Culture — it’s one of the most difficult things to tackle in a workplace. This intangible, elusive concept is notoriously difficult to measure, and impossible to define, given that everyone has a slightly different definition of it. This means that when it comes to creating a positive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up, it can feel like you’re trying to catch a cloud with a butterfly net.

But here’s the thing: just because it’s hard to define doesn’t mean we can’t work towards it. In fact, acknowledging that it’s a complex concept is the first step toward creating a more positive work environment. It means we’re aware that there are a lot of moving parts, and we need to be intentional about each and every one of them.  Today, we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of speak up culture and how to create it at work.

What is speak up culture?

First things first: the basics. A ‘speak up culture’ is a workplace environment where employees feel comfortable speaking their minds, sharing their ideas, and raising concerns without fear of negative consequences. In other words, it’s a place where all employees feel safe to speak up when they have something to say; no matter what it is.

But it’s not just about encouraging people to speak their minds — it’s also about actively listening to what they have to say. Encouraging a speak up culture means leaders are taking the time to listen to their employees’ perspectives, and using that feedback to inform their decisions and actions.

Why does speak up culture matter?

Now, let’s talk about why having a speak up culture is so important. For one thing, it fosters a sense of trust and transparency between employees and management. When people feel like they can speak openly and honestly, they’re more likely to feel valued and respected. When this isn’t the case, however, employees might feel silenced and unhappy. There has been a growing recognition of the importance of speak up culture, particularly in the wake of high-profile corporate scandals and cases of workplace harassment. According to a whistleblowing report carried out by Navex, only around 1.4% of employees actually report issues at work — this volume of unchecked reports can cause significant damage to individuals, businesses and the wider community.  The number highlights a pressing need to create an environment that is conducive to transparent reporting without negative consequences.

Launchpad: Creating a positive company culture – with Dawn Duggan

Once this safe space has been created, the benefits for business are significant. From better decision-making that includes diverse perspectives to improving overall job satisfaction and morale (who wouldn’t want to work in an environment where their voice matters?), speak up culture is good for the bottom line. It’s simple, when employees feel like their voices are heard, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated. They’re also more likely to feel a sense of ownership over their work, which can lead to increased productivity and innovation.

Perhaps most importantly, a speak up culture can create a sense of psychological safety in the workplace. When people feel like they can speak their minds without fear of retribution, they’re more likely to take risks and share new ideas. A report by the Institute of Business Ethics found that organisations with strong cultures of support tend to have fewer incidents of misconduct, better employee engagement, and higher levels of trust. Employees in more supportive organisations were more likely to speak up about misconduct (70%) than those in unsupportive organisations (47%).

How do you create speak up culture in the workplace?

So, how do you go about building a speak up culture at your organisation? Well, it’s not rocket science, but it does take some effort. Here are five steps to get you started:

Step 1: Set the tone from the top

It’s important for leaders to model the behaviour they want to see in their employees. Leaders should encourage open communication, actively listen to feedback, and demonstrate a willingness to change course when necessary.  If employees don’t see encouragement and support before they have something to report, it’s unlikely they will speak up should they need to.

Step 2: Establish clear channels of communication

Create multiple channels through which employees can provide feedback and report issues, including anonymous suggestion boxes, regular check-ins, and town hall meetings. Make sure employees know how to use these channels and that they feel safe doing so.

Step 3: Respond to feedback

When employees speak up, it’s essential to respond in a timely and respectful manner, and in a way that lets them know they are supported. If employees feel like their feedback is being ignored or dismissed, they are less likely to speak up in the future.

Step 4: Provide training

Provide training to help employees develop communication and conflict resolution skills. This training can include active listening, assertiveness, and emotional intelligence.  Ensure that the training is engaging and easy to complete to maximise its effectiveness.

Step 5: Make changes

Recognition can go a long way in encouraging employees to continue to speak up and contribute to a positive workplace culture.  If employees see that you are making changes to company policies and training as a result of someone speaking up, then the culture will continue to flourish.

Remember, it’s all about creating a safe and supportive environment where everyone feels valued and heard, and letting your people know that you are willing to actively listen to their experiences. Implement the measures above to get started on creating a positive culture, but remember — this work is ongoing, so keep it up!

Hannah West is research lead at GoodCourse