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Which Is More Powerful: Employee Voice or Corporate Politics?

If you've been in the corporate world long enough, you've probably experienced and lived through office politics. You might have been a survivor, a victim, or an enabler, and in some cases, you might have been all of the above. There is no workplace without politics; the degree, however, varies from one organization to another and is dependent on many factors--one of which is organizational culture. In highly political organizations, where personal agendas, insecurities, and power games dominate day-to-day interactions and influence how people behave, it is very likely that the employee voice fades in the background; suppressed instead of being heard. While corporate politics might become the enemy within, the employee voice could become the power within. Yet, many organizations seem to underestimate the power of their employee voice and the valuable intelligence withheld as a result of their office politics.

The power of employee voice lays in driving innovation, bringing in new perspectives, solving complex problems, and improving productivity, decision-making, and performance. After all, who knows customers best, who sees red flags and problems before they happen, who recognizes possibilities and opportunities for improvement and change better than employees? Organizations with a toxic political landscape create an environment that is extremely difficult for employees to speak up and voice their thoughts, opinions, ideas, and concerns. Consequently, they disengage themselves from leveraging on the power and valuable intelligence of their employee voice to innovate, grow, and create value.

Today, most organizations invest extensively in developing new channels of communications, feedback mechanisms, and engagement platforms to connect with their employees and bring their voice to the forefront. And while these investments might seem to make sense, they won't necessarily serve the purpose if employee voice is suppressed by office politics. The only voice that might be expressed through these investments (if employees choose to speak-up) is the voice of frustration, unhappiness, resentment, and anger.

For organizations to create value from their employee voice, I suggest they take a step back and honestly attempt to answer this question: "Which is more powerful: employee voice or corporate politics?"

If the latter is more powerful, then they need to invest in more than just channels of communications and engagement platforms.

To create value from employee voice, organizations should:

1. Recognize the value that their employee voice can bring.

2. Acknowledge the impact of office politics on employee voice, their commitment, and happiness.

3. Make deliberate attempts to protect employees from getting burned by the flames of corporate politics--and this could only happen when the culture of manipulation, fear, bureaucracy, and reprimand is replaced by a culture of respect, honesty, transparency, and empowerment (most of the time this is easier said than done).

4. Encourage collaboration and co-creation with employees.

5. Involve employees in making important organizational decisions and resolving complex problems.

6. Actively listen to employees and consciously manage the risk of unconscious bias.

Ignoring the value that the employee voice may bring to the organization, and blocking or restricting any attempts for employees to speak up, may trigger negative emotions that chip away at their motivation, engagement, creativity, productivity, and performance. On the other hand, protecting employee voice and encouraging freedom of speech allows organizations to establish competitive advantage and create value. It also allows HR to understand more about the needs of employees and therefore design the processes and policies that are better oriented towards employees' needs and motivations.

Heba Makram, Ph.D., is HR Transformation Lead at Emirates Airlines. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:COUNTEPOINT
Author:Makram, Heba
Publication:People & Strategy
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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