Nobody likes confrontation, and many people will go out of their way to avoid conflict. At work, however, there are instances where people must voice their concerns, air grievances and speak their mind.

In the spirit of transparency, employers should recognise this and encourage team members to ‘speak up’. Without a solid platform on which issues can be raised, they can often be swept under the carpet only to resurface later.

A recent CIPD report shows that just 47% of survey respondents had trained, qualified line managers to handle ‘difficult conversations’ and oversee conflicts occurring over the last 12 months. This is a great start, but there is definite room for improvement.

The same report also indicates a 29% increase in conflicts settled by disciplinary action, closely followed by a 28% upswing in grievance procedures undertaken.

These are extreme measures which could effectively terminate an employee’s contract. To enable you to better retain your employees, CALLCARE has collated some pointers on how to develop better communication in the workplace – for the good of your business and your staff.

    1. Trust comes first

Woman with shirt onEmployers should lead by example, and ensure that staff can trust them 100%. Like any relationship, starting with trust as a foundation will go a long way in reassuring your employees that they can speak about anything that might be worrying them.

A big part of this is having an open-door policy. A boss, manager or general superior should be your go-to person if you need help with work or have an issue you want raising (a HR person or office manager are other alternatives).

If a member of staff feels they cannot trust an employer with sensitive information, or an issue that troubles them, then they will take it elsewhere or keep it to themselves.

To learn more about trust in the workplace, we spoke to Holly Fisher, Head of Talent at digital marketing agency Bozboz. According to Holly, trust has a positive knock-on effect for creativity…

“The most important place to start when fostering creativity and innovation is a culture of trust. Your team have to feel comfortable enough to share their ideas and know they will get support and constructive feedback.”

Trust not only has a massive effect on bringing up sensitive issues, it gives employees the confidence to pitch new, brave and exciting ideas to colleagues and clients.

Ensure your policies are trustworthy, too!

Trust also has a lot to do with how your policies are implemented. A clear, structured process is far better than one that is overly-complicated, or one with a worrying amount of small print.

If, for example, an employee feels they have to report a fellow colleague then this is already sensitive ground for them. It doesn’t have to be – make your processes jargon-free and easy to understand.

We spoke with Luke Hughes, CEO of Origym Group LTD. Origym pass on their fitness expertise to budding personal trainers, and have plenty of experience in HR processes and employee satisfaction.

“It is vital that a company breeds a culture on reporting, and stresses how accessible reporting is. I have worked for companies in the past where it is often hidden in terms and conditions of employment or is not fully addressed during induction phases.

“This can make it feel frowned upon to report something, even when it is in their best interests.”

A ‘speak up’ culture will help lessen the stigma around workplace reporting, and alleviate any worries, concerns and issues.

Luke Hughes spoke more about the stigmas, and how complete transparency is a must-have for any enterprise.

“By creating trust through removing stigma of reporting on colleagues which can be achieved through reiterating there is no consequence to doing so and creating an atmosphere of honesty and transparency can you really get your employees to engage with it.

“It should be properly addressed during the induction phase with clear parameters of what actions they can take if they see untoward conduct occurring and highlighting reward versus consequence.”

Once you have instilled a sense of confidence and a culture of trust within your workplace, it is now time to draw up some detailed grievance procedures. Having your staff understand what the processes are will make them feel comfortable should an issue arise.

2.Draw up clear grievance policies and procedures

This is where responsibilities and expectations come into play. Employers are expected to provide support for staff, and encourage back-and-forth communication. On the other hand, staff should know that they can raise issues, and should do so if an incident occurs.

Holly Fisher, Head of Talent at Bozboz had a little more to say. She added:

We promote a culture of transparency by ensuring everyone is responsible for continuous feedback, across all levels of the company. One of our values is integrity and everyone in the business is encouraged to reflect this in all they do.

“If someone is late or not being a team player, it’s not the manager’s responsibility to address this with the team member. The team is responsible for making sure that person knows it’s not OK to let people down.

“In exactly the same way, if there are issues with the quality, or integrity, of our product or service, the team is responsible for communicating what we need to improve and how we’re going to achieve this as a team.”

Of course, the implementation of policies is not quite enough. Employers need to be following up these policies by speaking to staff. How has this worked? Do you think this has had a positive, or negative effect on productivity?

