5 tips for creating a culture where employees speak up

A happy workplace culture is integral to employee retention and the overall success of a company. Unfortunately, bullying and harassment occur in most workplaces, causing harm to a person’s mental wellbeing and reducing their productivity.

However, you can do lots of things to create a speak-up culture, where people who have experienced poor behaviour can report it and action can be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Here are five tips for creating a culture where employees speak up.

  1. Get rid of zero-tolerance policies
  2. Prevent retaliation
  3. Gather data about reporting
  4. Be transparent
  5. Invest in anonymous reporting software

1. Get rid of zero-tolerance policies

You may think implementing a zero-tolerance policy is the way to stamp out bullying and encourage speak-up culture. But if your policies imply an employee will be sacked if they violate that policy, you may actually dissuade victims from reporting an incident. 

This is because many victims of bullying don’t want their coworker or even their boss to lose their job over an offence. Often, all they want is for the bullying to stop, so they may try to fix the issue themselves or ignore it. 

So, to encourage a speak-up culture, your policy should clearly state what behaviours are prohibited and indicate that these violations will result in appropriate discipline. It should also contain examples of the action the company will take and avoid using the phrase ‘zero-tolerance’.

2. Prevent retaliation

If an employee sees their coworker experiencing retaliation after reporting an incident or concern, they’re less likely to come forward themselves. What makes things difficult is that retaliation can take many forms. A subtle example would be a supervisor removing an employee from a project. Another more severe example of retaliation could be having hours or pay cut.

Fear of retaliation can damage workplace culture and force employees to hold back from speaking up.

That’s why you must put measures in place to prevent retaliation. To do this, you can proactively check-in with whistleblowers to see how they’re doing, as well as monitoring any proposed job changes and performance evaluations.

Providing coaching on conflict management is equally important, showing employees how to move forward collaboratively following a complaint.

3. Gather data about reporting

Encouraging speak-up culture goes far beyond a company slogan of ‘see something, say something’. If your organisation is already conveying to staff that speaking up is encouraged, but you rarely find your employees speak up about wrongful conduct, one of the best things you can do is assess why. 

With this information, you can discover if people aren’t speaking up because of a lack of awareness of anti-bullying policies, or because of something else. If this is the case, you’ll need to spend time training your employees so they know where to report an incident and how you'll deal with them.

You can gather this information through an anonymous survey. Remember to ask the following questions:

  • Do you know when, where and how you can report problematic behaviour?
  • Do you know what reporting channels are available to you?
  • How comfortable are you using these channels?
  • Is there anything we can put in place to make it easier for you to report an incident?
  • What barriers may stop you from speaking up?
  • Do you feel your colleagues would support you if you spoke up?

With this information, you can make the changes necessary to encourage and cultivate a speak-up culture. 

Even better than a one-off anonymous survey is introducing anonymous reporting all year round (see point 5!)

4. Be transparent

Often, victim-survivors don’t speak up because they think the organisation will take no action. As with most HR processes, a report and investigation into the matter will need to take place. However, the person who reported the incident may think nothing is happening, so transparency is key.

To earn trust and encourage reporting, consider holding follow-up meetings with the person who reported the problem, as well as any witnesses involved. During this meeting, you can thank them for coming forward or participating in the investigation. 

We’re also seeing more and more organisations being publicly transparent about bullying and harassment figures and the action they’ve taken. Publicising this type of data can help you manage your reputation and positions you as a company with a culture of improvement.

5. Invest in anonymous reporting software

Reporting an incident can be a daunting task for anyone, so the process needs to be as simple as possible. A long-winded process with paper forms may turn people away, as may formal face to face reporting processes which require a lot of courage to speak up.

As previously mentioned, if the victim fears retaliation, they’re also less likely to report. This means the organisation will lose out on crucial information that can help both the employee and the company. According to Whistleblowing Report 2019, companies that provided an anonymous reporting option saw 58% of initial reports were submitted anonymously. This means over half of all reports wouldn’t have come in if they didn’t offer an anonymous option.

By investing in an anonymous reporting software, employees will be empowered to speak up. This kind of software also enables employers to use real-time data to spot trends early so you can be proactive in taking preventative action against workplace harassment. You can request a free demo of Culture Shift’s platform here.

Interested in finding out more about creating a speak up culture? Culture Shift can help you analyse your organisation and the pros and cons of your workplace culture.

Analyse the culture of your organisation

As a company grows, maintaining a positive culture can be a difficult task. A good place to start is to establish the culture you already have and see where there's room for improvement. Take our free 10-minute workplace culture audit today.Take our culture audit here

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