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  • Writer's pictureTaryn M

Do your employees feel safe speaking up?

Updated: Nov 21, 2021

Individuals and organizations right now, are asking themselves how we can make our workplaces more diverse, equity and inclusion. Conversations are occurring, acknowledgement we can do better, and identifying opportunities on how we can make improvements.

For efforts to be successful, employees need to feel safe to speak freely, and offer candid feedback. None of this can happen though if employees do not feel emotionally safe at work. I worked at an organization for over 15-years, physical safety was their top priority. I had the privilege of participating on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team for many years. The core team grew to have confidence and trust in one another, but it was not without hard work, tough conversations and being candid to our feelings. The feeling of emotional safety, however, was inclusive to the core group only. This feeling, however, did not resonate through the rest of the organization. “I do not have the time; I am too busy at work; I am white; I have nothing to contribute;” resonated with majority. But I challenged you to ask yourself, doesn’t this work apply to everyone? Isn’t it all our jobs?

According to a study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some type of retaliation. Given this reality, it falls on employers (specially not just Human Resources) to show their employees that they can report incidents of discrimination, identify institutional failures, and recommend solutions all without fear of retaliation.

Here are a few ways to establish a solid foundation of trust, openness, and respect and prevent a culture of retaliation:

Admit your Mistakes It is OK, we are all humans, and guess what we make mistakes. If we are not making mistakes, then we are not learning. If leaders demonstrate a willingness to be vulnerable and a desire to learn, they can help put their employees’ minds at ease and more effectively solicit candid feedback. Conversations that are followed by action, open the door to honest communication between employees and their employer and set the groundwork for building a trusting relationship.

Reward “Close Calls” Creating a real sense of both physical and emotional safety takes more than preventing retaliation. Employees need to see that providing candid and vital feedback is met with appreciation, gratitude, and action from leadership. Both formal and informal leaders should be identified in the organization, given opportunities to make a further impact, and empowered to help make decisions that elevate the workplace, its culture, and its practices. Consider safety moments, that highlight learned opportunities for growth. A simple token of recognition can go along way.

Implement a Zero Tolerance Policy Stating you do not tolerate intimidation or retaliation against anyone who raises a concern, makes a report, or cooperates in an investigation is important, but your actions are what truly matter. Recognizing speaking up is not always easy, but you want your employees to that make the decision to speak up as simple as possible. Any retaliation, for any reason, no matter who does it, must not be tolerated. Taking swift action to discipline the offender and prevent future instances can help repair the damage and restore trust. It shows you are serious and take the Zero Tolerance Policy seriously.

Emotional safety takes time to establish, even in organization without a history of overt retaliation or mistrust. Start by implementing the three strategies above. Lay the groundwork for a culture in which employees feel safe speaking up and embrace a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For more information about how to build a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, consider implementing a training process by seeking out educational opportunities. I highly recommend international consultant, trainer, and certified leadership educator, Dr. Johnny Lake. For more information check out

Contact Taryn M Consulting for additional ideas.

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