Worker voice data: definition
Worker voice data is a great source of compliance information. In the context of ESG, it refers to a data collected from workers in order to understand, monitor and potentially improve ethical and operational standards in a workplace. It is sometimes also called “Employee Voice”.
7 of the 17 UN sustainable goals are touched by how workers are treated, paid and looked after in the workplace. It is a good way to understand how workplaces, especially in supply chains, perform under their social contract? Worker voice data can allow real-time monitoring of the “S” of ESG and quite a bit of the “G”.
But there are limitations and dangers involved in using worker voice data. Here are 5 potential limitations and 2 potential dangers which organisations need to consider when implementing worker voice technologies as part of their real-time monitoring of ESG compliance, especially in supply chains.
Worker voice data: collected by mobile app
ESG means “environmental, social and governance”. It refers to the impact of business activities on society. Workers are the main focus of “S” and have important things to say about “G”. They experience the reality of a workplace policy, culture and practice every day. Asking them how they are treated is a natural way to assess levels of compliance with the social and governance aspects of ESG.
Mobile apps, and often on-premises alternatives for workers without smartphones, are a good way to find out what workers think. These are generically called “Worker Voice Apps” and they generate worker voice data which can be used to generate responses to a set of questions covering all aspects of a workplace. These responses are then moderated and analysed to generate a social score for each workplace that is comparable, standardised and international.
For our own worker voice technogloy, we subscribe to the WEST Principles that have been created by Humanity United. You can read the WEST Principles here.
A valuable resource
Worker voice data is valuable as a measure of ESG performance and as a control system because workers are a 3rd party group, independent of a company’s management and sales force. This can be an authentic source of information, direct from the community which is the focus of the standards involved.
Generally workers have insights into what actually goes on in a workplace – and obviously they have their views on how they are treated. Moreover, worker voice apps can run 24×7 to collect responses and views – so monitoring can continue all year round even if audits only happen once per year.
On the other hand, there are limitations and dangers. Data that is harvested directly from the workers should be used with care:
- workers may not have all the information necessary to provide an informed view;
- worker voice data generated by poorly-designed systems is susceptible to bias and interference, loss of anonymity of responders; and
- stakeholders may rely too much on results and neglect the necessary regular social audit work that is still very much required.
“S” and “G” of ESG: powerful use cases
Topics that are part of “S” and “G” typically include:
- Whether workers are paid fairly, on time and in full.
- Freedom to work, associate, and to have control over hours – so that labour is not “forced labour”.
- Equal treatment for men and women, and open, non-discriminatory culture and practice.
- Access to appropriate facilities and sufficient breaks during the day (food, water, toilets etc)
- Effective grievance mechanisms and processes to handle concerns that may arise
- Safety at work, lack of harassment, positive and productive culture
Worker voice systems ask the workers to rate their treatment in respect of these topics – collecting the data (worker voice data) and then moderating it to generate a social score.
Worker voice data has to be used with care. This is true even for a well-designed system that is continuous, real-time and has widespread adoption across the workforce. Here are some examples of the limitations of worker voice data as a measure of ESG compliance:
- It is an opinion: Workers may say that they feel safe at work, but it does not necessarily mean that they are. For example, a fire door may look okay, but only a qualified inspector can determine if the door will perform as expected in an emergency. This still needs to be checked via the regular cycle audits and inspections.
- There can be bias: Workplaces may exclude some workers from participation – leading to bias in the results. Also, not all workers will have smart phones, and using on premises alternatives like a laptop or tablet may lead to different responses. Again, this still needs to be checked via the regular cycle of audits.
- Undue influence: Management may try to influence results, although it is difficult for them to achieve this undetectably in well-designed worker voice systems.
- Privacy is essential: Workers may also choose not to tell the complete truth out of a sense of loyalty or a failure to fully appreciate the questions or for fear of retribution. A well-designed system should mitigate some of these concerns by keeping responses anonymous and by using properly validated question panels. Again, results need to be supported, benchmarked and cross-checked to regular audits.
- Workers may not know their rights: Workers may rate matters as acceptable when they are not – because they are not aware that “better is possible”. Regular audits do normally check to see if workers are aware of their rights. ETI / BSCI codes of conduct should be adopted by workplaces and properly communicated to workers.
It is very important to retain a strong sense of perspective when considering the role that worker voice data can play in a social audit and ESG compliance context. It is not a standalone solution – but it fills an important gap in the typical social auditing framework used by many companies.
As most auditors will tell you, workplaces usually smell of fresh paint.
And without real-time and continuous monitoring, no one really knows what goes on once the auditor has left the premises. Moreover, social audit processes are susceptible to greenwashing and typically only involve a small sample of the workforce. Worker voice data can be used as a supplement – helping to make sure that workers are well-treated in between the audits, and providing an authentic source of benchmarked data that is harder to greenwash.
Do not over-rely on worker voice data as a guarantee of social and governance compliance. The limitations are real and ever-present. Systems which pull data from workers on their views are very helpful, but they only go so far.
There should be no reduction in monitoring and auditing of workplaces.
Be clear on the main use of worker voice data in the context of ESG surveillance and ESG ratings – particularly with respect to supply chains.
This is to support communications between businesses and their external stakeholders: such as corporate customers, shareholders, and the ultimate consumers of goods and products (in store, online).
These third parties have no direct means to measure and understand how well a workplace executes on its social contract. They find it hard to compare one workplace with another and to benchmark performance. And yet they are very interested in understanding the reality of the social contract, and understanding how workplaces treat their workers from day-to-day. This is what ESG compliance and compliance monitoring is all about. This is what our worker voice technology and social score delivers.
Whilst worker voice technologies can also be used by management to communicate with workers (eg: training, corporate communication), and by workers to communicate with management (eg: grievance processes) – these are different use cases, and arguably should not be confused with the use of worker voice as part of an ESG monitoring and surveillance environment.
We would even suggest that apps designed for 2-way communication between employees and management are not likely to be best suited to collect worker voice data in a form and at a scale that is suitable for use in communication between workers and external stakeholders.
Worker voice data: a well-designed system
A narrow scope and a well-designed worker voice technology system should have:
- the smallest possible footprint,
- the simplest, narrowest and most targeted range of functions, and
- to have real staying power on worker phones.
In this area, “less is more”. Our system is specifically designed to capture the worker voice for use with external stakeholders – moderating the data and converting it into an actionable, comparable, international social score. And the social score can then be used by external stakeholders to understand how workplaces deliver on their social contract.
This also means that our system is truly a mass-market B2B product at a low price, quick to implement and delivering almost instant results.
Read more here about our system and how it delivers transparency and trust across workplaces, supply chains and to stakeholders.
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