Advertising

Published on July 6, 2021

Why Your Employees’ Voices Are Important to the Company

Why Your Employees’ Voices Are Important to the Company
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

More Management Tips

Featured photo credit: krakenimages via unsplash.com

Advertising

More by this author

Elissa Weinzimmer

Vocal Health and Confidence Coach and Founder of Voice Body Connection

Why Your Employees’ Voices Are Important to the Company How To Speak Up For Yourself When You Don’t Know How How to Apologize When You Have Made a Mistake

Trending in Leadership

1 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 2 5 Values of an Effective Leader 3 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 4 Is People Management the Right Career Path for You? 5 10 Ways to Improve Team Management Skills and Boost Performance

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Advertising

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next