How can you create a culture to make it safe to speak up at work?

People having an open conversation at work

As leaders specializing in collaboration and conflict resolution, we focus today on making it safe for people to speak up at work. Fostering a culture of open communication is crucial for organizational success in today's dynamic and fast-paced work environment. The ability for employees to freely share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas can significantly enhance innovation, collaboration, and overall workplace satisfaction. Workplaces do face challenges, however, in establishing an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable speaking up. The costs associated with an absence of open communication and the need for authenticity make it imperative to proactively build a culture that not only allows but encourages employees to share feedback honestly. Building on this article from the Greater Good Science Center from the University of California-Berkeley, I offer additional thoughts for your consideration.


Understanding the Costs of Not Speaking Up: A Call for Change


There are profound costs and consequences for individuals and organizations when employees hesitate to voice their opinions or concerns. These costs and consequences include:

  1. Stifled Innovation: Without open communication, innovative ideas may go unnoticed, hindering the organization's ability to adapt to changing market dynamics.
  2. Decreased Employee Engagement: Employees who feel their opinions are not valued are more likely to disengage, leading to decreased productivity and satisfaction.
  3. Missed Opportunities for Improvement: Valuable insights that could drive process improvements may remain untapped, limiting the organization's potential for growth and efficiency.
  4. Negative Impact on Workplace Culture: A culture of silence can breed mistrust and anxiety, eroding the sense of community and teamwork within the organization.
  5. Increased Turnover: Employees who feel unheard may seek opportunities elsewhere, leading to higher turnover rates and associated costs.

Recognizing these costs and consequences underscores the urgency of creating an environment where every individual feels empowered to speak up without fear of reprisal.


Building a Safe and Inclusive Environment: Key Strategies


To create a workplace where speaking up is not only encouraged but celebrated, organizations can implement the following strategies:

  1. Leadership Commitment: Leadership must demonstrate a genuine commitment to open communication by actively encouraging feedback and by modeling transparency. When leaders openly share their own challenges and mistakes, it sets a precedent for a culture of authenticity.
  2. Clear Communication Channels: Establishing clear channels for communication ensures that employees know where and how to share their thoughts. This can include regular town hall meetings, suggestion boxes, or anonymous feedback mechanisms.
  3. Training and Development: Provide training programs that empower employees with the skills and confidence to communicate effectively. This can include workshops on active listening, conflict resolution, and how to give constructive feedback.
  4. Recognition of Contributions: Acknowledge and celebrate instances where employees speak up and contribute valuable insights. Recognition reinforces the importance of open communication and encourages others to follow suit.
  5. Anonymous Feedback Options: Implementing anonymous feedback mechanisms can be instrumental in providing a safe space for employees to share concerns without fear of retribution. This can foster a culture where honesty is valued.
  6. Responsive Action: Actively address and respond to feedforward. When employees see that their input leads to positive changes or improvements, they are more likely to continue engaging in open communication. When something bad happens, a leader can focus not on feedback but rather on feedforward. This takes the emphasis off blame and puts it on learning from the bad event and working together on “what can we do together going forward to make improvements.” Feedforward demonstrates authenticity and promotes trust.


The Positive Impact of Speaking Up: Embracing Authenticity


Creating a culture where speaking up is not only safe but also valued has benefits for both individuals and the organization:

  1. Enhanced Innovation: A diverse range of perspectives fosters innovation, as employees feel empowered to share creative ideas without fear of judgment.
  2. Increased Employee Engagement: When employees know their opinions matter, they become more engaged in their work, leading to higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity.
  3. Improved Problem Solving: Open communication enables effective problem-solving by tapping into the collective intelligence of the workforce.
  4. Strengthened Team Dynamics: A culture of openness builds trust and strengthens team dynamics, as colleagues feel comfortable collaborating and supporting each other.
  5. Adaptability and Resilience: Organizations that encourage open communication are better equipped to adapt to change and navigate challenges, as they can leverage the diverse insights of their workforce.

“Before someone chooses to speak up, they consciously or unconsciously ask themselves:

  • Is it safe? Do I feel there is enough psychological safety present for me to take the risk to my job, relationships, and reputation to speak up?
  • Is it worth it? Do I perceive that speaking up will yield a useful, positive impact? (This is what is known as “perceived impact.”

You can read more about each in the article,  and check out the visuals for a possible discussion with your team.


Conclusion: Fostering a Culture of Open Communication Together


In conclusion, creating a culture where employees feel safe to speak up is not only a strategic imperative but a moral one. The costs and consequences of not speaking up are too high, and the benefits of fostering open communication are too valuable to ignore. By committing to these strategies, organizations can build a workplace where authenticity is celebrated, innovation flourishes, and employees are empowered to contribute to the success of the organization. Together, we can create an environment where every voice is heard, valued, and appreciated, driving a positive and thriving workplace culture. Consider the graphics provided and consider having a discussion on this topic with your team.


If you’re looking for some assistance related to collaboration or conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills, check out these links.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]