Let Your Employees Speak Up…Even If It Makes You Uncomfortable

Organizations benefit from differing views and ideas. That’s why it is good to encourage employees to speak up and speak out. Yet, some managers prefer it when staff members march in lockstep and do not question leadership. 

The person who is willing to offer suggestions, even when unpopular, will help an organization grow. If someone brings up a different way of doing things, it at least deserves consideration. If an employee brings up a situation of inequality or discrimination, it should be addressed. People should never be blamed for being outspoken. 

Of course, there is a time and a place for honesty. 

Ideas should be welcome when a new initiative is being discussed. The same applies to discussions of how to address a problem. 

Remember that the National Labor Relations Board protects the rights of both union and nonunion workers. They speak out regarding working terms and conditions, pay, or to correct work-related problems.

Organizational psychologist Billie Blair, Ph.D., president, and CEO of Change Strategies, Inc.,  told HR Drive that outspokenness, per se, is neither a disciplinary nor terminable offense. “When an employer feels threatened by an outspoken employee — who is simply expressing a viewpoint — the problem is with the employer, not the employee. The employer does, however, have a right to expect and require a level of civility [in exchange]. Anything less than civil discourse is unsettling for other employees.”

When leaders are in a meeting, and an employee brings up a controversial subject or makes a point that is out of the ordinary, the person should be allowed to do so. Of course, they should not be allowed to make personal attacks or publications or air personnel issues. Once they have made their point, it is time to include others in the conversation. It is helpful if everyone participates. In most cases, decisions won’t come from that initial discussion. Smart leaders know they may need input from more than this group. The sales or fundraising team might need to be consulted. Economic models might need to be run. Legal counsel might need to be consulted. Some team members may want to force the boss into making a quick decision or change. Leaders owe the team the knowledge that they are being heard.

Following consultations, decisions will need to be made and communicated. Once that happens then, teams need to come together to implement them. If leaders have genuinely listened, most members of the staff will be ready to move on. If some individuals still want to complain, they need to be counseled about their role. Staff members need to be encouraged to speak at the right time but understand that effective organizations cannot operate by popular vote. 

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