You may be surprised at the number of people in organizations who are afraid to speak up.
What we're hearing is that many people (at all levels) are afraid of what others will think of them.
Many mention a fear that they won't be liked or that something dire might happen if they raise difficult issues. Others feel that they will be seen as 'troublesome' or 'hard to manage'. Still others mention a fear of being judged if they advocate for personal priorities or set boundaries around work hours, etc.
it is an entry-level employee who fears speaking up to a supervisor, peers who fear the comments of colleagues, a senior leader who fears communicating with transparency to direct reports, or challenging a Board of Directors -- speaking up can be difficult.
Many workplaces promote a culture of transparency, openness, and honesty; some have put processes in place to support safety in speaking up, such as 'Speak Up' venues. But it can take a long time to change the culture and we can't ignore the personal fears that people still hold.
Last month we provided some one-on-one conversation starters for leaders to engage their direct reports in discussions about speaking up. Here are some additional, more-personal, tips:
1. You deserve respect.
Respect is an espoused value in most workplaces and an element of civilized behaviour. Chances are, people will listen when you speak your mind -- and they will respect you for your views.
2. You are not alone.
If you are afraid of speaking up, it is likely that many others feel the same way. When you confront your fears and speak your mind, you will give others the power to do the same.
3. Stay true to your values.
Put your views to the 'values' test. If what you want to say or do is important because it is aligned with your core values, then not saying it or not doing it could be detrimental to your level of workplace satisfaction. What is the value of being liked by others if you don't trust yourself to be your own advocate?
An employee engagement survey can be a great way to find out whether your organization's culture is one where employees are comfortable speaking up. The Centre for Character Leadership's
Snapshot Engagement and Cultural Survey is a simple-to-complete survey that elicits employees' views on a number of key areas related to engagement including organizational leadership and communication; employee role clarity and satisfaction; and employee support, recognition and rewards.
Amidst the recent high-profile scandal of misconduct by a person in power, many organizations are having the conversation about creating a culture where employees feel safe in speaking up. The repercussions of not speaking up can have far-reaching impacts – systemic problems in organizations as well as long-term stress and health/mental health concerns for employees.
In organizations that have created a ‘safe’ culture, leaders encourage people at all levels to offer their point of view courageously, provide feedback, and advocate for what they see as right or helpful. When people offer suggestions or ways to improve how things are currently being done, leaders let them know what will be done with their suggestions. In these same organizations, because leaders are role models for open communication, people feel both encouraged and safe in speaking up – although we know that it still takes courage.
A short employee engagement survey can be a cost-effective way to get a temperature check on how open your employees feel in speaking up, among other engagement indicators. The Centre for Character Leadership’s Employee Engagement Survey is just 30 questions, takes about 10 minutes to complete, and employees are assured of anonymity.
At the Centre for Character Leadership, we also encourage leaders to have frank conversations about this topic with their direct reports during one-on-one coaching sessions. Asking the following, or similar, questions may help to open the conversation:
How frank are you in offering your perspective?
Do you fear speaking up in this workplace? If so, what do you fear?
What can we do to make it safer for you to speak up?
If you are interested in learning more about the Centre for Character Leadership’s Employee Engagement Survey, please contact me or our Assessment Administrator, Rosanne Wild.
As much as we should treat all our employees equally, there are some pretty compelling reasons why we might want to place some extra effort into engaging and retaining an ‘older’ workforce. It’s not only about providing a workplace that is supportive and inclusive, it’s also about valuing older workers and recognizing what they bring to organizations – including the long-term payoff of transferring their experience, skills, knowledge, organizational history, and values to a younger workforce.
If you’re not already doing so, you may want to shift your perspective a bit and start viewing your older workers as contributors beyond their job description – to see them as Collaborators, Mentors/Coaches, Trainers, Networkers, Project Workers, Role Models, and Difference Makers!
Collaborators: Include your older workers on collaboration teams, think tanks, strategic planning sessions, etc., recognizing that collaboration is about seeking diverse perspectives.