As a reputable and established recruitment firm, Mason Frank International has introduced clear policies for new starters getting to grips with processes and what to do if an issue should arise. Commenting is CEO James Lloyd-Townshend:

“We feel staff satisfaction is an absolute imperative. As recruiters, we understand the priorities of both employers and employees, which is why we have a clear internal policy in our employee handbook that outlines grievance policies and management structures to our staff.

“This means any issues can always be reported to the right channel. Outside of this, we conduct an annual employee satisfaction survey and use our HR department to escalate issues and add an unavoidable transparency to all grievances.”

Staff satisfaction translates well into other areas of a business – productivity is proven to be 12% higher when staff are happy, motivated and well-adjusted. This also improves reputations, as it gives you the opportunity to present the business as a strong advocate of employee happiness and satisfaction.

So, how can companies ensure they are complying with guidelines?

It’s all about employers informing themselves, staying in the loop and knowing the latest legal news. There are resources out there with which you can become better informed.

Such resources have worked well for David Pinches, Marketing Director at software providers Oak Software. According to David, being a part of online workplace groups can help with compliance knowledge.

“The latest digital workplaces and intranets have a part to play in this important area. We are seeing companies setting up internal groups and dedicated online spaces to help in compliance.

“For example, we are seeing legal firms use our intranet platform to set up online Brexit discussions. As legislation changes they can not only post relevant documents, but also blog about topics, encouraging interactive feedback so that the subject matter can be fully understood.

“Companies are also setting up tailored external news feeds so that any relevant contextual information is immediately available in the business and in some cases even running a countdown clock to the publication of latest guidelines.

“In highly regulated industries, it is often the case that employees have to read certain material in order to meet compliance.  Again, this can be managed digitally by presenting such documentation as a “have to read” option before gaining access to other systems. Quite a hard line option, but often used.”

3. Deal with such calls externally

As we mentioned earlier, coming forward with a grievance or an issue can be off-putting for many people, due to the stigma that surrounds whistleblowers of all kinds, and the fear that there will be bias against them.

This is particularly true for small businesses, where the culture is tighter and everyone knows everyone. For example, someone who has an issue to raise about their manager may feel uncomfortable proceeding straight to a Director who is close with the staff member in question. People may feel that sides will be taken, and that the complaint will not be dealt with fairly and objectively.

It can be difficult to get around such issues, especially for SMEs, or those that need to report on someone higher up than themselves. For example, if there were a chain of shops and a junior member of staff saw the highest manager stealing stock, they will need an anonymous place to report this because they obviously couldn’t report it to the manager.

While there is an element of anonymity, whistleblowing lines are more about staff having a way to easily report to senior managers who they wouldn’t normally have a direct line of contact to.

Gemma Harding, Head of Corporate Services at CALLCARE, commented on the need for anonymous whistleblowing lines:

“Employers need to understand the delicate situation that arises and the difficult position employees feel they have been placed in when raising an issue either about the workplace or a fellow colleague. They may feel like their job is under threat or that they will be side-lined by their colleagues if the word gets out, or they may have no option if they work in a small team where the person they wish to report is their own manager!

“An anonymous line run outside your business shows that you care about your staff enough for them to have a place where they can voice their concerns to a trained individual, without the worry of a potential backlash or damage to their career.”

4. Use technology to your advantage

Understandably, introducing extensive support plans can take a long time, and so can its maintenance. For such reasons, you should be incorporating some kind of online system with which employees can report grievances or issues.

This can be as simple as firing an email over to your manager or HR representative. Alternatively, you can set up a system whereby multiple members of staff can have their say, anonymously or not. Either way, processes like this can be a huge time-saver.

Luke Hughes, CEO of Origym Group LTD had a little more to say on the subject, adding that an anonymous submission system can be a great help.

“At Origym, every member of staff has a login to our website for the function of their job, but also on there is a tab where they can post and report a wrongdoing of a fellow colleague. They can choose to do this anonymously or not – that choice is theirs.

“This comes through to my email address and has worked very well. Nine times out of 10 staff members do not want to be identified in reporting on a colleague, thus having the anonymous section is very key to getting staff members to report.

“Many staff members fear being found out by other staff members or being seen to trying to seek an advantage by doing so – this helps to eliminate this problem.”

Employees want their voices heard, and the more you allow this the happier they’ll be. This may be a little difficult if the matter at hand is of a sensitive nature, but the same rules still apply. With some simple strategies you can encourage a positive, transparent ‘speak up’ culture – in the long-run, your employees will thank you for it.

Gemma Harding

As Head of Client Services Gemma is an expert in the call answering services industry.