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Worker voice data: 7 things to know

Worker voice data: definition

Worker voice data is a great source of compliance information. In the context of ESG (environmental, social and governance), 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. 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.

"S" and "G" of ESG: powerful use cases

Worker voice data is used to monitor the "S" and some of the "G" of ESG and 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.

Five limitations

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.

Two dangers

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.

Use of our technology can support a reduction in auditing of workplaces, but this has to be carefully considered.

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.This is what ESG compliance and compliance monitoring is all about. This is what our worker voice technology and social score delivers.

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.

Read more here about our system and how it delivers transparency and trust across workplaces, supply chains and to stakeholders.


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