Right now, business leaders across the country are asking themselves how they can make their workplace a safe place that is more inclusive, diverse, and equitable. They’re having conversations, acknowledging areas where they’ve fallen short, and identifying opportunities for improvement.
Barriers to improvement
For your efforts to be successful, employees need to be able to speak freely. That means offering critical and candid feedback about individual behaviors, workplace practices, and organizational policies. However, none of this can happen if people don’t feel safe enough to speak up.
Employees who report harassment and discrimination, speak candidly to their supervisors, or challenge the status quo often find themselves excluded from projects, denied a promotion, or out of a job. For example, a study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.
What a safe place to speak up looks like in the workplace
As a result, employers have a duty to make their workplace a safe place for their employees. That means creating a culture where employees can:
- Report incidents of discrimination,
- Identify institutional failures,
- Recommend solutions, and
- Speak up without fear of retaliation, knowing they have a firm foundation of trust, openness, and respect with their employer.
Here are three steps you can take today to start cultivating a workplace that is a safe place for your employees to speak up.
1. Admit mistakes and make amends
Employees will be reluctant to hold leaders accountable if leadership never admits fault or acknowledges areas for growth. However, when leaders show a willingness to be vulnerable and a desire to learn and be better, they can help put employees’ minds at ease and more effectively solicit their feedback.
For example, an employer might acknowledge that they hadn’t previously made diversity a priority for the company. In response, they may commit to strategically placing job ads where underrepresented job applicants are more likely to see them. Additionally, they may dedicate time to identifying ways to make the workplace welcoming and inclusive.
Statements like these–when followed by action–open the door to honest communication between employees and employers. They build trust.
2. Reward instead of retaliating
Creating a real sense of safety takes more than preventing retaliation. Employees need to see that providing candid and critical feedback is met with appreciation, gratitude, and action from leadership. In other words, it has to be rewarded.
Employees who identify problems in the workplace or propose solutions shouldn’t fear being ostracized or having their career derailed by a vengeful peer or supervisor. On the contrary, they should be recognized as leaders in the organization (informal or otherwise).
Once identified, employers should provide these employees with opportunities to make a further impact and consciously empower them to help make decisions that elevate the workplace, its culture, and practices. Some other ideas for rewards to show sincerity include:
- Shout-outs from the CEO,
- Company awards,
- Strategic bonuses,
- Promotions, and
- Career development opportunities.
3. Zero tolerance for retaliation
For some employers, the hardest part of building trust will be appropriately disciplining anyone who violates it. Especially if the one being disciplined is a star performer or high up in the chain of command.
However, even just one unaddressed instance of retaliation can undermine months of work and ruin a company’s reputation for diversity, inclusion, and equity. Any retaliation, for any reason, no matter who does it, must not be tolerated.
Fortunately, swift action to discipline the offender and prevent future instances can help repair the damage and restore trust. It shows you’re serious.
What Do You Think?
Psychological safety takes time to establish, even in companies without a history of overt retaliation. However, implementing the three strategies above will lay the groundwork for a culture where employees feel safe speaking up for diversity, inclusion, and equity.
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