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Helen Jamieson

Jaluch HR & Training

Founder & CEO

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Workplace culture: train your staff to have a voice and reap cultural rewards


To truly make employees feel heard at work, organisations need to go beyond the comment box. Here’s how appointing and training staff representatives can transform your business.

The last year, more than ever, has been dominated by questions and concerns around organisational culture for many of us HR, training and business leaders. From sexual misconduct scandals, to gender pay gap reporting or perceived millennial demands, many different issues have come up that have put pressure on organisations to evaluate what they stand for.

This focus on fairness and transparency has created a demand for employers to engage with employees directly in setting and maintaining positive values.

How can this level of engagement be achieved with meaning and purpose? One answer is the appointment of staff representatives who, if really engaged and properly focused, can act as valuable conduits of communication between employees and leadership.

Without the right foundations in place, however, staff representatives can prove ineffective and rapidly become disengaged.

Providing staff representatives with the right skills to ensure the group’s genuine engagement and effectiveness should be treated as a key business investment, not a nice-to-have.

Those who engage in staff representatives training can reap business rewards that include greater engagement, retention and goodwill - all factors that in today’s candidate driven market should not be underestimated.

Step one: staff representative training

The role of staff representative is very particular and requires the development of a number of key skills (the development of which, coincidentally will prove useful for the vast majority of employees).

It is not just skills such as listening, feedback and leadership that need to be considered. First and foremost it is essential to make sure appointed representatives not only understand their role, but also that they feel empowered and confident in its importance.

Appointing a trainer that can inspire and energise them is critical. A trainer who is incapable of energising a group with ideas and pragmatic solutions is probably a waste of valuable budget.

When creating the course, the first step is to ensure that the staff representative team understands what all sides within the dynamic gains from a consultative process.  

At the basic level it means employees gain a voice, employers can receive actionable feedback that makes business better and the individual representatives gain skills and value. For individuals this can include personal development, growth in confidence and exposure to, and influence on key business decisions.  

As a start, an introductory training day should cover:

  • The role of consultative bodies and staff representation.
  • The benefits of consultation for both employer and employee.
  • What can staff representatives themselves gain from being part of a staff forum?
  • What makes a good representative?
  • Essential skills of a staff representative.
  • Active listening and effective questioning skills.
  • Self-presentation skills.
  • The representative’s role (disciplinary and grievance meetings).
  • Effective team working.

While an introductory training day is essential, it is of course important that ongoing support is provided to maintain engagement with the programme.

Quite often as a business we are asked to provide training that focuses mostly on team building, team working and generally reinvigorating a group that has lost its way.

Step two: going beyond the comment box

It is essential that staff representatives are not simply seen as the equivalent of a staff ‘comment box’.

They play a key role in formal business processes, from redundancy consultation to TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981’) processes where a business transfers to another.

They can be asked to get involved with staff surveys, analysis of performance review documentation, internal communications, induction of new staff etc. More recently staff representatives have been instrumental in helping staff deal with new demands around the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Given all of this, it is essential that staff representatives are prepared, knowledgeable and confident to deal with the more complicated aspects of the role.

As the business develops, so will the role of staff representatives, and they can be a hugely important resource in engaging employees in organisational change. That is why a regular review of their skills and knowledge is essential.

Step three: don’t let momentum fizzle out

As with any new initiative you may find that once the staff representatives team has bedded down, excitement starts to wane.

This is where the appointed chairperson (from the management team) can help keep energy up and maintain interest. Regular review, communication and engagement with the staff representatives will ensure that they can gain the most out of the role - and enthuse the group.

You should therefore think very carefully about who the chairperson is, and how they are appointed - a mix of skills will be needed.

The power of staff representative training lies in empowering employees to take a direct and involved approach to the culture they work within.

Sometimes, unfortunately there may be one or two in the group whose lack of engagement negatively affects the rest of the committee.

Speaking to them individually can unveil opportunities for change, but sometimes they may simply not wish to engage and an honest discussion may be called for. Fail to act, and your whole committee could become disengaged, meaning that any money or time you spend on it will be wasted.

Whether representatives decide to leave the group, or you find you need more support it is inevitable that over time new representatives need to be appointed to the group and it is essential they too are supported.

This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Buddy them up with a more experienced staff representative member.
  • Make sure that all new staff representatives go through training (ideally formally) and a full induction via another staff member.
  • Give them an opportunity to attend a formal meeting as a spectator - many people aren’t used to attending such meetings and can be unsure what to expect.
  • Ensure that they have the opportunity to talk informally to someone prior to supporting an employee with a disciplinary or grievance – this can often be one of the most daunting aspects of the role.
  • Consider coaching for any staff who are really struggling in their role or who need a little extra support. Representatives often grow in confidence, so a helping hand in the early months can be beneficial for the representative and the company.  

Step four: you get what you give

With any employee engagement programme you will only get out what you put in. Investing in training and ongoing support may seem like a big ask, but if you get this group working well for you the benefits back to the business, and its staff, can be huge.

For example, one group of 20 employees we engaged in staff representatives training a year ago had just a few hours to get their act together before redundancy consultation in their organisation began.

During a half day session they worked on coming together as a team to prioritise what they wanted, how to put aside their emotions and focus on the task at hand, how to compromise, all with a view to gaining the best outcome for the wider business.

As a result, the representatives’ first meeting with the company went well, beyond their expectations, with all agreeing that negative energy had been refocused into finding solutions.  

Similarly, another group turned up to training looking weary and defeated. Training focused on helping them to understand how as a group they could stop acting like victims and start taking control to work with the business instead of against it, and what they needed to do to gain credibility in the eyes of their colleagues.

Just 12 months later they returned with reports of how much they had achieved during a time of lots of organisational change and wanted further refresher training to continue the positive momentum.

The power of staff representative training lies in empowering employees to take a direct and involved approach to the culture they work within.

The representatives themselves gain valuable skills that can then directly benefit colleagues. The business demonstrates it takes the views of staff seriously, providing them not just with a mouthpiece, but also with an embedded vehicle for cultural change.

Interested in this topic? Read How to help your team overcome self-censorship.

2 Responses

  1. In my past experience, it was
    In my past experience, it was a challenge to find a staff representative who was completely unbiased. Their personality and opinions seem to come into play and can cause disruptions when employees accuse them of “taking sides”. This is a tricky position to fill, but can be dome if the person has a naturally diplomatic personality.

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Helen Jamieson

Founder & CEO

Read more from Helen Jamieson

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