How Are Your Employees Really Feeling? 4 Ways to Shift Company Culture

How Are Your Employees Really Feeling? 4 Ways to Change Company Culture

Would you know if your employees are crying out for attention?

We're well underway into 2021, and joining us is the sidekick we know and hate as COVID-19 to help keep us company.

Since the pandemic hit, many employees have been able to get into a new rhythm of working from home and being separated from their co-workers and leaders. Many may be handling their new normal quite fine and are happy to just keep on going without much thought.

But chances are very probable that there's a sense of unease inside your company where employees are not feeling any joy at all, haven't for quite some time, and are not sure how to speak up about it.

Are you a leader who operates by the mantra of 'hear no evil, so all my employees must be happy and secure so we'll just keep pushing forward'?

Or are you a leader who is able to take a step back, and have the courage to ask the simple question to your employees "how are you really feeling", then truly listen to the response without judgement?

And are you able to put a conversation like this first before setting corporate goals? Why would this be important? More on that below.

Whether you want to admit it or not, you will have employees who are struggling with challenges that COVID-19 is continuing to force in front of us. Challenges related to mental and workplace health, work-life balance, safety and security, and a sense of not being connected or feeling like they don't belong with colleagues and leadership. They may also have concerns about job opportunities in the company.

But most importantly, you will have employees who may be feeling so lost, but are afraid to speak up about it for fear of being judged or not listened to. Or not 'heard'.

As we set new intentions for this new year ahead, why not make the intention, as a leader, to ask each employee, 'how are you really feeling, and whatever you tell me is between us, and I'm hear to listen and help to make things better'.

It's one thing to take a 'human resources' standard approach to gauging the magnitude of a fractured workplace culture. But is this really going to net the results you want? Or do you want to take this approach to check a box and avoid any possible confrontation?

Or you could shift the approach to one where you ask the really tough questions, truly listen to what's being said without any retaliation or judgement. And accept any responsibility where necessary. In other words, an informal conversation where the employee really feels empowered to speak up about anything (and I mean anything), and exit the conversation feeling like they made a difference and feel completely supported and respected.

For some employees, when it comes time to answer any tough questions, they don't have any hesitation speaking their mind. In fact some may welcome the challenge that this could create in the work environment.

But many more employees will completely shy away from creating confrontation at all costs and may sugar coat any situation they are speaking about. How does this truly get to the root of a problem if they feel they can't truly offer up their personal feelings, good-bad-ugly, because they feel they will be judged? Or thought of as 'less', or not respected by leadership?

What can leaders do and say to help draw out any concerns that could eventually lead to employee turnover, burnout, unsatisfactory work, and continued dragging-down of the company's culture?

I liken this to the TV show Undercover Boss. This is a brilliant show where leaders go undercover inside their organizations to really immerse themselves inside the workplace culture. The result is always the same. Employees spill the beans about all aspects of the workplace environment / leadership / culture. And the undercover boss listens, 'hears', vows to make change, and rewards the employees for speaking out.

Why does this work? Because the employee(s) don't know they are talking to leadership. They think they are talking to another employee on their 'level'. Which begs the question, what are your employees mumbling amongst themselves about that you have no idea of?

Why is it important to ask the hard questions to employees now, at the start of this new year, to really drill down deep inside the organization's culture, before assuming all is well and jumping right into setting out the new objectives and expectations for the year?

Well, if the general mood amongst your employee population continues to dwindle, without any intervention sooner rather than later, human nature is inclined to not perform as well, and your objectives and expectations are moot. That's not to say they won't perform good work, but why not get this new year off to a good start with making positive changes?

Sometimes a good exercise is to check-in with yourself and understand your own outward facing aura, or vibe that others receive from you. After all, you're likely struggling too. But you are the leader. The below ideas are pretty elementary, but sometimes we have to take a few steps back in order to make huge leaps forward. Let's start 2021 off with good intentions:

  • How do you react to concerns voiced by employees?

If an employee came to you with a concern, what would your initial reaction be? What is your body language? What are your facial expressions? These are all ways we express ourselves, and they are also ways the person standing before you will receive your consideration for their time to speak-up. Unless it's absolutely necessary, don't ask the employee if they want to speak about their concern later. Chances are they will have lost their courage to elaborate on their concern and you aren't going to gain any important feedback. This also sends a message to the employee that their time isn't that important.

  • Do all employees get equal treatment?

If you had two employees who bent the same HR rules, or company expectations, would each receive the same reprimand? For example, if each are late to meetings, does one employee's indiscretion merit little to no follow up on the matter, but the other employee keeps getting reprimanded? This lack of equal treatment is not lost within your employee population and those who are singled out more will start feeling the effects, and likely start grumbling to their co-workers.

  • As a leader, do you own up to your own indiscretions and behaviour?

Just because you're in a leadership role, doesn't mean you don't make mistakes. It's how you own up to them that really sets a tone of respect within your company culture. If an employee came to you and said they don't like how you react to ideas they express and that your reactions make them feel like their ideas were lacking in some way, how would you acknowledge this information? Would you tell the employee they are over thinking things? Or would you sit down and have a conversation that could potentially head in an unexpected direction, but one that is driven by the true feelings of that employee? Would you own up to any of your own behavioural traits that could be feeding this employee's negative emotions?

  • Do you have other ways employees can speak up?

For those employees who do feel hesitant to come forward to lay all their cards on the table, do you have another mechanism for them to anonymously speak up? If so, how do you respond to information they report? Do you thank the anonymous employee for speaking up? Do you investigate the matter immediately, and follow up with that employee to let them know that positive change resulted from the investigation? Ignoring it all together sets the tone that concerns don't matter so don't bother speaking up, even if there is platform in place to do so.

It's hard being human sometimes. But human we are. Your employees come in each day to do work that results in your company earning revenue and growth. Without employees' hard work, revenue might slip. If employees feel nobody cares about them, they won't care about the work they do. Let's get this year off on the right track with the right intentions. And let's hope that things should fall into place for 2021.

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photo Amanda Nieweler

Amanda Nieweler

Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.