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Employee Voice

Employee voice enables workers to effectively communicate their views to management and be actively involved in decision making. Voice arrangements allow employees to express their ideas, raise concerns and help solve problems by influencing workplace decisions and choices. (Gollan, 2006:349; Pymen et al, 2006:543). The various forms of voice available today in the current industrial relations system include both direct and indirect mechanisms. Indirect mechanisms include unions, non union representative bodies, the media, lawyers and consultative committees (Bryson et al, 2006:445).

On the other hand, direct voice can be described as ‘the presence of any two-way communications practices’ (Bryson et al, 2006:445), and includes staff and team meetings, group discussions, training, attitude surveys, quality circles and suggestion schemes (CCH, nd; Pymen at al, 2006:549). Today, direct forms of voice are generally favoured amongst employers, as it is claimed that they allow management to better respond to employee interests and concerns, because there is no intermediary, so eliciting more cooperation and commitment from employees (Bryson et al, 2006:443).

It has also been argued that ‘union-only voice reflects a narrow conceptualisation of the alternative regimes available to employees to advance their rights and interests at work’ (Pymen et al, 2006:544). In saying this, until recently, union voice was the most prominent voice mechanism (Bryson et al, 2006:440). Many people have scrutinised the use of direct forms of voice, believing they have little or no collective power and access to independent sources of advice and assistance, and therefore more susceptible to managerial influence and control (Pymen et al, 2006:544).

Overall, employees believe organisational objectives are most successfully achieved through the combination of indirect and direct channels of voice as they are the most efficient and legitimate, when used together (Pymen et al, 2006:556). Thus, it will be outlined throughout this essay that having various voice arrangements in place is not only socially and economically beneficial for the employer and their employees, but is important in maintaining a positive relationship between both parties and a more consolidated viewpoint. Furthermore this essay will address and evaluate issues in the current employment relations environment, and how hese impact on employee voice. It was noted by Luthans and Stajkovic (1999:49) that ‘while considerable deserved attention is being given to developing global strategies and information systems, the human side of enterprises still tends to be slighted or given a low priority’. This emphasises the important fact that employees are not always valued as the most important resource of a business, and their level of autonomy can be quite restricted, limiting their ability to contribute and be involved in the decision making process.

Employee involvement and voice is increasingly important in retaining employees as well as increasing staff morale and job satisfaction. This inturn leads to higher productivity and a more efficient and effective workplace (Bryson et al, 2006:443), not only to the benefit of the employees, but also the employer. The availability of voice mechanisms in the workplace can provide numerous benefits to employees. Voice enhances employees opportunities to negotiate with employees over working conditions, and gives them a greater opportunity to share their ideas and opinions, therefore enhancing their sense of autonomy and job satisfaction.

As proven by Cannel, whom insists that Voice ‘enables employees to represent their views to management, and for these views to be taken into account’ (Cannel, 2007). Voice mechanisms can also be used as a motivational tool. As voice plays an important role in negotiating issues such as salary and benefits, as well as acting as an important channel to articulate grievences, it can also encourage worker involvement and skill development. Employees of organisations that do not develop their staff, in ways such as providing them with certain channels of expression, have little motivation to stay (Woodruffe, 2006:3).

Voice gives employees the opportunity to generate a sense of purpose and self worth and therefore helps to maintain higher workplace morale. It was emphasised by Cannel (2007), that if employees knowledge and skills are developed and better utilised within an organisation, it can lead to ‘higher valued enterprises and an increasingly knowledge based economy’ – giving employees better opportunities and greater job security. There are a number of ideologies behind the use of voice mechanisms and how beneficial employee voice is to the employer in manegerial decision making.

Some methods of management, such as the Radical or even Pluralist approach, argue that employers have very different objectives and ideologies compared to that of their employees and corresponding union bodies. For example, in regards to profit maximisation, management believe that the decline in union power has lowered the pressure on wage levels, ‘leading to lower production costs and greater profit margins’ (Hammer, 2004:172). Another argument against the implementation of voice mechanisms is that of the inncurred costs compared to the percieved benefits and if implementation of voice mechanisms will be worthwhile.

While managemnt see such issues as costs and potential conflict of views as the main downsides to implementing voice mechanisms, they need to understand that without giving employees a voice, conflict is inevitable. It is more or less the area of interpersonal communication that causes the main problems experienced by organisations. ‘Many misunderstandings, disputes, accidents, errors, delays or other problems at the workplace are attributed to communication barriers and breakdowns’ (CCH, nd).

