Hidden Voice, stethoscope for organisational health

Employees with access to computers can do the survey online; in the office or after hours in the privacy of their homes.

Employees with access to computers can do the survey online; in the office or after hours in the privacy of their homes.

Published Jun 15, 2018


Productivity in the workplace is one of the key drivers for economic growth and Africa is lagging far behind the rest of the world. According to the Africa Competitive Report 2017 compiled by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, productivity has grown far less in Africa than it has in more advanced economies.

“Productivity is a function of human and physical capital accumulation, the investment climate, and the level of efficiency in which an economy utilises its

inputs. Africa’s combined level of human and physical capital accumulation is lower than all other regions of the world.

“It thus classically follows that countries that wish to have more productive economies need to first invest in human and physical capital, and to employ

both types of capital efficiently,” the report says.

It is against this backdrop that Dr Elsa Thirion-Venter and Erna Jörgensen, directors and co-owners of Hidden Voice, cite a recent analysis in The Harvard Business Review of various studies that showed an average of 31 percent more productivity and 37 percent higher sales when employees are happy and statisfied.

“When employees are happy, the entire business is happy and flourishes,” Thirion-Venter says. She explains it was with this in mind that Hidden Voice

developed a reseach tool that closely monitors how employees feel and what they think. “It comprises easy-to-use mobile and online tracking technology

that continously keeps the finger on the pulse of how employees feel.”

According to Jörgensen, employers invest substantial amounts in recruiting, training and employing employees. “It should not end there. Employers have a

responsibility towards their employees to monitor their satisfaction and contentment. If they don’t the employee turnover and absenteeism in the workplace will increase, resulting in low productivity, a lower return on their human capital investment and loss of income.”


Hidden Voice is a subsidiary of MarkData which used to be the survey research centre of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). It was phased out as an HSRC function in April 1996 and became MarkData– an entirely independent strategic and commercial research house with Thirion-Venter and two other partners at the helm.

Dr Elsa Thirion-Venter

As a registered research psychologist at the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) and an honorary member of the Southern African Market Research

Association (SAMRA), Thirion-Venter has many years of research experience in various fields. She is also a lecturer in the Research Psychology Master’s programme at the University of Pretoria.

Erna Jörgensen

Jörgensen, who used to work with Thirion-Venter at the HSRC until the mid-1990s and later started her own market research company in Namibia, moved

back to South-Africa in 2014 and became co-owner of MarkData. She brought with her an equally vast experience that includes working with clients like

Johns Hopkins University and USAID.

Jan Wegelin

When MarkData’s all-women team started Hidden Voice in 2016, they brought Jan Wegelin on board as co-director. He is experienced in both qualitative

and quantitative methodologies and has done commercial and social research ranging across health, education, political, consumer and energy sectors in

Africa as well as Europe.


The set of tools Hidden Voice offers for employee satisfaction and climate studies are device-neutral. This means that it can be used on smart, feature

or so called dumb phones, allowing all to participate. The mobile features comprise easy-to-use *120* technology known as USSD (Unstructured

Supplementary Service Data).

“Every employee’s voice can be heard freely, anonymously and without impediments. Office-based employees can complete the surveys online whereas blue collar workers can use their phones,” Thirion-Venter explains.

“Depending on the structure and environment of your business, we will make a recommendation on whether mobile or online tracking surveys will work

best. It is also important to note that employees can do the survey after hours in the privacy of their homes.”

Thirion-Venter says research in industrial psychology shows skilled and well-qualified workers often feel less disempowered and voiceless than unskilled

and shift workers. “The technology we offer can level the playing field within organisations.”

Hidden Voice is a subsidiary of MarkData with its head office in Monument Park, Pretoria.

Hidden Voice can be used for the following:

- Heartbeat survey: Short, regular surveys measuring an organisation’s heartbeat;

- Change management: Measuring the potential impact of a change to the company structure before implementation;

- Beginner survey: Questions to assess how new employees are settling in;

- Relational survey: What are the connection points (or not) between top management, middle management and lower level employees;

- Training assessments: Following a training session, what has been the impact and efficacy of the training programme on performance;

- Departmental survey: What are the missing links between departments that should be working together, how can these relationships be strengthened or developed and what should be done to make it easier to connect;

- Leadership survey: Aimed at middle management to measure how equipped or capable they are to efficiently link employees with senior management;

- Assimilation survey: After launching a new product, solution or programme; what is the reaction of the business, will it be supported, should additional training be provided and is there motivation to assimilate it into the business

- Opinion survey: To better understand the thoughts and feelings of employees about the business;

- Annual engagement survey: The traditional annual employee survey;

- Exit survey: When a staff member leaves, conduct a short independent survey to assess areas of improvement and better understand the drivers of leaving the business.

The survey technology can be used on smart, feature or so called dumb

phones, allowing all employees to participate.

Employees have a platform to regularly engage with the business, voice their concerns and be part of the development and growth of the business. In contrast to a full employee survey, shorter mobile and online tracking surveys are generally more cost-effective and time-efficient.

Wegelin says by using benchmark data, mobile and online tracking surveys can provide early warning signs when it comes to pending problems, thus

enabling organisations to take action sooner rather than later.

Hidden Voice offers a kaleidoscope of different integrated interventions and not merely a “fix-it” strategy, he explains.

According to Jörgensen the surveys are hosted on secured external servers to ensure maximum anonymity. “Because it is anonymous and the answers

cannot be traced to individual employees, they complete the surveys openly and freely without fear of victimisation.

“This is a cost-effective tool to monitor the well-being of the employees and boosting the bottomline,” she concludes.


Congratulations to Dr Petrus de Kock (Brand SA), Jan Wegelin (African Response) and Dr Elsa Thirion-Venter (MarkData) for winning the Kantar TNS Innovation award as well as the Best Overall Paper award at the SAMRA Annual Conference 2018 that took place in Durban on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The paper was titled: “A social segmentation model of the diverse and complex South African society with broader implications for the research industry”.


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