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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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Last Updated on January 13, 2022

How to Use Travel Time Effectively

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How to Use Travel Time Effectively

Most of us associate travel and time with what we’re going to do one we get to our destination. Planning and mapping out what to do once you arrive can certainly make for a more pleasurable vacation, but there are things you can do while you are on your way that can make it even better.

Sure, you can plan for the things you’re going to do on your vacation while you are travelling en route – but what about making use of that time for other things that you don’t usually do when you’re at home? You don’t need to have your gadgets with you to do it, and you can really connect with yourself if you take the time to manage your life while heading towards your vacation destination.

Here are some great tips to help you with your time management while you travel, some of which are more conventional than others. Nonetheless, you can find out what works best for you and apply them accordingly depending on when and how you are travelling.

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1. Take Your Time Getting There

As I write this, I’m on a flight to San Francisco. Flying is the fastest way to get from place to place, and for many people it’s really the only way to travel.

But I’ve often taken the train or ferry on trips so that I have extra time without distraction to get more done. I’m not worrying about navigation or lack of space to do what I want to do. Instead I’m able to focus on getting stuff done during the time I’ve got without feeling rushed. For example, when I took the train from Vancouver to Portland, it was an eight hour trip and I managed to get a ton of writing done and closed a lot of open loops. It also was less expensive than flying, which was a bonus.

Sometimes taking the long way to get somewhere on vacation can be the best thing for you to get somewhere with your life.

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2. Go Gadget-Free

This is going to be a tough one for a lot of you. But why do you need to bring your gadgets with you when you go on vacation? It isn’t be a bad idea to leave all but one of them behind, and only pull out that one when you absolutely need to do so. In some countries, you’d be wise to be discreet with them anyway since flaunting them in front of those that are less fortunate than you isn’t a good practice. While it may not seem like flaunting to you, in different cultures it can definitely come across that way.

If you can’t go gadget-free, then at least go Internet-free. If you use a task management app that requires syncing across your multiple devices to be effective, remember that if you only have the one device with you then it can be the “master device” for the time being and will store your data locally anyway. Just sync up when you get home.

3. Reflect and Prepare

Finally, going on any sort of excursion gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been. The fact you have removed yourself from where you usually are can give you a perspective that you simply can’t get when you’re at home. You may want to journal your thoughts during this time – and by taking more time to get to your destination you’ll have more time to dig deeper into it.

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After a period of reflection – however long that happens to be – you can then begin to not only prepare for the rest of your travels, you can prepare for the rest of what happens afterward. The reflection period is important, though. You need to really know where you’ve been in order to properly look at where you want to be. Time away from things gives you that chance.

Conclusion

Traveling isn’t always about where you’re going and how quickly you can get there. In fact, it’s rarely about that at all.

More often it’s where you’re at in your head that will dictate how much you benefit from traveling. So don’t just go somewhere fast. Instead, take your time on the way there and take the time to connect with not only where you are but who are while you’re there.

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If you do that, you’ll have a better chance to be who you want to be when you leave.

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

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