This inturn leads to conflict, resentment and blame shifting and overall a non efficient workplace, thus employee voice is essential to control such managerial problems. To remain competetive in the market, both parties need to acknowledge that there needs to be an equilibrium between revenue making and Human Resource Managment within the organisation, and communication, both structured and non structured plays an important role in doing this (Gollen, 2006:341). This can be achieved through ‘Two-way communication’ which generates an environment that fosters effective information sharing and collective and individual performance (CCH, nd).

For the employer, having particular voice arrangements in place can also contribute to the success of the business, as employees are more able and therefore more valuable to the organisation. (Woodruffe, 2006:3). Research on the European car industry, for instance, revealed that a combination of direct and indirect forms of voice was linked to better performance and a greater willingness among employees to participate and contribute to organisational decision making (Pymen, 2006:554).

Another study, on nursing home care quality found that ‘allowing workers to have a voice on the job increased problem reporting which may reduce the incidence of serious quality violations’ (Anonymous, 2007:5). The study concluded that this may have been because the employees were less afraid to speak up and state their concerns and therefore could ‘negotiate over key factors that improve care such as staffing levels, training, pay and benefits that help retain qualified caregivers’ (Anonymous, 2007:5).

This study proving that employee voice is largely associated with maintaining and enhancing quality control and safety. If these issues were not reported and dealt with, they could have led to serious violations and extremely costly outcomes. The study also emphasises the importance of voice mechanisms in retaining qualified employees in a labour short market. Retaining employees is increasingly important today, as it is not only harder to find skilled workers, but the costs in recruiting and retraining new employees can be quite substantial, if workers are dissatisfied and turnover rates high (Bryson, 2006:440).

Using direct and indirect forms of voice cooperatively can also aid in preventing disputes and resentment between management and their employees, as it helps to resolve situations without workers using disruptive methods, both covert and overt, in an effort to be heard (Gollan, 2006:349). High absenteeism, staff turnover, strikes and stop work meetings can all be linked to workplaces with poor or ineffective voice arrangements in place, which often result in more damage, socially and economically, than good.

There can also be major direct social benefits to management through the use of voice mechanisms, for example, managers can increase their competence levels and interpersonal skills by engaging with employees. This inturn can help them enhance their general social skills and leadership skills, handle conflict more professionally and increase their ability to motivate (CCH, nd). Ultimately giving management the opportunity to gain respect and trust, and inturn make it easier to retain and recruit good employees (Cannel, 2007). The effectiveness of employee voice mechanisms has become particularly pertinent since the 1996 election of a Liberal–National Party coalition government, which is committed to marginalising union influence and encouraging direct and non-union voice’ (Pymen et al, 2006:543). It is quite clear focus has shifted from union voice to more direct methods, with membership in Australian unions declining from 51% in 1976 to less than 30% today (Hammer, 2004:166).

In the current Industrial relations system the liberal government sees a lower need for union participation, due to the fact that the new system allows for more independent bargaining, through AWAs, and settling of disputes without union involvement. For many this has opened up new doors of voice in negotiation and employee participation, but has caused other workers to dispute the decision, particularly lower income earners who are not highly skilled or in heavy demand.

These workers are particularly reluctant to abandon union voice all together, as they see themselves having a ‘reduced capacity to initiate issues and articulate grievances’ and see unions as their ‘only source of genuine voice’ (Benson, 2000:543). In response to this, the liberal government has established the new fair pay commission, which has been set up to ensure a specific minimum wage is met and has introduced the workplace ombudsman to provide a safety net for employees in regards to wages and entitlements and protect workers with limited voice.

Employee voice is also becoming more important in the workplace as Australia’s unemployment rate is currently very low, and there is a greater need for implementation of voice mechanisms in order to attract and retain staff, and limit the potential effects of worker dissatisfaction(Hammer,2004:172). In contrast, another quite prominent issue today is that many industries have come under increasing pressure from other sources, such as globalisation, ideology and low economic growth, to remain competitive within the global market (Hammer, 2004:161-162).

