Gemma Harding tells TJ how to create a working culture where it’s safe to speak out.
According to Research from the CIPD, more than half (53%) of line managers are not trained or qualified to handle ‘difficult conversations’.
Nobody likes confrontation, and many people will go out of their way to avoid conflict. At work, however, there are instances where people must voice their concerns, air grievances and speak their mind.
In the spirit of transparency, employers should recognise this and encourage team members to ‘speak up’. Without a solid platform on which issues can be raised, they can often be swept under the carpet only to resurface later.
To enable you to better retain your employees here are some top pointers on how to develop better communication in the workplace:
Trust comes first
Employers should lead by example, and ensure that staff can trust them 100%. Like any relationship, starting with trust as a foundation will go a long way in reassuring your employees that they can speak about anything that might be worrying them.
Trust not only has a massive effect on bringing up sensitive issues, it gives employees the confidence to pitch new, brave and exciting ideas to colleagues and clients.
A big part of this is having an open-door policy. A boss, manager or general superior should be your go-to person if you need help with work or have an issue you want raising (a HR person or office manager are other alternatives).
If a member of staff feels they cannot trust an employer with sensitive information, or an issue that troubles them, then they will take it elsewhere or keep it to themselves.
Trust not only has a massive effect on bringing up sensitive issues, it gives employees the confidence to pitch new, brave and exciting ideas to colleagues and clients. Following a clear, structured process is far better than one that is overly complicated.
A ‘speak up’ culture will help lessen the stigma around workplace reporting, and ease any worries, concerns and issues.
Once you have instilled a sense of confidence and a culture of trust within your workplace, it is now time to draw up some detailed grievance procedures. Having your staff understand what the processes are will make them feel comfortable should an issue arise.
Draw up clear grievance policies and procedures
This is where responsibilities and expectations come into play. Employers are expected to provide support for staff, and encourage back-and-forth communication. But, staff should know that they can raise issues, and should do so if an incident occurs.
Of course, the implementation of policies is not quite enough. Employers need to be following up these policies by speaking to staff. How has this worked? Do you think this has had a positive or negative effect on productivity?
Staff satisfaction translates well into other areas of a business – productivity is proven to be 12% higher when staff are happy, motivated and well-adjusted. This also improves reputations, as it gives you the opportunity to present the business as a strong advocate of employee happiness and satisfaction.
Deal with such calls externally
As we mentioned earlier, coming forward with a grievance or an issue can be off-putting for many people, due to the stigma that surrounds whistleblowers of all kinds, and the fear that there will be bias against them.
This is particularly true for small businesses, where the culture is tighter and everyone knows everyone. For example, someone who has an issue to raise about their manager may feel uncomfortable proceeding straight to a director who is close with the staff member in question. People may feel that sides will be taken, and that the complaint will not be dealt with fairly and objectively.
It can be difficult to get around such issues, especially for SMEs, or those that need to report on someone higher up than themselves. For example, if there were a chain of shops and a junior member of staff saw the highest manager stealing stock, they will need an anonymous place to report this because they couldn’t report it to the manager.
While there is an element of anonymity, whistleblowing lines are more about staff having a way to easily report to senior managers who they wouldn’t normally have a direct line of contact to.
Use technology to your advantage
Introducing extensive support plans can take a long time, and so can its maintenance. For such reasons, you should be incorporating some kind of online system with which employees can report grievances or issues.
This can be as simple as firing an email over to your manager or HR representative. Alternatively, you can set up a system whereby many members of staff can have their say, anonymously or not. Either way, processes like this can be a huge time-saver.
Employees want their voices heard, and the more you allow this the happier they’ll be. This may be a little difficult if the matter at hand is of a sensitive nature, but the same rules still apply. With some simple strategies you can encourage a positive, transparent ‘speak up’ culture – in the long-run, your employees will thank you for it.
Lone workers and the issues that can arise in solitary working environments are frequently overlooked, but they are just the sort of workers that would benefit from a positive and transparent ‘speak-up’ culture.
About the author
Gemma Harding is head of corporate services at telephone answering provider CALLCARE