● New research reveals 86% of employees feel their organization doesn't listen fairly or equally to them.

● Leaders must examine whether all employees are being heard, especially younger generations, essential workers and caregivers.

● We reveal four ways to assist the transition back to work, particularly for those adopting a hybrid model.

As companies navigate the challenges of the return to work transition, one area that’s come into the spotlight is employee voice: how people communicate their ideas, views, and concerns to their employer and influence matters that affect them at work. New research from my company Workplace Intelligence and The Workforce Institute at UKG reveals a troublesome gap between the current state of employee voice and employer action, that if left unresolved, will disengage workers, fuel turnover, and hinder business performance.

Our survey found that the vast majority (86%) of employees feel people at their organization are not heard fairly or equally, and nearly half (47%) say that underrepresented voices remain undervalued by employers. Also workers aren’t feeling heard on the issues that matter most to them during the return to work transition, and remote staff are concerned that their voice won’t be heard within the new hybrid way of working.

The good news is that for most organizations, it’s not too late to build employee input into their workplace strategies. Policies can always be changed, new practices can be put in place, and greater support can be offered to workers. First, however, companies need to create an environment where people can freely express their opinions and have the mechanisms to do so but many aren’t doing so.

Check in with employees

At many organizations the return to work transition is already well underway, but not all strategies were created equally. In fact, fewer than one in three employees we surveyed said they were able to voice their opinions or ideas on post-COVID-19 workplace policies, work arrangements, and employee support (e.g. reducing burnout).

Companies that neglected to take staff feedback into account may struggle to retain talent at a time when workforce retention is key – job postings have now reached their highest level on record since 2000. Even at companies that were diligent about seeking out worker input, it’s critical to regularly check-in with employees about how the return to work transition is going, what’s working, what’s not working, and how their mental health is faring during this challenging time.

Promote fairness in a hybrid workplace

Amidst the widespread adoption of a hybrid approach, one concern that’s already emerged is whether remote workers will be treated the same as those who go into an office. Will they feel included and connected to their team? Will they be visible among their colleagues and superiors, and recognized for their efforts? And will their voices be equally heard?

Given these concerns, it’s no surprise that 65% of remote workers said they expect their employer to listen and act on employee feedback more often one year from now. With this in mind, companies need to put mechanisms in place to gather feedback from all team members. This might mean scheduling frequent check-ins with remote staff or using tools like pulse surveys; however, it will also require managers to prioritize remote workers’ input equally compared to their office counterparts.

Ability to retain talent, especially Gen Z

More than ever before, today’s workers expect their organizations to embrace feedback on the issues that matter most to them – and doing so may mean the difference between retaining a high performer and recruiting someone to fill their vacancy. In fact, nearly two-thirds (63%) of people we surveyed feel their voice has been ignored at work, and a third (34%) would rather quit or switch teams than voice their true concerns with management.

This devastating impact on retention may be even more significant among Gen Z: just 16% of these young workers said they can freely express their views and suggestions with their manager, compared to 67% of older staff members. There’s a clear opportunity for companies to better understand employee views – especially incoming generations – so that these up-and-comers are more engaged and more likely to stay with their employer.

Value essential workers and caregivers

Essential workers served an invaluable role in sustaining the economy during the pandemic, yet they remain one of the least heard groups: one in four don’t feel heard at work, and just one in three feel they can freely express their views and suggestions with their manager. Employees with caregiving responsibilities haven’t fared much better. Despite employers’ best efforts to support them, 69% of caregivers feel their voice has been ignored by their manager.

Employers have two options: they can either help carry the momentum forward for these underrepresented employee groups, or they can allow the voices of these workers to continue to go unheard. Forward-thinking companies know that supporting both of these populations – starting with ensuring their voices are heard – is not only the right thing to do, it’s also an important way to stand out in a crowded job market.

It’s not too late to prioritize employee voice

No matter where your business is in its return to work transition, it’s not too late to take a hard look at whether everyone at your company is being heard equally, and whether their feedback is leading to change. Odds are that there are ways your organization could improve how it listens to workers, and the benefits of doing so are clear. Leaders who commit to amplifying the voice of the employee in tomorrow’s workplace will not only protect and grow their bottom line, they’ll also equip themselves with a much deeper understanding of the unique needs and expectations of their workforce.