Engaging Employees to be Open and Honest in the Workplace

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I began a post on social media inviting opinions on how best to encourage employees to be open and honest about their experiences in the workplace. I received great feedback with exceptional ideas from individuals in various areas of employment.
The following is a collection of methods to advance open communication in the workplace.
1) Get to know your employees.
As a leader, take the time to engage with each one of your employees. Ask them how they are doing and if they have any concerns. Make this part of your daily routine, because the more your employees see you and get to know you, the more likely they will feel comfortable talking to you about their concerns.
2) Be available to your employees.
Encourage all leaders in your organization to have an “open door” policy with their employees. Explain the importance of having open lines of communication by outlining how inconsistencies in organizations tend to confuse employees, mainly where there are unspoken rules among the ranks/positions that can result in retribution for speaking out of line.
3) Be prepared to hear the truth.
It is crucial for leaders to be prepared to hear difficult and contentious topics brought forward by employees. Failure to allow these discussions to occur has the potential to create an environment where employees do not feel supported, safe, or valued raising concerns.
4) Hearing feedback requires you to listen authentically.
As human beings, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking about what we would like to say instead of listening to what is said. Further, instances may arise where leaders feel they are obligated to defend their opinion or organizational direction. If as leaders we fail to listen and continually talk over individuals, we will quickly close the lines of communication, create animosity among our employees, and face an uphill battle trying to rebuild broken trust and communication.
5) If the room remains quiet, welcome dissenting views or concerns.
If employees remain silent, promote discussion by asking questions or providing examples of possible issues. By initiating the dialogue with those around you, it has the potential to open the door to more effective communication and demonstrate you are genuinely interested in the problems affecting the organization.
6) Avoid punishing or chastising those who disagree with you.
Asking for feedback is not an opportunity for you to chastise or argue with your employees, but a chance for you to maintain a neutral demeanor and listen without judgment.
7) Encourage employees to engage in productive conversation.
Do not let unproductive whining, complaining, or gossip take over the conversation. Should unproductive discussions continue, encourage employees to bring forward solutions to their concerns. Consider involving employees who raise concerns to participate in the process phase of creating a plan to remedy the complaints.
8) Do not feel you need to provide immediate answers to questions or concerns.
Avoid providing an immediate answer to a question. The point of engaging your employees is to listen to what they have to say and then take the time to respond.
9) Continually communicate on the progress of complaints and issues.
Once questions and concerns have been raised, do your best to communicate on where the organization is with remedying the problems. To ensure issues are not forgotten, provide timelines related to feedback on where the organization is with the question or concern. Communicate to your employees when matters are of a confidential or legal nature, and you are not able to comment.
10) Have an electronic suggestion box.
Utilize social media and other electronic resources to open the lines of communication with your employees. Have internal social media sites set up for employees to voice concerns they may have related to the workplace. Provide the option to post suggestions anonymously or openly. Ensure you continually communicate with your employees they will not face punishment for any ideas they provide. Address each concern publicly on the social media site.
11) Encourage a culture where people feel comfortable speaking out.
Having a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking out can be challenging to create and maintain. However, you can begin building a supportive culture by following the above steps and remind everyone you are there to help make their work life better, not punish them for being open and honest about what they feel or think.
12) Consider a third-party firm to help engage employees.
If mistrust continues, despite best efforts from leaders, consider bringing in a third-party firm to conduct surveys and interviews to determine the issues of the workplace. Once the third party has completed their assessment, be sure to share the results with all employees and openly communicate a plan to help remedy the broken trust and lines of communication in your organization.
Only when you, as a leader, create a culture and environment where everyone feels they can share their opinions, will you hear open and honest feedback related to concerns in the workplace.

Jen Magnus has a Doctorate in Business Administration: Organizational Leadership. Dr. Magnus conducts workplace assessments, investigations, and training related to bullying and harassment, organizational culture, leadership, workplace investigations, and trauma-informed interviewing. She is a 14-year veteran of policing and a member of several Public Boards. All notes, publications, and opinions are her own unless otherwise specified. © Magnus Consulting 2018

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