Why the new labour policy won’t help the employee voice

Jenni Field

This week the Labour party announced plans to bring the employee voice into the Boardroom. Under Labour’s plans, all companies with a workforce of 250 or more, whether public or private, would be required by law to reserve at least one third of places at the boardroom table for employee representatives.

While the theory is spot on, this policy won’t solve the problem – here are my five reasons why:

1. Sitting at the table doesn’t mean your voice will be heard
For years, communicators have been asking for a seat at the table and my argument has always been this: earn your seat by adding value and influence those that are sitting there so you don’t have to. Board meetings need to have the employee voice in them but through the leaders who are running it. Having an employee rep in the room won’t mean they will be listened to – it’s just a plaster over the problem but the problem will still exist.

2. Everyone at the table is an employee
We forget that leaders are also employees. They need to facilitate the conversation and engage with their teams to ensure voices are heard across the organisation. Yes they are running the company, but they are also employed and making the stand that employee representatives should sit on the board suggests that they aren’t. We ask a lot of leaders and line managers and use them as the conduit inside organisations but they are employees as well.

3. It’s a confidential environment and those at the Board level should be qualified/chartered
I’m not sure that an employee representative at Board level needs to hear all the conversations. Now this will raise an eyebrow because you will say that all the conversations should be transparent etc. but HR/Marketing/Communications will be in there – and I’d hope those individuals are qualified/chartered etc. and therefore bound by codes of conducts for their respective professions. The conversations at this level could include a potential sale of the business, a merger etc. some of these conversations are highly confidential and there is a possibility that shifting the dynamic of the team/boardroom will hinder real discussions taking place.

4. Invest in your internal communications team

How many of these organisations have a dedicated internal communications team? I bet it is a few. If these organisations recognise the power that internal communications can bring to an organisation; hiring professionals equipped with the skills to coach leaders on ethics, strategy and leadership then it would help us move things forward. This team should be the glue for the organisation and the mechanism to help ideas, conversations and suggestions flow through teams. They should be the ones ensuring the employee voice is in the boardroom and helping influence decisions and plans across all teams.

5, Invest in the leadership and line managers
All the research into internal communications will point to the need to invest in line manager and leaders. We promote people because they are excellent at what they do, we don’t know whether they can coach, manage, advise people in their team. This is a skill that in most organisations is ignored and then leaders and line managers aren’t equipped to have difficult conversations, honest and open discussions about the company strategy etc. We don’t expect a manager to be able to mange a budget and forecast for the year without training so why do we think they can manage people and communicate effectively without it?

The idea behind this policy is solid. The culture in some workplaces is poor and unethical decisions are sometimes made to benefit those at the top. Putting an employee from the frontline into that environment won’t help us. Investing in educating leaders and line managers into the importance of ethical and strategic communication will. Helping them build trust with their teams by listening to them and sharing their voice up through the hierarchy will. Helping them understand how people work with a knowledge of neuroscience will and giving people the opportunities to talk and be listened to will.

It is time to change but let’s work with the professionals in this field to make that happen.

One response to “Why the new labour policy won’t help the employee voice”

  1. Great points Jenni, especially one and two, some of which I’ve already said similar things about. I disagree with your point three as the whole point of employees is on the board is so they are part of discussions and decisions about potential sales of the business, mergers etc. There is absolutely no reason why ’employees’ are any less likely to be trustworthy or breach confidentiality than any other directors, who you’ve already pointed out are also employees. Only some directors will have professional qualifications and what’s more important is that all directors are given the appropriate training and support so they know their legal and ethical responsibilities and rights. If it does hinder “real discussions” then the problem at the company isn’t having ’employees’ on the board, but a seriously damaged culture.

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