Teamwork makes the dream work – or so the saying goes, but getting that perfect level of teamwork isn’t easy, and there are a multitude of problems and pitfalls along the way. One of which is the ability for employees to openly express themselves, but do so in a way that isn’t going to cause offense or upset others. Respectful communication is key.
Our modern society is highly sensitive to equality. In the UK, there are ‘protected characteristics’ which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their:
- Race (including colour, nationality, ethnicity, or national origin)
- Gender (or gender reassignment)
- Sexual orientation
- Marital or Civil Partnership status
- Being pregnant or on maternity leave
- Religious beliefs or lack thereof
This law protects individuals at work, in education, as a consumer, when using public services, buying or renting property, and as members or guests of private clubs / associations.
Not every country offers these protections, but for a truly progressive workplace, adoption of these principles makes for a compelling brand image and ethical statement.
The Problem with Openness and Offensiveness
In an effort to provide equality, there are certain actions that companies take to ensure their workers are not discriminated against, and this includes banning hate speech, taking disciplinary actions, and so forth. But balancing this with an approach that encourages employees to be open and transparent can be difficult – in some cases, there will be individuals who are knowingly offensive, and will use the opportunity to speak up to be unpleasant.
But far more often, people may do or say something in ignorance – and this leads to offense. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your staff can work in a safe, comfortable, and diverse environment.
What Can You Do to Balance Openness and Equality?
Take the time to look at the demographic of your staff – is there enough diversity and representation?
Be fair and inclusive – Try to avoid making opportunities or advancement possibilities only available to specific demographics.
Identify biases (conscious or otherwise) – As we mentioned, some people may be offensive on purpose, and others may just be unaware that they’re even biased or offensive in the first place. Take action to identify issues and offer real resolutions – such as training sessions and inclusivity sessions.
Be clear on what’s acceptable – People need to know where you stand on issues, and what is and isn’t acceptable from the business perspective. This will help them to better understand how they should conduct themselves at work.
Make training sessions a safe place – As difficult as it is, sometimes getting someone to see or understand that what they’re doing is wrong, means addressing it face on. This means people may need to repeat certain words or phrases, or describe certain actions – it should be made 100% clear than in a training session, these issues will be directly addressed, but there will be no personal judgment or ramifications for the person saying it – after all, if someone doesn’t understand what they’re doing wrong, how can they change and improve if they’re not allowed to ask why it’s wrong!
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Why Do You Need to Promote Open Communication in the Workplace?
Not only does communication help the business run better, getting rid of inefficiencies, improving processes, and keeping everyone on the right track, it also has the effect of building a positive working environment, improving human relationships, developing trust and respect, and encouraging employees to go to their managers with issues when required.
If employees feel that they’re being judged, or can’t express concerns, etc – then they’re going to stay silent and show little-to-no communication, and issues will begin to fester, which leads to inefficiency, poor performance, and higher staff turnover.
There have to be clear boundaries between what is acceptable and what isn’t, and these need to be enforced – this gives a clear structure that staff can respect, and know that if they have an issue that falls within these areas, that they will be safe and protected to express themselves.
Your employees are one of your greatest assets, they are the ones that know your products or services the best, and the ones that put the effort in to make your business grow – it’s vital that you support them, give them the tools to learn, and ensure that at the end of the day – they can all get along in a way that is respectful, engaging, and meaningful.