Because of these forces, allowing employees to voice their concerns over entitlements such as pay rates and benefits can cause a greater conflict of interest. Overall, in regards to the current work situation, employee voice remains a prominent and important issue both socially and economically. Voice mechanisms are notably important for both workers and their employers in negotiation and decision making, and give both employer and employee the opportunity to reach a more consolidated viewpoint.

Voice assists with ‘building organisational commitment through legitimate and effective participative decision making and consultation procedures’ (Pymen et al, 2006:547), therefore enhancing organisational performance and job satisfaction.

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How to Find Your Essay Voice

Many students have trouble finding their “voice” while writing college application essays.

One of the biggest problems I see is that students want to sound smart and impressive, and they often lose their natural story-telling voice by forcing in big words and long, formal sentences.

Most students understand the narrative voice when they read it, but have a hard time capturing their own.

I always advise students to “write like they talk,” but this can be hard to do.

Here’s a technique I use to help them capture their natural language to use in their essays.

This is hard to do alone, but if you can rope someone else into helping you—a friend, teacher, college counselor, tutor, parent, etc.—it can be so helpful.

What I do is ask students questions about their essay or topic, or even more general brainstorming questions, and then when the student says something that sounds good, I write it down.

Sometimes, I will stop them in the middle of talking and read it back to them, so they can hear how natural, insightful or engaging their own words sounded.

When students say what they think or feel without overthinking a point, it usually comes out in a way that captures their personality.

When answering questions, they are more likely to use common language that reflects their individuality than those clunky SAT words that sound awkward and dull.

For example, I was helping my son brainstorm for a core essay he had to write for the Common App transfer essay requirement.

He was writing about his interest in engineering. I asked him how he would describe himself, especially as someone who would make a good engineer.

He told me things like, “I find that I’m good at getting my head around complex subjects” and that “When I’m excited about a project, I make a commitment to follow it through to the end.”

This type of language is perfect to use in these essays.

If you can get someone to ask you related questions, and even write down some of your answers for you, you could capture some helpful phrases or sentences to use in your essay.

The trick to the questions is to ask a broad question first, and then depending on the answer, try to follow up with a more specific question to dig down for even better quotes.

The questions vary depending on the topic you are writing about.

Here are some sample questions to brainstorm core essays that are trying to learn about you: (Note the way you follow up once a student gives an answer.)

What are your core or defining qualities? (Answers: Creative. Innovative. Visionary…) Why do you think you are creative/innovative/visionary? How are you X?

What types of X things have you done recently? Can you think of some examples of when you were X? How do you feel when you are X?

What are some of your interests or hobbies? (Answers: Fixing old trucks. Origami. Birdwatching. Indian dance. Doodling…) What inspired your interest in X? What do you learn from X? What qualities do you express with this interest or hobby?

What do you think you will study in college? (Answers: Nursing. Art. Chemistry…) Why do you like X? What qualities or skills do you have that would make you effective at X? How did you develop those? Why are they valuable?

What kind of thinker or learner are you? How do you handle problems or challenges? What qualities help you solve or face them? Where did those qualities come from? Why are they valuable?

Have they changed over time? Did anyone or any thing in particular inspire you to be this way?

Once you know the prompt or question, you can fashion questions that more directly address them, so your answers will be more helpful when you start writing your essay.

What you are trying to capture are your answers, but more importantly how you express your answers and your unique way to presenting them. It’s as much about what you say as how you say it in your own words.

This is what creates your individual voice. It’s not that tuxedo talk that uses big words and tries to sound smart. When I ask my students questions like these, and they give an interesting answer, I will stop them and say: “Hear what you just said?

Use those exact words in your essay!”

This approach is also very helpful when students are trying to craft an anecdote or relay a real-life moment to use in their essay.

You need someone to ask you about the event, and keep asking questions to fill in any gaps and flush out interesting details.

What happened? When did it occur? Where we you when it started? What did you do? How did you feel?

This is just one exercise on the brainstorming end of writing these essays. It has worked for me and many of my students. I hope it works for you.

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How to Bring Your Voice to Life in Personal Essays

I remember well the self-doubts of my early writing career, when I felt completely unsure that I could ever write anything that was worthy of notice or publication.

One particular evening a few decades back, firm in my memory even now, I turned toward my wife, Renita, and moaned, “Oh, I’m just so average. Your typical guy with the typical tedious problems. Who wants to hear my story?”

My wife closed the book she had been reading and asked, “What do you mean?”