Mentors/Coaches: Set up mentoring programs so that your older workers can share (formally or informally) their wisdom, experience, skills, knowledge, and external networks. Ensure that the difference between mentoring (helping the individual navigate the organization) and coaching (tapping the brilliance of the individual) is understood and practiced.
Trainers: Progressive organizations are developing their learning content internally – utilize the skills and experience of your older workers to help with the design of training programs or as trainers in your ‘corporate university’.
Networkers: Older workers typically have extensive networks that they have built over their careers. There may be opportunities to tap into their networks for recruiting, outreach, or special projects.
Project Workers: Consider making easy entry/exit for project work. Not all older workers want full-time employment, but can be an asset on specific projects, as well as in part-time and seasonal roles.
Role Models: Older workers can help to shape your culture by demonstrating what it means to be productive, loyal, and hard-working — and to go above-and-beyond the job description.
Difference Makers: As workers get closer to the end of their career, they are motivated to leave a mark – to know that they have made a difference. And they want to be challenged. Find ways, perhaps through new initiatives/programs, to harness their passion.
Many people choose to stay in the workforce past the typical retirement age because they want to work – for personal fulfillment, dignity, social inclusion and well-being. Others may need to work to help secure retirement and financial stability if they are without pension plans or adequate personal savings. Here are some of the facts and research on this topic:
Statistics Canada conducted a survey of older workers between 50 and 75 years of age. Among respondents who were currently working, and had never retired (approximately 78% of the sample), over half indicated they plan to continue to work on a part-time basis when they retire. The Government of Canada has some tips for Promoting Older Worker Participation.
Governments and businesses have a vested interest in engaging older workers and encouraging their continued contribution. According to CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons), “older workers ‘are ready to stay engaged and demonstrate their value to the economy and society, and they will ‘not sit back and accept the status quo”.
Half of Canadian couples between 55 and 64 have no employer pension between them, and of those, less than 20 per cent of middle-income families have saved enough to adequately supplement government benefits and the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan. [Broadbent Institute]
Companies are exploring how to design the organization of the future – one that is more flexible and agile – and accommodates a workforce that is becoming both older and younger. [Deloitte report on Human Capital Trends]
At the Centre for Character Leadership, we’re passionate about character cultures – ones that value and include older workers. Do you have ways that older workers have brought outstanding contributions to your workplace? Please contact me and tell me about your success stories – I would love to hear them!
Being kind is an often-overlooked behaviour in the workplace, but one that research suggests would lead the ‘givers’ of kindness to have lower stress levels and a greater feeling of happiness. According to Dr. Stephen Post, author of How to Live a Longer, Happier, Healthier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, being kind leads ‘givers’ to be healthier and more resilient, as well as more creative, hopeful, and successful.
And the good news is it’s easy to be kind! But it does require that you think more about others than yourself. You can’t be kind by isolating yourself and not reaching out to people. Kindness is about being generous with your time and with compliments, being respectful, being compassionate, and generally having concern for others. Remember, being kind is not the sign of a ‘soft’ or weak leader – it is a sign of strength.
Our May 2017 blog, Positive leaders shape a culture of positivity offered tips for keeping the workplace positive – a key ingredient for encouraging a culture of greater kindness. Here are some examples of ways to be kind in the workplace:
Reach out to offer support:
Recognize when colleagues appear to be overwhelmed with tasks – see if you can help – perhaps you can chair a phone conference, offer to co-lead a project, or simply provide support by talking through any stumbling blocks on a project.
Give others an opportunity to shine:
Take the spotlight off yourself and think of ways for it to shine on others – for example, allow someone else to take the lead on a project
When you receive recognition, make sure you highlight the ways others supported you and the value they brought to the team/project.
When you see that others might be going through an especially difficult time in their personal life, ask if there is anything you can do to support them.
Reach out and take time to check in on someone who has recently experienced a personal loss or illness.
Tell others what you appreciate about them; tell them that you are grateful for what they do, and make it a point to say ‘thank you’
At the Centre for Character Leadership, we’re passionate about character cultures – ones where people are kind to each other. Please contact me if you would like assistance in instilling kindness in your company culture.
Leaders at all levels play a crucial role in shaping healthy cultures. Last month, we provided some action steps leaders can take to help improve the psychological health of their organizations and, thus, the mental health of their employees. But are there specific traits that stand out about leaders who create healthy cultures?
