This blog is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

Last month, I shared my research on employee listening and its connection with engagement with the IPR Board of Trustees and ELEVATE members in the Greater Chicago area — a brief conversation after my talk involved the concept of organizational justice. Employee communication leaders were frustrated with the millennial and Generation Z obsession with fairness. One of the noticeable characteristics of the emerging labor force profiles is their strong commitment to and value of workplace fairness. There are four types of fairness in the workplace: distributiveprocedural, interactional, and informational fairness.

Distributive fairness mainly involves fairness in compensation according to roles and responsibilities. The other three types of fairness involve fairness in procedures, interactions, and the treatment of information which determines the outcomes of justice-related events.

While the distributive gap, particularly concerning the compensatory difference between managers and non-managers, is largely accepted as the neo-liberalistic reality, young generations of employees increasingly demand transparency and fairness in determining these unavoidable inequalities.

In 2021, the U.K. human resources think tank, The Workplace Institute, released its survey[1] of full-time and part-time employees across 11 countries, exploring what leads to employee disengagement, turnover, and business hindrances for organizations. The key findings of the study include:

— 86% of employees feel they are not heard fairly or equally, with more than half saying that under-represented voices remain undervalued by organizations.

— Two-thirds of employees feel their voice gets ignored in some way by their organization: A third of employees express a turnover intention rather than voicing their true concerns with management.

Many studies, including mine, report the connection between employee listening with engagement, employee communication with organizational justice and engagement, and engagement with organizational performance. Subsequently, many organizations have installed channels and policies to foster open communication with employees. Despite these efforts, many organizations struggle to listen and truly understand employee perspectives, while employee silence is pervasive across all types and sizes of organizations.

I strongly believe fairness stems from being valued and listened to. My former doctoral advisee, Dr. Moon at the University of Mississippi, and I conducted two studies primarily focusing on creating a diagnostic tool that assesses organizational employee listening competency (OELC) with 21 items. While doing so, we contextualized the OELC by considering multi-level factors of employee silence. Our literature review revealed that organizational justice perception was one of the key factors attributing to employee silence. My previous study also supported this finding that explored the critical link between organizational justice perception and employee engagement.

My cross-national OELC studies (U.S. and South Korea) both support the validity of the OELC diagnostics (The full OELC measure is published in Dr. Katie R. Place’s book on organizational listening) that are characterized by five dimensions:

— Transparent Communication Manner (TCM) represents the extent to which the organization communicates with employees in a straightforward, easy, and timely manner.

— Accessibility to Voice (AV) reflects the extent to which the organization provides employees with easy, safe, and sufficient access to voice their opinions, concerns, and suggestions.

— Explanation of Voice Procedure and Outcomes (EVPO) reflects the extent to which the organization provides precise and thorough explanations of organizational procedures for employees to voice their opinions and valid explanations for the outcomes of employee voice.

— The Legitimacy of Employee Voice and Perspective (LEVP) reflects how much the organization values employee voice and perspectives as worthy of consideration and legitimate for organizational success.

— Fair Procedure to Voice (FPV) reflects the extent to which fair and consistent applications of voice procedures exist in the organization for employees to voice their opinions, concerns, and suggestions for organizational decision-making.

These five OELC dimensions represent the importance of organizational listening structures and policies for safe, open, and fair transmission of employee voice. The results of the OELC studies suggest that employee silence can be alleviated by an organization’s genuine listening efforts to value different and undervalued voices; communicate with employees in straightforward and timely manners; provide employees with easy, safe, and sufficient access to voice out; offer clear and thorough explanations of organizational procedures; and establish consistent and fair applications of voice procedures.

 Recommendations for Practice

The OELC Diagnostic Scale can be useful as a tool to strategically plan, implement, and evaluate different aspects of organizational listening competency. Specifically, I suggest the following steps for assessing the OELC.

— Administer The OELC Diagnostic Scaleto diagnose the state of employee communication properly.

— Examine the multi-dimensional OELC assessment to pinpoint areas of improvement and areas of excellence for comprehensive and comparative analysis and benchmarking across various levels of communication units (team, division, company, and the entire organization).

— Engage in exploratory research (interviews, meetings, town hall meetings, employee consultation, reflecting) of the weak OELC areas (dimensions) to gain follow-up insights and feedback to obtain a contextual and detailed understanding of the reasons for the poor OELC assessment.

— Identify problems and brainstorm solutions with employees.

— Develop strategic plans to improve the weak OELC areas based on strategies and insights from benchmarking practices of units or departments with excellent OELC.

— Reassess the OELC with The OELC Diagnostic Scale as the evaluation tool to assess the success of the implemented plan.

The OELC is not an absolute, static, and objective assessment. Instead, organizations must be able to assess the current and accurate state of the OELC and invest for the OELC to be periodically evaluated to use the assessment results as the starting point for strategic planning, implementation, and modification for improving the OELC. Listening is not only about channels and policies. It is about doing the work of listening, committing to employee voices as essential for organizational success, and reflecting employee voices on strategic decision-making.

Recommended Readings and References

Cropanzano, R. (2001). Justice in the workplace. Vol. 2, From theory to practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kang, M., & Sung, M. (2017). How symmetrical employee communication leads to employee engagement and positive employee communication behaviors: The mediation of employee-organization relationships. Journal of Communication Management, 21(1), 82-102.

Kang, M. &Sung, M. (2019) To leave or not to leave: the effects of perceptions of organizational justice on employee turnover intention via employee-organization relationship and employee job engagement. Journal of Public Relations Research, 31 (5-6), 152-175, DOI: 10.1080/1062726X.2019.1680988

Kang, M., & Moon, B. (In Press). Developing organizational employee communication competency diagnostics: Breaking employee silence via organizational climate of listening for dialogic employee communication. In K. R. Place (Ed.) Organizational Listening: Building Theory and Practice for Strategic Communication (Chapter 4). Routledge.

Workplace Institute (2021, June 22). New research: The heard and the heard-nots.

Minjeong Kang, Ph.D. (Mass Communication, Syracuse University) is an associate professor at Indiana University. Dr Kang’s research has received national and international recognition, such as Emerald Publishing’s Literati Award of Excellence for Highly Commended, Gallup Korea’s Outstanding Research Award in 2020, and the 2009 Ketchum Excellence in Public Relations Research Award by Institute of Public Relations. Her recent work focuses on developing organizational listening diagnostics for participatory workplace communication and employee engagement.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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