I whined some more, about an author who had just landed a big book deal. Ethnic memoirs were all the rage at that point in time and this writer had been raised by parents who once lived in Japanese internment camps. Then I complained a bit about another writer: Her father had been a diplomat, so she grew up all over the world, and at one point even survived a dangerous escape during a foreign coup d’etat.

“Me?” I whimpered. “My life is just about identical to every other Catholic white kid raised in the 1960s.”

At this point, Renita, bless her generous heart, nodded, smiled and said, “Well, then you should write about that.”

And she was right.

I was undervaluing my own singular nature and experience: Each person, each life, is distinctive, even if you didn’t grow up in a family of acrobats or spend 10 years sleeping alongside lions on the African veld. It’s not what happens to us in our lives that makes us into writers; it’s what we make out of what happens to us. It’s our distinctive point of view.


The concept of persona is crucially important for writers of creative nonfiction to understand. Although the personal essay is a form of nonfiction, and thus the self you bring to your essay should be an honest representation of who you are, we are in fact made of many selves: our happy self, our sad self, our indignant self, our skeptical self, our optimistic self, our worried self, our demanding self, our rascally self and on and on and on. But in truth, if we attempt to bring all of these selves to every essay that we write, we run the risk of seeming so uncertain, so indecisive, that we merely confuse the reader.

Consistent and engaging personality on the page is often a case of choosing which “self” is speaking in a particular piece and dialing up the energy on that emotion or point of view. Henry David Thoreau likely had days when Walden Pond did not fill him with wonder and inspiration, but he knew enough to not share those tedious moments. They were beside the point. Or, to put it another way: Dithering is best left to first drafts, and then carefully edited away.

The goal is not to deceive the reader, to pretend to be someone that you are not, but rather to partially isolate a part of who you are, the you that you are today, as you meditate on a particular subject and sit down to write.

The slogan of the literary journal Creative Nonfiction is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” It’s effective, I believe, because of its double meaning. One meaning is that the truth is often stranger than fiction. The second meaning reminds the writer that in nonfiction, you are not just making stuff up.

So don’t fake it. Don’t act all pious on the page if you are not, in fact, a devout person. Don’t generate false outrage over something you don’t care that much about. Don’t be a hypocrite.

But you can highlight a particular trait, if it is in fact true to your nature, and shine a bright light upon it for a few pages, letting it take center stage.

Look at Robin Hemley’s introduction to his essay “No Pleasure But Meanness”:

I have a mean bone in my body. In fact, I think I have more than one mean bone. For instance, I hate people who smile all the time. It feels good to say that word, “hate,” doesn’t it? Would you like to try it? Say: “I hate people who ask rhetorical questions in essays that can’t possibly be answered.”

Hemley is being witty here, poking fun at himself and at his overuse of the rhetorical question. He is also signaling the reader that this essay will focus on that part of him that can be called “mean,” or critical.

I happen to know the author of this essay, and he is a very likable, extremely funny man. Yet he no doubt has his mean moments, times when the things that annoy him lead to testiness or sharp anger. We all have that side to us, I believe. Perhaps inspired by William Hazlitt’s “On the Pleasure of Hating,”

Hemley is taking a moment in his own essay to explore that aspect of himself, closely and specifically.

The essay continues with the author lodging numerous complaints against folks who smile too much in photographs, against the checkout clerk at Walmart, against his kindergarten teacher—and though Hemley continues to leaven his bread of anger with humor and occasional winks to the reader, he does reveal a part of who he is honestly, clearly and with interest.

Another good example is Joan Didion, who begins her essay “In the Islands” with these two sentences:

I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read me, precisely who I am and where I am and what is on my mind. I want you to understand exactly what you are getting: You are getting a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people.

Well, you simply can’t get much clearer, or more honest, than that.

That slight aspect of your personality (or fantasy life, or hidden world) that you think so odd, so peculiar, so weird, that you’ve kept it a secret your entire life, is most likely far more common than you think. We’re all made of similar stuff, we human beings. Even our most closely guarded insecurities are often commonly held, though most individuals keep these parts of themselves so hidden that there’s little chance to discover the commonality.

But writers are different. We do share. And along the way readers come to an understanding that we are all very much alike.

The French essayist Michel de Montaigne devotes much of his essay “Of Repentance” to this notion of universality.

