Giving low-wage workers a voice on the job—the ability to communicate concerns to management—is believed to improve employee satisfaction and retention.

Now a new paper supports this theory using a field-based, randomized, controlled trial—the most rigorous scientific method of impact evaluation.

Professor Ach Adhvaryu of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and two colleagues, Teresa Molina of the University of Hawaii and Anant Nyshadham of Boston College, conducted the study in partnership with the largest ready-made garment company in India, Shahi Exports, which experiences high turnover among its 100,000 workers.

The employees recently had learned that their annual raises would be considerably lower than expected.

The researchers randomly selected a group of these workers to take an anonymous survey on wages, job conditions and environment, and supervisor performance.


The researchers found that giving these workers a voice through the survey reduced turnover and absenteeism, compared to those who did not receive the survey.

Overall, giving workers the survey reduced their probability of quitting by about 20%.
The effect was greatest for the most disappointed workers. Overall, giving workers the survey reduced their probability of quitting by about 20%.

"Setting up that line of communication might actually generate less attrition, and that's potentially of value to both workers and firms," Adhvaryu said.

Adhvaryu and his team are working to extend this research, looking at the value of using technology like text messaging and mobile apps—including one they're developing themselves—to help enable worker voice.

They're also studying the power of incentives to encourage managers to respond to workers' concerns.

This article is based on materials provided by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. Content may be edited for style and length.

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