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Staff forum – the eyes, ears and voice of the people

Welcome to the latest in our series of guest blogs featuring Internal Communication professionals tackling the challenges they face on a daily basis.

This week Rebecca Wren, Freelance Internal Communications Specialist with over 10 years’ experience working for one of the leading high street fashion retailers takes a look at the role of the Staff Forum, the important link to employee engagement and why everyone loves cake.

What is a Staff Forum?   

In a nutshell, a Staff Forum gives employees the right to request that their employer informs, communicates and consults with them on issues that affect their working lives. From a techy point of view The Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations was introduced back in April 2005, applying to businesses with 50+ employees.

How does it work?

It’s an integral part of your business, encouraging 2-way communication and involving employees linking into the overall employee engagement strategy or survey.

A Staff Forum will have representatives across each region/function nominated by their colleagues through an election process. They meet up regularly, to act as the voice of their fellow employees, have their say and play a part in influencing business decisions. Key responsibilities include:

  • Gathering views and suggestions
  • Raising and representing employee views and suggestions at Staff Forum meetings
  • Consulting with management
  • Communicating outcomes from meetings and business information to employees.

What’s the difference between consult and inform?

Consult: Management provide information in the early decision making stage that they require input on, by working with a Staff Forum it shows collaboration and representation of staff. Often enough it’s not until a business idea is shared with a Staff Forum that there will be points that might not have even been considered and landed negatively with staff.

Consult examples: a new staff discount policy, HR payroll system, and working hours at Christmas or re-structure plans.

Inform: A Staff Forum will be provided with information in advance so they can understand the issue before it’s implemented across the rest of the business. With an inform a Staff Forum will not be able to influence the subject matter, however, they can help advise on how best to land the message with staff and mitigate any impact whether that be an email or face to face communication to celebrate bonus.

Inform examples: business strategy, annuals results, bonus or change in management structure.

What are the benefits of a Staff Forum?

  • Company performance: communicating at the beginning of a new project can squash any water cooler rumours or misunderstanding.
  • Employee performance: employees perform better when given regular, accurate information about the business.
  • Trust: discussing issues head on can stimulate better management-employee relations and result in respect for their leaders.
  • Job satisfaction: employees are more likely to be motivated if they have a good understanding of their role and how it fits into the overall picture of the company goals.
  • Work-life balance: you can easily reach all your staff to have meaningful conversations to discuss working policies and practices.

Top tips for promoting a Staff Forum?

One of my previous roles as Internal Communications Manager involved re-launching the Staff Forum. After collaborating with the Staff Forums across the offices, we came up with the new name – Your Voice. Initial ideas came off the back of the BBC entertainment programme The Voice and a moment of Staff Forum reps swinging on their chairs. On reflection, it was spot on as we were trying to create a culture where everyone felt they could speak up and make sure their voice was heard.

The launch campaign used a variety of channels to make sure we touched all areas of the business:

  • Intranet – launch stories, including a Q&A with the Chairs ‘Here come the girls’, making it fun and relevant. Quotes from key leaders across the business were weaved in, to show we had management buy in.
  • Video – short 30 second video featuring key messages from the CEO. Launched on the intranet and played on the TV screens and at the drop in sessions.
  • Micro-site – dedicated to Your Voice, with details on how to become a rep, meeting dates, previous minutes, how to submit a question.
  • Posters – featuring the representative and area they represented.
  • Email – details on the drop in session were sent out a week before launch and on the day as a reminder.
  • Suggestions Boxes – on each floor with paper, pens, plus an A5 flyer on what Your Voice was all about.
  • Drop in sessions – freedom was given to each location to design their own drop in session. One location invited staff to pop along and meet the reps and tell them those issues they’d like raising at the next meeting. They could also enter a free prize draw to win some chocs and a bottle of bubbly – this was a great way to measure attendance. We also desk dropped Your Voice branded pens and cupcakes, which went down a treat.

In conclusion, a Staff Forum is the heart of the business: ears, eyes and voice of the people. If you have an engaged Staff Forum that have management support, then gaining the trust and respect of the rest of the work force will be much easier. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a few freebees and cake!

We recently launched the third eBook in our internal affairs series; this one explores what keeps Internal Communications folk awake at night. Once again we’ve combed the internal communication landscape to bring you usable thought leadership and industry insight.

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