Towards the end of 2018, the Government published a more detailed response to the Matthew Taylor Good Work Review. The “Good Work Plan” was described by the government as the “largest upgrade in a generation to workplace rights”.

The Government agreed with most of the Taylor Review’s recommendation that the UK employee voice should be improved with a stated aim of to help achieve fair and decent work. It was recognised that the existing Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations provided a framework to encourage long-term information and consultation arrangements between employees and their staff by providing a mechanism for staff views to be considered in major workforce changes.

In an attempt to make this framework more accessible, the Good Work Plan states that the threshold needed for a request to set up Information and Consultation arrangements will be lowered from 10% to 2% of employees. The 15 employee minimum threshold for initiation of proceedings will remain in place.

Whether this change will significantly increase the number of requests or not is difficult to predict as it will depend on the level of publicity it receives and whether those already in the know, the Trade Unions for example, decide to use the legislation more strategically than they have done so far. Regardless of this, the change provides an ideal opportunity to examine what employee voice really means and why so many information and consultation forums have failed to represent it effectively.

If we go back to the original intentions behind the legislation, it is interesting to note that it was designed to give all employees a voice. The word “all” is highly significant – and given the fact that the vast majority of ICE forums concentrate on the complaints and areas of disengagement, it is clear that the word “all” has been largely forgotten. Many terms of reference even limit the representatives to the job of “raising the concerns of their constituents” and so the concentration on these negatives has resulted in the voice of the disengaged to be disproportionately louder than those who are fine with their jobs and how their organisation is run.

Of course it is important that staff concerns are heard but it is equally important that they are put into perspective. ICE Forums are in the perfect position to do this – they are not challenged with meeting the expectations of paying members in the way that trade union representatives are. So, they should be able to represent the diverse views of staff – the 30% who might be disengaged; the 30% who are highly motivated and content at work plus the 40% in the middle who are ticking along fine. The key to building a successful ICE Forum rests on the representatives regularly reporting on the changes to that temperature check - if they are just bringing complaints to senior managers it is difficult for trust to develop - especially when the line managers would have been the better route to resolving an issue.

One of the key problems in representing the views of an entire workforce is that, traditionally, representatives have positioned themselves to be there for people who have a problem. Highly engaged staff often perceive that a representative body is not there for them and tend not to report anything to their representative. The problem with this is that a highly engaged member of staff might perceive that all the attention is focused on the disengaged and, as a result, their positivity is taken for granted. Recently, a staff representative stated that “the only way you get heard in this organisation is to complain about something.”

This organisation had recently published a staff survey identifying that around 20% of their staff were highly disengaged and that just under 40% considered themselves highly engaged. The organisation’s next step was to inadvertently concentrate solely on that 20% whilst forgetting that the 40% might have some insights that would be equally valid in identifying improvements. This approach is not uncommon but what it does is, once again, provide a disproportionate platform for the disengaged.

Does this help a disengaged individual in the longer term? In my experience it does not. The voice of the highly engaged might be the key to addressing the core problems of individuals who have rarely had their cynicism challenged. By offering them a different perspective, it might help them more than if their disengagement is allowed to fester. The “Good Work Plan” has to be for everyone and this change to the ICE Regulations might be the start of a long road to achieving that aim.


Derek Luckhurst is Training and Development Director at the IPA

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