Thought for the week

How to develop a speak-up culture at work

In a time where diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of the media and societal attitudes, it seems more important than ever to develop a speak-up culture. The term refers to a space where everyone feels valued and heard. A speak-up culture evolves around psychological safety; a belief shared within a team that it is safe to speak-up without fear of retribution.

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 Why is it necessary for employers to implement a speak-up culture?

A two-year long Google study examined the many different teams at their own company to find out the key factors that go to make the most successful teams. “Psychological safety” was found to be number one.

There are many reasons that demonstrate why employers and managers can benefit from a culture that allows employees to speak up…including:-

  • Productivity – Employees who speak-up can help find and suggest better alternatives to current workplace systems.
  • Diversity – When organisations encourage every voice to be heard, they increase the chance of different people feeling empowered to share. Research shows companies with “diverse teams produce 19% more revenue”.
  • Improved Customer Service - Employees are in direct communication with clients and customers. Their solutions can introduce cost-effective measures and in turn, improve customer satisfaction.
  • Employee retention – Employees who feel valued are more likely to attach importance to their workplace.
  • Building trust – To effectively address issues such as harassment, discrimination and workplace bullying, companies need employees.who trust them.  Trust is something that takes time to build and moments to destroy.

What stops a speak-up culture from developing?

Employee personality and work environment are two obvious considerations in understanding what stops a speak-up culture from developing. Not everyone is an outspoken extrovert - some organisations may have a predominance of introverted personality types who may struggle to articulate their thoughts out loud. Companies may have work environments that appear to discourage speak-up culture. Employees might also feel that speaking out could make them be seen less favourably by their bosses and thus potentially less job secure.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that workplace atmosphere has a stronger influence on employees speaking up compared to particular personality types. HBR’s study also showed that people speak up more when they feel it is“strongly expected of them at work”.

A speak-up culture will struggle to develop in organisations where structures are not in place to measure employee feedback. Often, employees gather together for meetings which focus around their present plans and tasks. They communicate with senior members of staff to discuss what they are bringing and have brought to a company, not what they would like to offer. Without encouragement, employees can feel their voices are not worth hearing.

That sentiment can echo through to fresh, idea-driven individuals wanting to inspire change. New employees can quickly match the energy and ideologies of those around them, leading to an increased percentage of staff not sharing input.

Diversity has a significant role to play as well in how comfortable people feel sharing their thoughts. Without clear communication(particularly cross-cultural communication), diverse individuals in a team can feel even less inclined to share.

How to develop a speak-up culture at work

There are several key points to consider:


Arguably, listening is the most difficult part in developing a speak-up culture. It requires “vulnerability” and “courage” – two traits Serenity in Leadership’s CEO, Thom Dennis, links to successful leadership. No one likes being told where or what they are doing wrong. To listen, means to move past any uncomfortable, personal feelings. Employers benefit when they see their employees as part of the solutions, rather than problems or challenges when they come forward to report.

Good listening skills can be shown by taking fast action, checking in on a routine basis and following up on progress. If nothing changes for the better within a reasonable time frame once an employee has reported, they will likely lose trust to speak-up again.

Retaliation prevention measures

It is important that when an employee reports a concern, they do not face retaliation. This can take the form of a team leader delegating preferred employee tasks to someone else, or a manager showing some kind of hostility from cutting hours to outright acts of aggression, both passive and overt. Retaliation can be monitored through awareness (paying attention to data and work changes involving employees who report issues) as well as checking-in on, and around, them.


On a day-to-day basis, research shows “intrinsic rewards” (psychological) impact employee motivation more than“extrinsic” ones (pay rises, bonuses etc). Businesses can help create intrinsic reward through how they respond to individuals speaking up. Speak-up culture can be empowered by:

  1. Putting together actionable feedback.
  2. Showing interest by asking questions and making notes.
  3. Praising additional input.
  4. Asking for advice – not just when an employee raises a concern.
  5. Repetition of good practice.

A speak-up culture helps organisations thrive in multiple ways but there is no quick fix for creating or amending that culture - the trust staff members need for them to feel comfortable sharing their voice will take time to build. If companies want to make speaking up a workplace norm, they must actively and persistently encourage employees to let their voices be heard.








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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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