How many hours do you waste not speaking up at work?

Hannah Levison - March 28, 2018

Have you ever worked in a business where gossip rules the airwaves? You walk into the office kitchen and hear employees gossiping about their boss or one of their peers.

It might seem harmless, but this kind of behaviour points to a culture where people are afraid to speak up.

A study has found that the average employee wasted seven whole days complaining to others, doing extra or unnecessary work, ruminating about the problem, or getting angry instead of simply talking about the issue. This silence damages deadline, budgets, relationships, turnover, employee engagement and meeting goals. It could be due to power dynamics between a boss and a direct report, fear of hurting someone or fear of being impolite. Employees are left feeling powerless, unsatisfied, and often suffer from poor health.

Whether it’s something as severe as sexual harassment in the workplace, as has been spread by the #metoo movement, or something as simple as not agreeing with a new strategic move, staying quiet about poor behaviours or decisions allows them to flourish.

Employees should know that they can say how they really feel and not risk being penalised. (Obviously, that doesn’t license anyone to say what they want without care for people’s feelings.) By modelling the right trust behaviours, leaders can build high-trust cultures and can generate 2.5 times the revenue of low-trust organisations. High-trust cultures have 52% more employee engagement, 40% less burnout, 18% more productivity, 50% less employee turnover and 51% more innovation.

Here’s how you can avoid four common roadblocks to honest conversations in the workplace.

    1. Have honest, regular and frequent performance conversations.

    2. Challenge ideas to foster innovation within teams.

    3. Confront the issues with toxic employees.

    4. View mistakes not as embarrassing but rather as an opportunity to learn and improve the organisation’s way of doing things.

Open conversations start with leaders who take the time to listen to employees and provide safe spaces for people to speak out. But it also requires every employee to demonstrate the emotional maturity to discuss issues rather than complaining about them. This means learning how to speak up in meetings and people feeling confident in their beliefs and capabilities.

Even if you believe your group dynamic appears sound, it’s important that the leader of the group and the group itself reflect on:

  • What motivates your team the most?
  • Are you able to challenge each other to improve?
  • Can you publicly pull apart someone’s idea? Do they join in?
  • Do team members trust each other to engage in respectful and constructive conflict?
  • Under what conditions does the team shut down communication?
  • Does the group overestimate its abilities? Have there been times when estimates have been wrong?
  • When do members respond sarcastically to ideas? Why do they do this? How often?
  • How can you bring your team trust and team effectiveness to a new level?
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