Speak-Up Culture: Why It Matters and How to Build It

Vivian Susko |

Tips For Assessing The State of Your Workplace Culture in Promoting Openness, Trust, and Inclusion. 

6,000 more anonymous hotline reports were filed in 2023 than 2022, according to the respondent of Mitratech’s 2024 State of Ethics Reporting Hotlines. The findings also reveal:

  • Employment Law issues and incidents have more than doubled (up 115%) relating to topics such as employee abuse and bullying, hostile work environments, harassment and discrimination, sexual assault, and general misconduct.
  • HR and Employee Relations incidents rose 16% as more employees filed reports relating to general human resources topics and policies, including attendance, payroll, and drugs and alcohol.
  • Ethics and Legal Compliance reports increased 29%, which consisted largely of general compliance, fraud, conflict of interest, and code of conduct incidents.

What do all of these spikes have in common? They show that employees are speaking up more than ever before to report unethical behavior and voice their concerns. And when properly embraced, this trend can be an opportunity for organizations to identify and address issues early, reduce risk, improve overall compliance, and lead to a more inclusive and productive work environment that attracts and retains top talent.

So, What is a Speak-Up Culture?

A speak-up culture is one in which employees feel comfortable vocalizing their concerns, ideas, mistakes, and any observed misconduct without fear of retribution or retaliation. This is essential for a healthy and productive workplace; when employees feel like they can’t speak up, it can escalate into larger challenges like safety hazards, decreased productivity, and employee turnover.

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Why a Speak-Up Culture Matters

A culture where speaking up is encouraged is one that can adapt and respond more effectively to internal and external challenges, enhancing overall resilience. Some top benefits include:

1. Enhancing Organizational Integrity

A speak-up culture is fundamental to maintaining high ethical standards. When employees feel safe to report issues or unethical behavior, it helps the organization address issues promptly and uphold its values. This not only prevents potential scandals but also builds a reputation for integrity, which is invaluable in attracting customers, investors, and top talent.

2. Promoting Innovation and Productivity

Encouraging employees to share their ideas can lead to innovative solutions and improvements. When people feel heard, they are more likely to contribute creatively and collaboratively. This organizational culture of openness can lead to breakthroughs that give the organization a competitive edge. Likewise, having an open, safe forum where employees can share roadblocks and

3. Improving Employee Engagement, Productivity, and Retention

Employees who feel their voices are valued are more engaged and loyal. They are more likely to stay with an organization that respects and considers their input. High engagement levels lead to better performance, lower turnover rates, and reduced recruitment costs. In other words, employee engagement directly impacts your bottom line.

4. Mitigating Risk

By fostering a culture where employees can report potential risks without fear, organizations can proactively address issues before they escalate. This is particularly crucial for compliance, safety, and operational risks. Early assessments, detection, and resolution of problems can save significant costs and protect the organization’s reputation.

5. Driving Ethical Decision-Making

When you can continuously gather real-time feedback to assess the state of your culture with employee hotlines, web reporting, cultural engagement pulses surveys, and more, leadership has the tools to create a culture that can listen up and respond, too.

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How to Build a Speak-Up Culture

Creating a space where employees feel empowered to communicate their concerns and needs requires a 360-degree approach to addressing culture and compliance. This includes but is not limited to:

1. Leadership Commitment

A speak-up culture starts at the top. Leaders must demonstrate a genuine commitment to listening and acting on employees’ concerns. This can be done through regular communication, leading by example, and visibly supporting those who speak up.

2. Clear Company Policies and Procedures

Establishing clear, accessible policies and procedures for reporting concerns is essential. Employees should know how to raise issues and what to expect after doing so. This includes having multiple channels for reporting, such as hotlines, online portals, or designated personnel.

3. Training and Awareness

Regular training on the importance of speaking up, how to report concerns, and the protections available to whistleblowers is crucial. This training should be part of the onboarding process and ongoing professional development. Awareness campaigns can also reinforce the message that the organization values and protects those who speak up.

4. Non-Retaliation Assurance

Employees must be assured that they will not face retaliation or negative consequences for using anonymous reporting channels and reporting concerns. A strong non-retaliation policy, supported by swift and decisive action against any retaliatory behavior, is essential. This policy should be communicated clearly and frequently.

5. Encourage Open Communication

Foster an environment where open dialogue among team members and leadership is the norm. Encourage managers to hold regular team meetings where employees can discuss issues openly, in a safe space. Recognize and reward those who contribute ideas and report concerns, reinforcing the message that their input is valued and upholding an open-door policy.

6. Follow-Up and Feedback

When employees raise concerns, it’s crucial to follow up and provide feedback on the actions taken. This demonstrates that the organization takes their input and well-being seriously and is committed to resolving issues. Lack of follow-up can lead to disengagement and reluctance to speak up in the future.

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Elevating Your Work Environment and Workplace Culture with Reporting Tools

Simply put, good things happen when you have highly engaged employees.

By fostering an environment where employees feel safe and valued, organizations can enhance their ethical standards, drive innovation, and mitigate risks. Ultimately, a robust speak-up culture is a cornerstone of a resilient and thriving organization.

Embrace the challenge of building this company culture and watch your organization grow stronger, more innovative, and more resilient in the face of challenges. Establishing a safe and secure reporting channel is an important first step toward positive change.

Elevate your GRC program today!

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