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The role of social media for employee voice

The way that employees and employers communicate with each other seems to be changing - and the rise of social media appears to be part of the equation.

Whether this is for better or worse is the focus of a new Acas Employment Relations Comment, entitled Does social media strengthen or dilute employee voice?

The changing nature of employee voice

The report notes that 'employee voice' is itself has become a catch-all term, used to describe almost every kind of interaction between employee and employer - but even so, is something that has been 'strongly shaped' recently 'by a shift from a collective to an individualist era of employment relations'.

The trajectory of change has seen a greater emphasis placed on communicating individual opinions and fostering direct communication with the workforce, while moving away from worker representation, union consultation and negotiation.

For example, whole-workforce meetings were used in 80 per cent of workplaces in 2011, up from 75 per cent four years earlier, and team briefings were up too. The use of email communication has also mushroomed over the same period.

But use of committees for feedback has fallen, and where worker representation has broadly weathered the storm of the economic downturn as far as numbers are concerned, some 44 per cent of union representatives said that they never met with management.

Such figures led one commentator to say that much worker representation was 'little more than window dressing'.

Social media: threat or opportunity?

Social media seems to be ideally suited to a more open, individualistic form of employee voice, with communication no-longer a unidirectional monologue, but a multi-faceted conversation.

That's not to say that it will replace collective or union activity. While 'collaborative online communities' can form 'pop-up unions' to campaign on topical issues, traditional unions can put social media to their use too - organising activity via websites and text messaging, and expanding their reach.

In this way, social media is as much an opportunity as a threat to trade unions.

Social media also presents huge potential for employers, with the CIPD suggesting that 'by 2020, many organisations will be wholly reliant on their internal social network'.

Yet, many cling to 'old templates' such as tick-box surveys, which are easier to interpret, but 'constrain the conversation'.

Being brave

The challenge for employers will be 'to respond to employee expectations for a more participatory dialogue with their managers', who will 'have to accept that finding the right combination of voice channels' is now 'imperative'.

The report recommended that employers 'recognise the value that different channels can bring', and be 'a little braver' with use of social media - the 'real secret' of which 'is trust'.

Acas publications and services

Acas has detailed guidance on how best to manage and use Social media in the workplace, including information on developing a policy, performance management, recruitment, and bullying.

Practical Acas training courses designed to help improve employment relations, management skills, and boost employee engagement, can be found listed under Skills for supervisors and Staff retention.

Staff surveillance training will help you navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by social media, and its effective management both for good employment relations and legal compliance.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.


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