Most organisations are not safe places to say what you are really thinking

 
If you want to get on don't rock the boat. Don't contradict your manager. Best avoid topics of race , faith and sexuality so as not to risk saying the wrong thing. Don't go out of your way to upset your workmates by telling tales to management. This is the unofficial culture of every organisation I have ever worked in. 
 
This unofficial culture explains why whistleblowers are officially encouraged but then left to feel vulnerable and unsupported, why despite  the strong equality and diversity statement staff from minority groups feel racism and homophobic bullying goes on whilst others  complain of  "special treatment " but are afraid to say so publicly for fear of being labelled racist or homophobic and why those who disagree or express concern about proposed changes are seen as disloyal.  Most organisations are not safe places to say what you are really thinking. 
 
If work was a safe environment, there would be less chance of bad practice going unchecked, institutional racism would be more likely to be challenged as would negative stereotypes and myths about sexuality, gender, faith and disability, senior management would have a more accurate picture of what it was like to work here, changes would be smoother and more likely to work.
 
A culture of Openness
What does a safe work environment look like?
 
How do you creat a climate of safety where people can question, challenge and be challenged?
 
What type of managers and management behaviour is required?
 
A safe working environment, is a  safe place to say what you really think with out fear of retribution, being considered disloyal, a snitch or a racist. 
 
A safe working environment comes from the top, senior management model the desired behaviour, give permission to say the wrong thing, open out as opposed to close down discussion and are prepared to manage the emotions stirred up. Senior managers put the same emphasise on values as budgets and performance.( and are prepared to be challenged where these appear to be in conflict for example staffing levels and budget cuts). Senior managers creat opportunities for direct face to face communication as opposed to having messages filtered through middle management . Communication is tailored to the different audiences to make it relevant to their area of work, so the chief executive regular blog is not the way to go but social media does provide staff with the opportunity to ask questions. Senior managers need to model speaking plainly and not skirt round difficult questions this requires courage and confidence.
 
To creat and maintain a safe working environment Managers need to be good people managers. Managers need to demonstrate integrity,  no cover ups , no putting a positive spin on events, ignoring criticism or treating those who disagree as disloyal. 
To effectively manage people managers need insight into how their own behaviour affects others. Managers who have good people management skills are able to gain the trust of these they manage and work with. Trusted enough for others to say what they are really thinking.
 

Blair McPherson former director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

Security level: Public

More Blog Entries

The science of marginal gains

  A wide range of small minor improvements together make a significant difference to...

Take me to your leader

According to Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene if an alien was to visit Earth, the...

1 Comments

John Rudkin 3 Years Ago - Edited
I couldn't agree more Blair. Alas, it seems that regardless of the 'public spiritedness', honesty or concern, the organisation will be more likely to defend its reputation from the issue by denial, rather than simply investigate, listen, look and correct. I have personal experience of this. and the organisation concerned has poured multiple £000 into its defence and denial rather than look into the issue openly. Sadly. The perpetrators of the underlying issue and the need to whistleblow have been defended at public cost, and the ferocity of that defence has been personal and damaging. Your advice is sound, but if you allow those bad Managers to get away the indefensible how will the sector ever address and prevent it reoccurring? It is time to change. The imposition of gagging is a sure sign organisations know enough to pay to prevent trouble. Money is the great incentive here, and that is easy when the money is not yours! I have worked in may Companies that seem to have cultures of openness, and it is remarkable, but the problems never arose... or am I dreaming? One thing for sure - TRUST underpinned progress. I add this 10 mins after writing, but while not connected, is pertinent. Does it always take public disclosure to generate change? Take a look at what seems to be happening at the BBC! http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/05/26/bbc_staff_can_speak_truth_power_post_savile_era_says_director_general/