The Benefits of Developing a Speak-Up Culture at Work

Posted: 18 Jul, 2023.

A speak-up culture aims to foster a sense of morale and unity in a workplace where employees are empowered to voice their ideas, challenges, and concerns. It creates an environment in which employees are encouraged to share ideas and call out unethical behaviours without the fear of retaliation or dismissal.

Developing a speak-up culture, also known as psychological safety, at work is one of the foundational pillars of a healthy work environment. It’s also an essential ingredient in the creation of an ethical business, helping generate an ethos of company-wide transparency, honesty, and respect.

What is a “Speak-Up Culture”?

A speak-up culture is one in which a workplace inherently values and encourages open, honest, and advocative communication. As well as providing a safe, non-judgmental place for employees to share ideas, it empowers workers to report misconduct and raise concerns.

Fostering psychological safety involves harnessing an ethical brand identity that nurtures, demonstrates, and enforces trust between employees and leadership. Staff should be able to confidently voice opinions and share concerns, even if it involves communicating high-level ethics violations or speaking out against company leadership.

To do this, you need to break down the barriers that prevent a speak-up culture from thriving. A recent survey by the National Guardian’s Office found the fear of retaliation is the number one barrier stopping employees from speaking up. Almost 70% cite fear of retaliation as having a “very strong” or “noticeable” impact.

This is followed by the concern that nothing will be done by employers.

A speak-up culture requires your business to do more than simply facilitate the act of speaking out. Leadership needs to actively listen to what employees are saying, value their perspective, and take appropriate action.

Benefits of Developing a Speak-Up Culture at Work

Implementing a speak-up culture at work benefits employers and employees alike. Here’s how.

Early response and mitigation of unethical work practices

There are lots of different activities that come under the umbrella of unethical work practices. These can range wildly in severity, from the morally unacceptable to the strictly illegal. Examples include violence, theft, policy violations, lying to employees, and misuse of company time.

Unethical work practices can be defined as any behaviour committed at work that violates moral norms. Regardless of whether they’re committed intentionally or unintentionally, they can have serious legal and financial repercussions for the individual or company committing the act.

Unethical work practices can also damage your company’s reputation, reduce business productivity, and create a toxic work environment.

A speak-up culture encourages employees to report any unethical practices they witness. Your employees need to feel secure in the fact that their reports will be taken seriously and have no unjust negative consequences.

With their help, you can quickly address any potentially harmful behaviours before they have a chance to escalate.

Promotes open communication and feedback

Employees value honest, constructive feedback; it helps them grow professionally and is vital to their wellbeing. But remember this: open communication and feedback should be a two-way street. When employees are able to offer you the same courtesy, it can have just as great an impact.

Give your employees the opportunity to freely share their ideas and concerns with you. Adopt the values of a healthy speak-up culture—i.e. the ability to welcome criticism, transparency, and accountability—and use their feedback to drive business improvements.

There will still be instances where employees feel unable to communicate openly. Fostering a speak-up culture can empower you to proactively address employee mental health struggles and reach appropriate resolutions faster.

For example, you can track employee absences as well as how productively they spend their time at work using attendance management software. Any uncharacteristic absence patterns or productivity lapses should be flagged by the system, alerting you to the possibility that an employee may need extra support or resources so you can make that initial contact with them.

By approaching employees compassionately and openly, you empower them to do the same. Not only will they be more comfortable communicating their issues with you, but they’ll share them more honestly and thus speed up the resolution process.

Places value on employee input and contributions

It isn’t enough to just ask for employee feedback. You need to listen to it, value it, and learn from it.

Acting on feedback directly and positively correlates with your employee’s wellbeing. But, only 18% of employees say their company uses the feedback they provide to solve problems.

So, conduct regular pulse surveys and, when appropriate, respond to your employees’ feedback. Make changes they can resonate with and that speaks to their values. And, for every contribution made, make sure to express your thanks.

Attracts and retains high-performing employees

The absense of psychological safety at work can cause toxic behaviours to run rife. This results in a negative work environment that damages the productivity, engagement, and happiness of your employees.

Gone are the days when workers would grin and bear it. Many employees will now prioritise their health and wellbeing over their job. In particular, a significant number of Gen Zs and Millennials will consider switching roles for this reason.

These trends are growing stronger every year. So, attracting and retaining high-performing employees demands a healthy, empowering environment in which they’re able to speak their mind and be listened to, valued, and respected as they do so.

Fosters employee belongingness and satisfaction

“Belonging” has a critical psychological impact on your employees. Feeling included, accepted, welcomed, and connected are integral to their levels of job satisfaction and happiness. Unfortunately, though, creating an environment in which every employee feels welcomed and valued isn’t always easy.

In the workplace, historically marginalised and underrepresented groups tend to experience a lesser sense of belonging than better-represented groups. Men, for example, are, on average, 41% more likely to report strong feelings of belonging in comparison to women and are more likely to share differing opinions knowing that they’ll still be valued.

A speak-up culture fights against this. It empowers anyone who experiences or witnesses discrimination in the workplace to speak out against it without fear. In the same breath, it cultivates diversity and inclusivity, which promotes a culture of belonging.

Encourages initiative and knowledge-sharing

Actively sharing knowledge with others in the workplace builds a sense of community, support, and collaboration. That’s not just within teams but across entire departments and hierarchies.

Knowledge-sharing has a bunch of other benefits, too—it boosts professional development, streamlines workflows, and drives bottom-line growth. Encouraging employees to initiate and partake in dynamic conversations is at the heart of knowledge-sharing.

Strengthens trust between employees and management

64% of employees say trust between employees and management directly impacts their sense of belonging. 55% say it affects their mental health, and for 68% low trust lowers their performance levels.

Employers need to make nurturing trust with employees a top priority. Honesty and transparency are key, as is listening to and valuing your workers’ opinions.

A speak-up culture embeds these values into the heart of your company, earning your employee’s loyalty, respect, and trust.

Proactive problem-solving and conflict resolution

It’s likely that, at some point, an employee has thought of a brilliant way to resolve a business issue. But because of one of the barriers outlined above, they didn’t feel comfortable sharing their idea, and it led to the business missing out on a great opportunity.

By removing these barriers and creating a culture of psychological safety at work, employees will feel much more comfortable vocalising their opinions. In doing so, they’ll freely share innovative ideas without fear of judgment, ridicule, or dismissal.

This is a simple way to boost workplace morale and employee engagement. And, should any conflicts occur, a speak-up culture promotes a healthy discourse that can nip tension in the bud before it escalates.

Open communication is the key

As workplace culture is a dynamic concept made up of a lot of moving parts—behaviours, attitudes, goals, values, practices, etc.—it helps to break it down. Speak-up culture is just one of many attributes that you should embed into your values if you want to create a positive, thriving work environment.

Most of the benefits of creating a speak-up culture at work have one thing in common: they improve your employees’ satisfaction and wellbeing. This means that by encouraging open communication, you can improve engagement, productivity, and retention.

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