When employees speak up — encourage the conversations



Engaged employees are found to be much more productive than ones who are disengaged or actively disengaged. Gallup estimates that about 70% of employees are disengaged and cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.

Encouraging employees to speak up at work is crucial to their engagement and every organization’s success. But once employees speak up, what should organizations do to ensure they continue the conversations? And never stop!

Listen to Them

Your words and deeds must match if you expect employees to trust in your leadership.   — Kevin Kruse

When employees finally gain the courage to speak up, the organization needs to stop and listen. Obvious right? Wrong! Most companies confuse listening for hearing someone out. Being listened to isn’t the same as being heard.

Listening means you have heard an employee speak loud and clear and now you are going to do something about it. Futility has been found to be 1.8 times more common than fear as a reason for employees not speaking up to their managers.

Employees watch for how you react to their suggestions, grievances, and any other concerns they bring up. So explain to your employees succinctly how you are going to address the issue at hand, and let them know when it will be/is resolved.

Don’t Bullshit

Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. Be transparent with your team, even when the truth may be unpopular or inconvenient.  — Bill George

You have heard the employee and have decided to address their concerns. The last thing you’ll want to do is to bullshit with them about the course of action you are about to take. Employees see right through that and are smarter than that, which is the reason why you hired them in the first place. When employees ask you questions or bring up concerns, be honest.

For example, if your company isn’t going to make its sales numbers this quarter and someone asks about the well-being of the organization, don’t bullshit. Be human and tell everyone that the company is missing its target and that as a company you are not on track. Tell them you need their help and that you won’t be able to overcome the situation without them.

Being human and honest will resonate a lot better and will make your employees more empathetic. It will most likely create a sense of responsibility and will push them to step up and act like a team. Telling them nothing is wrong erodes their trust in your leadership.

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. — Stephen R. Covey

Keep it Confidential

In almost every profession — whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business — people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it. — Hillary Clinton

If an employee has spoken up but in confidence, keep your discussion confidential. Don’t discuss your conversation openly and mention their name or anything that could help others identify them. Your employee has clearly trusted you to help. Don’t break her/his trust by carelessly leaking out information. For example, if employee A in confidence told you that employee B is walking around telling racist jokes, don’t walk into HR and ask them to follow up with Employee A who has all the information. Don’t be lazy. Dig around and perhaps ask HR to pull aside employee B and review the rules of the workplace with them. Don’t make the person who is already suffering suffer more.

Employees’ voices define the values they bring to the organization. Once these employees have overcome the fear and gained the courage to share their thoughts, it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure they are well received. It is crucial the employees feel their words are taken seriously, they are treated like adults and that they feel safe.


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