How to encourage your staff to speak up – without fear of retribution

'Unfortunately, when fear rules, progress stops'

How to encourage your staff to speak up – without fear of retribution

Are you really listening? Or just pretending? Poor communication is a key indicator of a toxic company culture, with 86% of employees citing bad communication as the main reason for workplace failures. Now, in the age of remote and hybrid work, communication is more important than ever before – and bad communication or, even worse, false communication, simply won’t fly. HRD spoke to Meghan Stettler, director of the O.C. Tanner Institute and speaker at HRD’s upcoming Employee Engagement Summit, who revealed how leaders can encourage their people to share their own opinions at work – and why leaders should take those views on board.

“Primally, fear existed to protect humankind from legitimate life-or-death situations,” Stettler told HRD. “Today, fight or flight responses in the workplace serve to protect employees against social and emotional downfalls that could threaten their professional livelihoods.  When it comes to voicing real opinions at work, one in three employees feel like the organization retaliates against those who provide feedback, and one in four employees feel ignored when they share their feedback. Unfortunately, when fear rules, progress stops. Fear stops employees from raising concerns, taking on new projects, and showing up as their true selves.  For fear to be eradicated, leaders need to cultivate cultures of trust, transparency, and belonging in the micro moments of employees’ daily experiences. 

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“This requires setting the cultural expectation that sharing unique perspectives and ideas are a valuable part of the organization’s ongoing success – not a once or twice a year exercise.  It takes active listening to create cultures of shared learning and progress. The O.C. Tanner Institute’s annual Global Culture Report reveals that there are several elements to listening: receiving the feedback through multiple modalities, communicating the results, taking visible action, and broadcasting the changes widely.

“The good news is that when companies listen and make changes based on the feedback they receive, employees are 358% more likely to be more satisfied with the feedback process, and 133% more likely to have a favorable perception of leadership. In short, leaders that want to help employees thrive must build workplace cultures than embed active listening throughout the employee experience. It’s not the job of a suggestion box, it’s the responsibility of all leaders at an organization to know their people and champion their voices. When leaders listen and respond to feedback and ideas, and make changes quickly, employees feel a higher sense of opportunity, feel valued and heard, and experience less burnout. In return, companies see higher engagement, more innovation, and more passion from their people.”

And Stettler’s poignant views chime perfectly with industry sentiment. At the moment, it seems as if employers are still in a reactive, panicked mode – desperate to communicate but not quite hitting the mark. Authentic communication, one which will encourage employees to voice their own views without being afraid of retribution, will take much more than a company-wide email every four months. It takes a comprehensive, top-down strategy – one which will inevitably lead to a culture overhaul.

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“Some ways employers can gather employee sentiment and use it to facilitate change include embedding active listening into the everyday employee experience requires multiple modalities of transparent listening and communication. From frequent one-to-ones between leaders and their people, to regular department-wide Q&A sessions, to company townhalls and other survey and communications channels - all prove very helpful in strengthening cultures of trust during COVID.”

To hear more from Stettler and other industry leaders, register for HRD’s upcoming Employee Engagement Summit here.

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