Worker voice tools can help minimize organizational risk by giving workers a confidential process for alerting leadership to their concerns. A study by the Fair Wear Foundation and Care International found that when clear complaint procedures were in place, female factory workers reported significantly lower levels of abuse, 25% compared with 58.7%.
Worker voice tools can also have a significant impact on employee engagement and turnover. In a trial conducted at a large garment factory in India, researchers found that enabling worker voice reduced employee turnover by 20%. Gallup researchers found that engaged workers not only outperform unengaged workers, but also experience decreased turnover, absenteeism, safety incidents, and quality defects.
Leading brands, in an effort to promote worker safety and wellbeing, are helping their supply chain factories recognize the value of worker voice tools. For example, Nike requires its strategic suppliers every year to conduct employee wellbeing surveys. While Nike develops the survey and has it administered by Labor Solutions, factory management has ownership of the survey format, as well as determines when to conduct the survey. After the survey, rather than telling factories what changes to make, Nike requires them to conduct focus groups to develop action plans based on the feedback received.
At adidas, they use a different, but equally effective, approach to empower its suppliers. Factories that work with adidas are required to implement WOVO, Labor Solutions’ two-way communication platform that allows workers to anonymously voice concerns to management. While adidas provides oversight and may offer suggestions, the factories are responsible for monitoring and responding to the feedback they receive.
While Nike and adidas are implementing worker voice tools differently, both are using a positive, collaborative approach, rather than a solely punitive one, to encourage adoption. As a result, factories are more likely to buy-in to the process.
Having employees buy-in to the worker voice program is also important for the program’s success. Employees must trust they will not be penalized for offering feedback and believe that their feedback can make a difference.
When a worker voice program is experiencing success, you can see the following cycle in place:
Workers offer feedback
Managers implement productive change based on feedback
Trust in process grows
Return to step one
Based on Labor Solutions’ experience, here are some more important steps for building an effective worker voice program:
Have a plan in place. Determine what worker voice tools will be used to collect employee feedback. Who will be responsible for responding to feedback?
Set clear expectations on how the worker voice program should be implemented and highlight the value suppliers will receive for their participation.
Make sure worker voice tools are accessible to workers. For example if a compliance line is one of your tools, it’s important workers have private access to a telephone.
Ensure that the feedback tools are truly anonymous for workers. If workers feel they could be identified or penalized for giving feedback, they will not utilize the tools.
Clearly communicate why the worker voice tool is being put in place, how it can be accessed and what will be done with the information collected. Just knowing that a worker feedback tool is available can have a positive impact on worker wellbeing.
Always follow up with workers in a quick, respectful and effective manner. Even if the decision is to not make a change based on the feedback, let the employee know the input was valuable.
Be willing to take the necessary steps to make changes when needed. Only then, when productive change is made, can the organization benefit from the feedback.
An effective worker voice program depends on having the right tools and the right processes in place. For more information about developing an effective worker voice program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.