Consider these sentences:

Others form man; I only report him: and represent a particular one, ill fashioned enough, and whom, if I had to model him anew, I should certainly make something else than what he is: but that’s past recalling. … If the world find fault that I speak too much of myself, I find fault that they do not so much as think of themselves. But is it reason, that being so particular in my way of living, I should pretend to recommend myself to the public knowledge?

Here, Montaigne is addressing a bit of anticipated criticism. In modern parlance, that criticism might go like this: “Just who the heck do you think you are, Mr. Montaigne, to write about yourself all of the time? Shouldn’t you confine your writings to the vaunted geniuses and holy persons of past ages, instead of focusing all of the time on your own unproven self?” He goes on to say (in his now quite-dated syntax):

I have this, at least, according to discipline, that never any man treated of a subject he better understood and knew, than I what I have undertaken, and that in this I am the most understanding man alive: secondly, that never any man penetrated farther into his matter, nor better and more distinctly sifted the parts and sequences of it, nor ever more exactly and fully arrived at the end he proposed to himself. … I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little the more, as I grow older; for, methinks, custom allows to age more liberty of prating, and more indiscretion of talking of a man’s self.

Montaigne is answering his critics by asserting (in my words now, not his): “Oh yeah, well let me tell you this much, buster. What I know best is my own self, and I know my own self really, really well, because I’m willing to study this subject and truly consider it in ways that others have not been willing to do. And if what I find is that I’m not so bloody perfect, well then I’ll tell you that. Because I’m too old to waste time and hide behind niceties. I’m looking for the truth.”

Montaigne, underneath all of the complex sentences and fancy language, is making a simple assertion. It’s his belief that if he captures a true portrait of himself, he’ll capture something universal, something recognizable to everyone.

Or, as he puts it elsewhere in the same essay: “… Every man carries the entire form of human condition.”


Memoirist Sue William Silverman often receives letters and e-mail from readers, and recently she shared a fascinating reaction to some of the responses to her first two books, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You and Love Sick.

Silverman’s memoirs are deeply personal and honest about events and behaviors in the author’s past, and many of the notes Silverman finds in her mailbox say, in so many words, “I feel as if I know you.” In response to this, Silverman writes:

Both memoirs frequently elicit this response … even though both books are very different. What does Karen know about me? Marie? Karen knows what it was like for me to grow up in an incestuous family. Marie knows what it was like for me to recover from a sexual addiction. To Karen, the real me is one thing; to Marie, the real me is something, someone different. Even so, does this mean that all I am—as a writer and as a woman—is an incest survivor/sex addict? Is that it?

Silverman, of course, is far more than just that. She is a successful author, a respected teacher, a public speaker, a private person who has had countless challenges and experiences. Everything she has put into her memoirs is true, yes, but then again, neither of her books captures the entire person that she has been and that she is today.

Sometimes she herself wonders who this “Sue William Silverman” on the page really is, Silverman tells us, and she has reached the conclusion that readers are wrong to think that they know her:

… They know something about me, of course—but only what I choose to show in any given book or essay. It’s as if, with each new piece I write, a different “me,” or a different aspect of myself, is highlighted.

To make her point, she talks about an essay she is currently drafting, part of her collection-in-progress, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew.

When writing about Pat Boone, for example, I had to show how, since my Jewish father had molested me, it made sense that I’d seek out an overtly Christian man as a father figure. But I touched upon this incestuous background as briefly as possible, while, at the same time, implementing a much more ironic voice than that of my memoir. In effect, I removed the dark gray mask I wore while writing the memoir, and, for the essay, slipped on one that had as many sparkles as the red-white-and-blue costume Pat Boone wears in his concerts.

Had Silverman the writer attempted to bring her whole identity—her family past, her sexual addiction—into everything she has ever written, she would likely keep writing the same book or same essay over and over, and no one grows as a writer by merely repeating past work. Silverman is smart enough to know that.

Make sure you remember this as well.

Turn your most important personal stories into compelling and meaningful reading experiences for others by considering:

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This post should be required reading for every writer. How many of us have sat here and thought, “Why the heck would anyone care what I have to say?” This is a really good reminder that everyone has a lot to say; they just have to learn to channel the meaningful.

This is really a great post. Many students are there who struggle preparing the essay. I am also one of them. I even used to try searing for someone who can write my essay cheap. The post is really informative!!

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