What are the characteristics of a speak-up culture? It’s a tough question, but looking at the opposite — a culture of fear — yields some insights. The most obvious difference is how interpersonal conflicts, misconduct and problems are handled internally.

Last year, the forsa institute published an eye-opening study in which employees from the public service sector reported their experiences with discrimination and bias in the workplace. The results draw attention to how companies deal with conflict or misconduct in their organization. In the worst cases, a lack of positive and encouraging measures (like the right communication) can create a damaging culture of fear.

Let us look at the example of sexual harassment in the workplace: Over 40 percent of participants in the study believe that sexual harassment and sexist behavior are widespread in the professional environment. …

When talking about speak-up culture, most organizations primarily think of reporting channels, feedback processes and responsible contact people. But these measures can be ineffective without a proper communication strategy. You need to inform employees about your speak-up measures — before they find themselves in a crisis or conflict situation.

Symbolic image: Someone is rasing their hand during a presentation.
Symbolic image: Someone is rasing their hand during a presentation.

According to the APE model, a speak-up culture is built in three steps: creating awareness, establishing processes and fostering engagement. Of course these three stages are connected, but internal communication plays a special role in the first step. Let’s have a look into how companies can raise awareness for their speak-up culture and make sure that existing processes and channels are used effectively.

1 — Identify effective communication strategies

Each company culture is unique, and internal communication works very differently from organization to organization. A highly individualized communication strategy is crucial when promoting a topic across your company. You should start by analyzing the styles, media…

Companies benefit a lot from employees that speak up. Learn how to build trust and establish a healthy corporate culture, following the three steps of the APE model.

A speak-up culture makes employees identify more with their jobs, stay longer in the company and become demonstrably more productive. At first, it may seem uncomfortable for management when their teams start expressing what they really think. But what would be the alternative? Nobody knows the processes better and identifies weak points earlier than those operationally involved. In addition, smouldering interpersonal conflicts or unpunished misconduct can have dramatic consequences for those affected.

In order for employees to raise concerns openly, it is essential to create an environment where they feel comfortable to express honest opinions. …

Above all, inclusive leadership means building genuine trust between employees and managers. But how does it work?

The term “speak-up culture” describes an environment in which employees can communicate sensitive topics openly and without fear of negative consequences. Companies with such a culture benefit from constructive and honest feedback from employees, often valuable for change management. They also avoid the lasting damage caused by ongoing interpersonal conflicts and unsolved cases of misconduct. But before employees feel that they can openly address issues at work, they often need to build up trust. This is called “psychological safety” and describes an environment without fear.

What is psychological safety?

Google examined the factors that make their teams successful, and identified that psychological safety is…

Lara von Petersdorff-Campen

CEO & Co-Founder @ Evermood. On a mission to make employees feel valued and supported at all times.

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