A simple guide to talking about workplace issues with your coworkers

You may hear about how your company supports human rights and seeks to do good in the world; how it values diversity and has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment; how it already has an open-door policy for you to individually discuss any concerns with them. But much of the time, there is a very real gap between a company’s stated values and policies, and the lived experiences of those the policies cover, as well as those who are affected by product and services decisions. Workplace policies in particular are often created by executives with no input from the employees who are actually affected by them.

When employees have a voice in corporate decision-making or policy development, they can help ensure ethical outcomes and broader accountability. CEOs, boards and investors can pursue ethical pathways — even if it challenges financial returns — when they have the collective power of employees behind them, pushing for what’s right.

Forming a group of concerned coworkers around an issue you want to fix is an essential step toward creating a structure to channel workplace voice and ensure accountability. So, how do you begin to build a shared vision for worker voice that uplifts your values and ethics?

Beginning a conversation with your coworkers about what feels unjust at our jobs is not a common practice in most workplaces. You may have taken concerns to a sympathetic manager or HR person, or you may have started to share job frustrations with friends, family, and trusted coworkers. But creating the structure for worker voice is something most people have very little experience doing. You may be met with skepticism and even opposition.

That’s why one of the scariest steps can be the initial process of bringing up workplace issues to your coworkers. But you’re not alone in this. Coworker.org wants to make sure you have the tools and support you need to take the next step, and speak with your coworkers about your workplace issues — whether you’re dealing with understaffing, excessive hours, pay discrimination, or want to raise concerns about a direction your company’s taking.

  1. Get outside help. Labor experts, such as those at Coworker.org, can answer your coworkers’ questions about your rights at work, share what’s worked for other employees in your industry, and provide support and skills-building for making change at work.
  2. Be curious and honest with yourself about what you’re worried about. You may be afraid your coworkers will say something to management, or will think of you differently after your talk. Remember, your coworker is worried about this too. If you’re feeling concerned about the way certain things are going, chances are that your coworkers are too. Remember that fear is natural. And so is having a conversation about things that affect you both.
  3. Start with those that you feel closest to. Sharing concerns with people you trust at work means that you’ll get honest answers. If you trust someone, chances are that others trust them as well — so you might get a sense of what others are feeling too. Who you feel able to speak to doesn’t necessarily mean those you work with the most.
  4. Start with coworkers who aren’t in management. Start by listening to those do who don’t currently have as much decision-making power. By virtue of their position, managers have more power to have their voices heard than non-managerial employees. This doesn’t mean your manager is bad — in some instances, your manager may eventually use their power to advocate for your group’s goals at the corporate level. But you’ll need to establish what your issues and goals are first, without interference.
  5. Model what you’re asking of your coworkers: trust & vulnerability. By trusting your coworker with some of what you’re feeling, chances are your coworkers will reciprocate. You might start by sharing a specific concern, and point to evidence of your experience.
  6. Ask open ended questions, and listen. People listen to those who listen to them. Don’t make assumptions, and remember that your coworkers will have different concerns than you do.
  7. Hang out with your coworkers outside of work. People tend to work on issues with those they like to spend time with. Since you’re starting with folks you’re closest to, that might mean you like each other and could have fun together. You might invite them to an event about a related topic.
  8. Give examples of other people in your role/profession/industry who are making positive change. People get involved when they see other people involved, and when they feel like their efforts might actually make a difference.
  9. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. We will always help you find the answer if we don’t know it either, and we can often provide data and information on your issue.

Remember, helping your CEO do the right thing is an act of love for your workplace, and for the world. We’re here for it.

Coworker.org is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our technology makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign about changes you want to see in your workplace on Coworker.org here — or contact us at info@coworker.org if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.