The Evolution of Employee Voice: Celebrating the 110th Anniversary of the CIPD! – Source of the Month (June 2023)

‘By giving voice to the hundred and one thoughts it made it possible for each individual who played a part in the particular business to broaden his outlook and connect up his own activity with that of his fellow-workmen and to create an interest in him beyond the confines of his own particular task which he performed day by day, year by year’

This view appears in a copy of Welfare Work, the magazine of the Welfare Workers’ Institute, the predecessor of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). It featured in May 1923, a full century years ago, yet it expresses a vision that resonates with its present-day campaigns.

A cartoon of the delegates at the Institute of Labour Management’s annual conference. Taken from Labour Management, Jan 1938, p. i.

‘Employee voice’ is thought of as a recent concept. In the 1980s, the concept began to take shape, shifting the focus from collective bargaining and trade union membership to giving individual employees the ability to express their views within an organization. Yet it was difficult for the concept to fully take off in the context of industrial conflict. It was from the mid-1990s that the importance of employee voice became emphasised more.

Today’s campaigns emphasise how, when employees feel like they have a voice in the organization, they will feel greater loyalty to their company. With the millennial generation, there has been a growing expectation that all information should be shared transparently within organizations. Employees today desire a voice and seek opportunities to express their views, opinions, concerns, and suggestions. This aligns with the CIPD’s current definition of employee voice as the ability of employees to influence decisions at work through the expression of their thoughts.

The term “employee voice” gained prominence in the 1990s, but its underlying concept has its roots from the origin of the CIPD in 1913. A century ago today, a conference of employers was held in York by Seebohm Rowntree, from which the Welfare Workers’ Association was formed. After 110 years of reimagining its role, this organization has evolved into the CIPD we know today.

While there has been much change, the opening quote’s reference to ‘voice’ shows continuity too. This quote, from a 1923 issue of Welfare Work, appeared in an article that explored the role of company magazines in creating a healthy workplace atmosphere. It was written by A.S. Cole, a founder member who was president three times. In this article, Cole argues that there were three types of article in company magazines:

‘One small group would consist of those magazines written with the idea of imparting an uplift to the employees. There was no need for me to emphasise the fact that one ounce of such propaganda would destroy the good of a magazine for a long time. A second would consist of those written up by outside journalists or including amongst its pages articles written up by people outside the immediate precincts of the business issuing the magazine. This type also was one which did not appeal to welfare workers for the reason that the suppliers of the literature had no interest in the concern other than that a regular supply of articles meant their bread and butter.

‘This brought us to the third and last type, that which was written by the employees for the employees actually within the four walls of the business. This kind, and this alone, is in my opinion the only works magazine which can be regarded as justifying its existence.’

Taken from Welfare Work, May 1923, p. 85.

The article makes the case that a healthy workplace atmosphere and the ability of employees to express themselves through a magazine go hand-in-hand. This was at the very heart of the purpose of the CIPD’s predecessor. The fact that the institution was initially called the Welfare Workers’ Association reflects how welfare was its central purpose. Internal communication was seen as a part of the welfare of the employee.

An interesting comment of the article is that creating a magazine is not a panacea for a negative workplace atmosphere. It states that a magazine ‘would not create the correct atmosphere; the correct spirit created and maintained the magazine’. It makes the case that fostering the correct atmosphere and spirit within an organization is what allows such forms of voice for employees to flourish. The same principle is true when implementing modern communication channels, which are by no means guaranteed to begin a dialogue between employees and employers.

Over the last 110 years, the CIPD has gone through many changes. It has gone through ten different names, some being small tweaks, others reflecting more significant shifts in outlook and philosophy. In 1931, it took on the new identity of the Institute of Labour Management. Welfare work was losing ground to the philosophy of ‘labour management’, which placed more emphasis on the optimisation of worker efficiency and maximising productivity. In 1946, following the end of the Second World War, it took on the title of the Institute of Personnel Management. The term ‘personnel management’ had gained widespread popularity, capturing the essence of overseeing employee efficiency.

By 1994, the world of work had evolved and the organization adapted in response to this. It became the Institute of Personnel and Development, reflecting the human resources philosophy that saw employees as more than cogs in an industrial machine but active participants in shaping organizations. Finally, in the new millennium, the CIPD reached a milestone as it attained chartered status in 2000.

In its 110 years, the CIPD has gone through many changes, so it is fascinating to read an article from a century ago that aligns so closely with modern-day campaigns. In an era with radically different channels of communication, it was still referring to giving employees a ‘voice’. The author saw the magazine as reflecting the true spirit of the organization, going hand-in-hand with a positive workplace environment where employees felt like part of a community. This concept was at the very core of the CIPD’s predecessor, with its focus on employee welfare and the belief that internal communication was a vital part of it.

References:

CIPD, Employee Voice 24 March, 2020

Evans, Alastair, ‘Labour Management vs Welfare Work: An Investigation into the Origins and Development of Personnel Management Ideas and Practices in Britain from 1890-1939’, unpublished PhD thesis (University of West London, 2003)

Jha, N., R.K.G. Potnuru, P. Sareen, and S. Shaju, ‘Employee Voice, Engagement and Organizational Effectiveness: A mediated model’, European Journal of Training and Development, 2019 (43), pp. 699-718.

Rees, C., A. Alfes, and Gatenby, ‘Employee Voice and Engagement: Connections and consequences’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2013 (24), pp. 2780-98.

Ruck, Kevin, and Heather Yaxley, ‘Tracking the Rise and Rise of Internal Communication from the 1980s’, The Proceedings of the International History of Public Relations Conference (2013).

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