The Big Listen is here >

Find out more
About Us

What The Post Office Scandal Teaches Us About Employee Voice

January 02, 2023   ·  

If you've watched 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office' then you're likely feeling something along the lines of... 




The scandal is sending shockwaves through the country and drawing global attention. 

Naturally, it's difficult to know exactly who knew what and when. 

But all the declarations of 'I didn't know' and 'It wasn't me, guv' highlight the real problem here. 

You SHOULD have known. 

The revelations unfolding about the scandal make us incredulous – how can this have happened!?  

The answer to that is actually very simple. No one was listening. 

Whether that was ignorance or intentional remains to be seen, but this quote from Upton Sinclair comes to mind... 

"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understand it." 

There are many, many takeaways here – from gaslighting to prejudice – but for the purposes of this article, let’s talk about listening.  

The Post Office Scandal is an almost perfect example of what happens when you don’t listen.

Perhaps it even shows what happens when you actively choose not to hear the things you should – but that remains to be seen.  

Listening isn’t simply about being present and lending someone your ear, nor is it about being seen to be an empathetic leader.  

It’s about gaining as full a picture of reality as possible, to ensure you're able to make the best possible decisions for your organisation and its many stakeholders.  


How good a listener are you? 

Most of us strive to be good listeners. Most of us believe we are already pretty good listeners. 

Most of us could never imagine being part of a system like The Post Office that rejected the truth. 

But in reality, the truth can be blocked by all manner of obstacles – no matter how good your intentions are.

Try this quick experiment with your own listening channels in mind: 

While pondering those questions, you might have realised quite how many barriers we face when it comes to getting employees to speak up – and making sure we are there to hear what they have to say.


Barriers to a speak-up culture 

1. Organisational structures 

Information is commonly filtered and finessed as it passes up the chain. This means that, all too often, leaders only hear the good news. When the bad news does reach them, it’s often too late to do anything about it.  

2. Speaking truth to power 

It doesn’t matter how good and kind a leader you are. Few people have the courage to speak truth to power 

3. Fear of consequences 

For most of us 'better safe than sorry,' is still the preferred path when personal status and job security are at risk – whether that risk is real or perceived.


So what's the answer? 

If the Post Office Scandal teaches us anything, I hope it's the imperative to revolutionise the way we listen to our people, and the way we think about what employees can tell us if only we give them the opportunity. 

Over a decade of working with large organisations has given us some valuable insights on this topic, and three feel particularly relevant here: 

1. Leadership must create the right conditions 

An organisation's leadership team and board have a duty to create the conditions for organisational culture, and to understand how those conditions manifest on the ground. For too long, the preferred route has been layering policies, procedures, and processes – in other words, controlling the inputs. What we must do instead is seek greater understanding of the reality of people's day-to-day experiences. 

2. Complex situations require collective sensemaking 

As Post Office workers grappled to come to terms with the problems they were having with the Horizon system, they were repeatedly told ‘it’s only you having this issue. It’s not the system.’ Had they realised how many of their peers were experiencing the same problem, resolution could have been reached much quicker. Enabling collective sensemaking through anonymised, transparent channels fosters shared awareness and aligned action. In the case of The Post Office, resolution could have been reached far sooner had this been in place.  

3. Appropriate tooling is essential 

If you have a systemic issue with speaking up and psychological safety in your workplace, then open door policies and other measures simply won’t work. Using tools that facilitate live, anonymised dialogue are the only way you can encourage your people to come forward.  

As we said at the beginning of this article, it remains to be seen who at The Post Office knew what and when. 

But whether it was a matter of wilful ignorance or something more sinister, the lessons for employee listening are painfully clear. 


Parting note  

Recognising employee listening as a core value of workplace culture is no longer a suggestion – it’s an imperative.  

Every detail in this devastating story points to the catastrophic void that opens when an organisation is not listening.   

If you are responsible for other people, you need to hear of what matters to them.  


Find out how you can unlock more voices in your organisation here: Voice ( 



David Bellamy
David Bellamy

Founder and CEO, Connect with David on LinkedIn

TrustPsychological safetyEmployee voiceInclusionCultureEmployee engagement

Further reading