Integrity? Yes, for sure. Compassion? Of course. Respect? Always. But over-riding all these traits is one that may be often overlooked in lists of leadership behaviours – and that is ‘positivity’. A healthy workplace begins with leaders who help to sustain a culture of positivity. If employees feel positive about the work they are doing, positive about their leaders, and positive about future outcomes, they will be healthier, and the culture will be healthier.
In business today, where change, challenge, and complexity are the ‘new normal’, some leaders may struggle to project positivity when they are feeling uncertain about the future or even feeling that some challenges are insurmountable. Here are some ways leaders can keep the workplace positive:
Watch your mood and take time to ‘reset’ if needed. Don’t communicate (through words or body language) any negativity you may be feeling; use self-monitoring techniques to ensure you are not projecting negative emotions in the workplace. If needed, delay communicating until you have taken some time to ‘reset’.
Ensure that everyone in the organization knows they can be part of achieving the vision. Talk about what the future could look like when everyone works together. Involve people at all levels and work collaboratively to build positive solutions.
Convey hope for the future and describe a vision that is inspiring. Leaders have a responsibility for shining a positive light on situations while also being realistic about the challenges. Pay a great deal of attention to the words that you use to communicate – keep them positive.
Be open and realistic in sharing the challenges. We keep saying that leaders need to be transparent, but how can we expect leaders to portray a vision of hope when deep inside they are not feeling it? Knowing that a leader is providing honest information – the truth – will help employees feel they can trust their leader. If a leader is honest, even when times are tough, they will inspire trust which helps shape a culture of positivity. Employees will feel they can count on their leader even when there is adversity.
At the Centre for Character Leadership, we’re passionate about helping organizations create cultures where employees can realize their potential and contribute fully to organizational success – key ingredients for improving employee and organizational health.
Contact me if you would like some coaching on how to project positivity in the workplace.
If your organization is invested in having productive employees who can realize their potential and contribute fully to organizational success, then their mental health is of paramount importance.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, mental health problems and illnesses among working adults in Canada cost employers more than $6 billion (2011) in lost productivity from absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’ and turnover.
What would it take to make your organization a psychologically healthier workplace?
How can your organization create and sustain a culture (attitudes, values, and beliefs) that promotes a stronger concern for employee mental health?
The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests eight strategies that employers can use to encourage positive mental health. We’ve aligned their strategies against our Character Culture Model (Pillars and Values) and added some action steps you can use to help improve psychological health in your organization:
Character Culture Pillars:What to do and Why to do it
Create Clarity: Ensure that duties and responsibilities are clearly defined – doing so will alleviate stress and confusion, while keeping people focused on what is most important.
Commit to Accountability: Hold people accountable, but also make sure that workloads are managed fairly and work/life integration is highlighted as a success factor.
Coach for Performance: Provide ongoing feedback and encourage continuous learning to maximize individual potential as well as organizational performance.
Cultivate Collegiality: Ensure that your workplace is one where people feel safe, engaged, and valued. Solicit employee feedback to find out how your workplace can promote this.
Collaborate for Results: Promote a participatory culture where employees at all levels are encouraged to contribute to planning and decision making, and are rewarded for their ideas.
Character Culture Values:How to do it
Respect: Encourage dignified, positive, and inclusive behaviours where people feel respected and are respectful. Consider having conflict resolution practices in place.
Integrity: Create a culture where doing the ‘right’ things and demonstrating honesty, responsibility, fairness, and consistency is the standard – these behaviours will provide stronger emotional support for employees at all levels.
Compassion: Develop organization-wide skill at active listening and showing empathy so that employees will feel cared for and acknowledged.
Courage: Encourage people to speak up and openly express themselves – doing so will help people feel excited to rise up to challenges and will build resiliency.
At the Centre for Character Leadership, we’re passionate about helping organizations create cultures where employees can realize their potential and contribute fully to organizational success – key ingredients for improving employee mental health.
Contact me if you would like more strategies for improving the psychological health of your organization. We would also love to hear what’s working in your organization.