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Published on July 6, 2021

Why Your Employees’ Voices Are Important to the Company

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Why Your Employees’ Voices Are Important to the Company

A lot of people struggle to express themselves at their workplace. You may, in fact, be one of these people. If you are—or if you are a manager or leader to someone who feels challenged to express themselves—it’s crucial to give yourself and your employees a voice. Why? Because your employees’ voices are one of the most important assets your company has.

Every individual in an organization has their own unique perspective. This means that every individual has insight into how the entire organization is functioning.

Organizational Blind Spots

If you’re only hearing from certain people in the company, your organization will inevitably have blind spots.

It’s crucial to expose these blind spots to run a company that is healthy and thriving. Yet, so many organizations make a huge error: they don’t give their employees a chance to share their genuine experiences.

As a voice and presence coach, I have seen firsthand how learning and development initiatives often prioritize CEOs, the C Suite, and managers. While this is wonderful, it’s not enough. If you’re not giving every individual in your organization access to professional development conversations, you’re leaving out crucial perspectives—and crucial voices.

When you give your employees a voice, you give them a chance to report both on what is happening in your company and also the efficiency of how it is happening. Your employees get to feel seen and heard, which makes them happier to keep contributing. Hearing your employees’ voices means you are taking care of your most important asset: the people who create the conditions for your product or service to continue being delivered to the world.

Why Employees Don’t Speak Up

The long and the short of it is: they’re scared.

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The primary need of any human being is to ensure their own safety and survival. This is as true on the savanna as it is in the office. And if you think about it, we really work to survive.

Of course, our work might be helping us fulfill our purpose in the world at the same time. But first and foremost, we show up to our jobs so we have the resources to meet our most basic needs like food and shelter. This means that when there is any threat at work, it registers as a survival issue in our nervous system. Very quickly, we go into protective mode, and when we do, the first thing to leave us is our ability to speak up. If we think we may be punished, we shut down our voice.

But there’s even more that happens when our work environment doesn’t feel safe for us—we also become less productive. Our human nervous system is essentially a machine. It’s able to function optimally when it feels comfortable, but when it’s under a perceived threat, it becomes focused only on survival. Employees in this state can get distracted easily, become jumpy or combative, and are unlikely to communicate well.

So, ask yourself: Are the employees in my company reporting back to me about how their work is going? Are they speaking honestly about their workload? Are they sharing what could help them be more efficient? If they’re not offering this kind of feedback, chances are they don’t feel safe, comfortable, or invited to do so.

Notice if the employees in your company aren’t using their voices to share how they’re doing. If they’re not, they need a safer environment to do so.

I’ll talk in a moment about what you can do to create a safer environment. But first, let’s get clear about what could be making your employees feel uneasy.

Things That Are Making Your Employees Uncomfortable

Imagine this scenario going on at an organization:

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Lisa is in a familiar jam—the marketing department needs information from her today, but the product team isn’t going to get back to her until Thursday. This keeps happening, and Lisa is frustrated and confused about what to do. She keeps pinging the product team, and they’re getting snippy with her. Meanwhile, she’s getting hounded with emails from marketing about the missed deadlines.

Lisa may not be a higher-up, but at the next meeting that includes the product team, the marketing team, and the leadership folks, it’s crucial that Lisa’s voice be heard. She is the puzzle piece that can help make sense of a larger organizational issue. If Lisa doesn’t have a chance to speak up, not only will the workflow issues continue, but she will also continue to feel more frustrated, less excited to show up to the office, and less effective at her job.

Of course, organizationally, it’s crucial to address operational issues like this. But now let’s take an example that involves an employee’s personal identity. Imagine this situation:

Nina was in a meeting last week where someone told her she needed to “calm down because she seemed frustrated.” To her, this was a very obvious incident of being labeled the angry Black woman. But the micro-aggression didn’t seem to register to anyone else on her team. No one stood up for her during the meeting, and now she knows that if she confronts the person who said it or speaks to her boss, either of them may double down on the idea that she needs to calm down and not be so angry.

Nina is left feeling unsafe to express any displeasure or frustration about her work. This means she can no longer communicate honestly, and she certainly will not share her personal experience with anyone at the office.

With her nervous system in a state of anxiety, Nina will quickly become less productive at her job. She will only open up if someone comes to her with genuine curiosity and a sense of non-punitive openness, inviting her to share. Otherwise, she’ll keep her mouth shut so as not to be under further threat.

How to Create a Safe Environment for Expression

The most important thing leaders of an organization can do to create a safe environment is to model honest and open expression themselves. This means becoming adept at expressing appreciation and also expressing the need for change without unnecessary punishment or harm.

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Here’s what you can do to help your employees open up their voices:

Step 1: Ask Specific Questions

An employee who has felt vocally shut down for a prolonged period of time will have trouble speaking freely right away. This means it will not be very effective to ask open-ended questions. If you say: “How’s everything going for you here at work?” You’re likely going to hear “Fine.” This is someone still stuck in protection mode.

If you want to get real answers, you’ll want to ask specific questions. You could ask:

  • “Are you experiencing any difficulties with workflow or communication in your team?”
  • “Are there any suggestions you have for how we can meet deadlines better?”
  • “Have any incidents occurred that make you feel uncomfortable in the office?”

Keep in mind, your employee still won’t share honest answers with you unless it’s clear they’re not going to be punished for being transparent. You must be genuinely curious and ready to implement changes based on what you hear.

Step 2: Take Action Based on the Feedback

When your employees help reveal a blind spot or an issue that needs to be addressed, take action to make corrections immediately and efficiently. If you don’t, you’re committing the worst offense of all—being all talk and no walk. If you don’t follow through, you can be sure that your employees will shut down their voices once again and stop sharing with you.

So, set up a new communication and deadline structure. Bring in a DEI consultant. Put your money where your mouth is, and make the changes your employees are revealing to be necessary.

It is an immensely brave thing for an employee to speak their truth to you, and it is crucial to honor the information you receive by taking action.

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Step 3: Create a Culture of Respect and Wellness

When you take these first two actions, you begin creating a culture in which people are truly honored for speaking up. You show that you value each individual’s contribution to the organization.

In a way, giving your employees a voice is really about caring for their overall well-being. It is treating them as whole and complete human beings so that their nervous systems can serve as the best functioning “machines” possible to do their job well.

When we ask specific questions with curiosity and when we take action based on what we hear, we are acknowledging our employees as valued members of our workplace. This creates a culture of respect and wellness.

You can also continue to nurture your employees with things like raises, bonuses, and asking how their’ son’s birthday party went. But give the raises and the bonuses or ask about the birthday party without the basis of genuine respect in the office, and you’ve still got a culture that simply doesn’t help people feel safe. So, always come back to asking the questions and making the changes.

Ultimately, You’ll See More Productivity

The bottom line is that if we don’t take care of people’s wellness and, ultimately, safety in the workplace, we can’t expect productivity. And how do we find out if our employees don’t feel well or safe? We invite them to use their voice.

So, if you really truly want employees who are working at their greatest potential with the greatest amount of creativity, the greatest amount of curiosity, and the greatest amount of innovation, you’ve got to be sure that you’re honoring their voices. The great news is, it’ll impact your bottom line in the best ways, too.

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Featured photo credit: krakenimages via unsplash.com

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More by this author

Elissa Weinzimmer

Vocal Health and Confidence Coach and Founder of Voice Body Connection

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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