, and everything in between.

Being able to use this research with such a wide range of people, across different contexts and in various formats makes this methodology a very flexible, innovative yet rigorous methodology. My own research has helped to provide a voice to those who may have been harder to reach with more traditional data collection methods and with a growing number of people with disabilities entering a market that is becoming increasingly more precarious, I think it’s important those voices are heard. Hopefully this short introduction to good work and the possibilities of Q methodology are useful in your own future research ideas.

A more in-depth introduction to Q methodology can be found in this video.

Launch of Engage for Success East Midlands Regional Group

Engage for Success and Nottingham Business School are pleased to announce the launch of the Engage for Success Employee Engagement East Midlands Regional Group.

Date: 27th November 2018

Venue: Nottingham Conference Centre

The aim of the day is to provide a space for academics and organisations to learn and inspire each other to improve employee engagement levels in the East Midlands.

  • Keynote: David MacLeod and Faran Johnson
  • Guest speakers from organisations in the region

Find out more and book here.


  East Midlands Employee Engagement Group

Good Work and Engaging Employees: From Evidence to Practice

What does good work look like? What are the barriers to producing good work? Insight from the East Midlands.

Key Note Speaker: Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive, Royal Society of Arts)

Tuesday, 18th September 2018, 9.30am – 4pm.

Nottingham Conference Centre.

Book here

Drawing on leading researchers from NTU’s Centre of People, Work, and Organisational Practice and beyond, we present concrete examples of how universities and researchers, in synchrony with policy bodies and organisations, address the ‘good work’ challenge. In light of this discussion, we offer you the opportunity to reflect on what ‘good’ work looks like in your own context.

The workshop will be of interest to policy makers, practitioners and researchers interested in promoting good quality work in the areas of work, employment and Human Resource Management.

It promises to be an exciting, informative and unique event.

What you will gain:

  1. Insight into the latest thinking on the nature of good work within Nottingham and beyond, and the steps taken by policy bodies and others to address the job quality gap
  2. Informed understanding of the determinants and outcomes of good work and engaged employees, with reference to cutting-edge practice across sectors within the Nottingham area.
  3. Discussion and benchmarking about the good work challenge across sectors
  4. Networking and future planning on ‘Good Work and Engaging Employees