Can you confidently say that 100% of your employees feel safe at work? For business and HR leaders, ensuring the health and safety of everyone on the job is imperative. But sometimes, reality has other plans.
Fraud, misconduct, harassment — even the most prepared organizations may face these challenges at some point. That’s why it’s vital for employees to feel free speaking up. Whenever issues arise, a speak-up culture can help you respond more swiftly and effectively. It also helps employees feel safe, which in turn, leads to increased overall wellbeing and productivity.
Over the years as a risk management consultant, I’ve discovered that ensuring people feel safe at work is no easy feat. But the following practices can help your organization establish and maintain a sense of psychological safety:
1. Start With a Comprehensive Anti-Retaliation Policy
A zero-tolerance anti-retaliation policy can act as a baseline for all employees — including C-suite executives — to guide expectations around retaliation in the workplace. But what exactly does anti-retaliation really mean in an HR context?
In organizational settings, retaliation presents itself through actions such as marginalizing or shunning people, impromptu negative performance reports, and regularly assigning unwanted work shifts to targeted individuals. Illegal retaliation can even go so far as firing someone for speaking up. A zero-tolerance policy ensures that any person responsible for retaliatory behavior will be terminated.
Rather than disciplining people who speak up, managers should be encouraged to address employee concerns with understanding and act swiftly to investigate and resolve the issue. Anything less, and employees may be too scared of possible retaliation to report a problem.
The policy should clarify key factors, such as:
- Specific types of conduct that should be reported,
- How your organization facilitates the reporting process,
- Actionable process steps, and
- How this policy complies with local laws and regulations.
The zero-tolerance principle should also apply to discussions about workplace discrimination allegations, because this can result in unintentional retaliation. Finally, to ensure that your policy reflects new needs as your organization grows, review your documentation periodically and update it accordingly.
2. Implement Anonymous Reporting Tools
An anonymous reporting system is a broad term for tools such as help lines and intake forms that make it easier for employees to report misconduct. Anonymity is vital because it adds a layer of protection that further shields those who speak up.
Organizations can invest in an in-house reporting system or outsource this process to a third-party provider that specializes in managing and tracking reports. An outsourced system helps employees feel safer, because they know others in the organization won’t be able to undermine or dismiss their concerns.
Also, implementing multiple reporting tools can be beneficial. Creating multiple reporting avenues encourages employees who need to report an issue or incident to speak up in a way that is most comfortable for them.
For example, in addition to offering a helpline, some organizations also provide an online intake form in various languages so it’s accessible to more people. Often, reports submitted through online forms contain sensitive information that some individuals may not be comfortable communicating out loud. Or a safe space may not be available where people can speak confidentially, so the online form serves as a trusted alternative.
Of course, implementing these tools is only the first step. It’s also important to provide ongoing education, training and monitoring to ensure that everyone in your organization understands the policy and how to use any reporting tools you provide. To ensure widespread adoption, this educational process must be a top-down effort across your organization. It must also serve as a cornerstone when onboarding each new member of your workforce.
3. Train Managers in Conflict Resolution
As an executive or HR leader, you’ve most likely been involved with conflict mediation as a fundamental aspect of the managerial role. In fact, 85% of U.S. employees have reported some level of conflict at work. You can help mitigate this by ensuring that lower-level managers develop conflict management and resolution skills. This can support a more cohesive strategy for spotting issues sooner and getting to solutions quicker, so you can avoid having to deal with situations after they’ve reached a boiling point.
Understanding the root cause of a conflict is often the first step in resolving these issue. The most common conflict triggers are workplace stress, clashing egos, lack of support, or poor leadership. There is room for middle-level management to identify potential issues before they escalate, engage with staff, reduce conflict directly, and evaluate how they can improve workflow management to better support their teams.
Disputes between managers and employees will still need to be handled with bias-free executive attention. However, the more conflict management and resolution training managers receive, the more likely employees will believe to trust “open door policies.” Ultimately, this can reduce conflict and increase well being across your teams.
4. Ask Employees for Feedback
You won’t know if people are satisfied with your efforts to help them feel safe at work unless you ask. That’s why you’ll want to find a viable method to gather feedback and channel key insights to decision-makers. By periodically gathering and acting on feedback, you can continuously improve employee satisfaction and retention over time.
But keep this in mind: Research says 78% of employees are willing and happy to participate in workplace feedback surveys. Yet, only 50% think their input will lead to meaningful change. This means you’ll want to be sure you close the loop if your survey reveals gaps or weaknesses in your policy or process. Otherwise, you could undermine your entire strategy.
When People Feel Safe at Work, Wellness and Productivity Follow
The ideal solution combines clear guidelines with anonymous reporting tools and conflict resolution training for managers, in conjunction with employee feedback surveys. Each mechanism works in tandem with the others to create a more holistic approach to maintaining well-being in the workplace. When thoughtfully implemented, this approach can increase trust and confidence across your organization.
Once you implement a zero-tolerance policy alongside anonymous reporting tools, training and feedback, you’ll be able to address areas of concern more proactively. Over time, you can expect to improve productivity and retention because you’ve invested effectively to foster an environment that supports workforce wellness and safety.