Giving Employees A Voice: The Little Things Matter

I was asked a question a number of years ago: if I could have any job in my current place of employment, what would it be. ANY job, even one that didn’t exist at this time.

My response was surprising to him. He assumed my answer would be some fun tech job, mapping out a vision for the future with an unlimited budget (I figure if I was creating a new job it would only be right to request an unlimited budget as well).

The job I would love to have doesn’t exist in this Department, but it surely should.

I would love to spend each day meeting with different employees, five or six a day, statewide. And I would get to know them, and hear about their lives and ask them what I could do to help them in their current position. Of course, I would stress “within reason”.

I have had occasion to get a sliver of what this might be like; while standing in line for coffee, or in an elevator, or sitting outside eating my lunch on a breezy spring day and engaging another employee in conversation. I ask them where they work and what they do. I just spend time listening. These buildings house thousands of employees – all with a story, all with a need, all with a vision. Perhaps, within those threads a shared vision even exists in some capacity.

The Truth: Most of these employees have no real voice

Can you imagine how cool it would be to take the time to listen to fellow employees and see the Department through their eyes? Through their job? Imagine if you could make their days here better – give them something as simple as a more comfortable chair, or a platform for them to share their vision, a real shot at expressing their ideas for the Department, or perhaps, simply giving them an opportunity to know that their ideas and perspectives matter.

I know it sounds crazy, but that would be my IDEAL job!

You see, if you really listen to an employee what it is they really want is respect (Cue the music!!), no matter their level, no matter their classification…pure and unassuming respect. As Maureen Monte points out in her game-changing book on Strengths-based teams, Destination Unstoppable, people want to be valued for being valuable! One of the ways organizations can feed that respect is by building genuine relationships with employees and supporting their goals.

Hence my dream job, how can we get to know our employees if there is no dialogue or no environment that even promotes that conversation? If there is no value for open communication between employees at different levels, how can we ever build real trust? If respect and being valued are key needs that humans seek out, if the cultural environment does not nurture those two key areas, how can we ever expect to get those outcomes? The desired outcome will consistently fall short, kind of like putting a fish on land and then wondering why it can’t ride a bicycle.

The Healthy Environment

Asking an employee what they think, providing a healthy environment for the exchange of ideas, providing an atmosphere of trust – all of this can ensure the kind of healthy candidness organizations can grow on!

In a recent 15Five article 10 More Proven Ways To Boost Employee Job Satisfaction, David Mizne reminds us that one of the ways we can boost employee satisfaction is to provide an environment of trust where ideas can be shared freely and issues are addressed immediately,

“….In workplaces that value open communication, especially between employees and their managers, issues and frustrations quickly surface. Instead of these issues festering and eventually leading to disengagement, managers can offer support. Employees are then more likely to trust leadership, building relationships where people are more forthcoming and willing to ask for help.”

Every employee can be an expert at something that contributes meaningfully to the organization, no matter what the position is.

Every job contributes to making the organization run and every employee contributes to the perception that organization has on the outside. Whether that employee work on the loading dock or in the executive suite, they represent that organization’s brand and have something to contribute if granted the opportunity to do so.

And the responsibility to create an atmosphere which allows employees to perform at optimum levels falls squarely upon the leadership.

If an employee does not feel their leadership respects them, listens to them, and trusts them to perform their duties well – what kind of relationships are you building together? What kind of Organization are you building? As we have uncovered in our Unpacking the State of the American Workplace Series, employees more than ever are looking for a fit within their role, culture and life.  The culture that they look for in organizations must foster trust, allowing them to perform well in their role well. Today’s employees that do not find this fit are far more likely to leave than those finding this fit.

So where do we go from here? 

We take our strengths and talents, and we apply them to building those relationships, to build that trust, to provide an atmosphere that gives a voice to the voiceless and an atmosphere of growth. For me, this means using my communication, for you it may mean using your empathy – the point is – use SOMETHING, one or more of your strengths to build those relationships, to build that trust, and most importantly, to prevent or repair toxic disengagement.

How do your talents contribute to building relationships?  What are the things that you naturally do, that you believe build trust?  What are the things that you need for trust to be built? Do any of your natural ways of building trust, actually run the risk of breaking it down unintentionally? Perhaps as you aim your Analytical talents, you ask direct questions seeking to boil the situation down to the facts which can help create trust. But…perhaps, the process of asking questions, is received by others as skepticism, and doubt in their abilities, when your intentions were merely to gain factually clarity.  How can you still ask those questions, but in a way that it is received as you intended?  There is no blanket solution, but there is an opportunity for all of us to come aware of how our talents contribute to building trust and may unintentionally contribute to breaking it down.  Awareness provides us an opportunity to utilize our talents individually and collectively as a path to create meaningful organizational change including the creation of engagement. What are the other questions you ask or believe should be asked?

Shelley Hom is a technology manager with the State of California who was introduced to Strengths Finder through a leadership academy at work. Using what she has learned both in her work and personal life, she mentors colleagues, family and friends on using ones’ strengths to get them where they want to go! When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with people and enjoying the simple things life has to offer; laughing, chatting, reading, and let’s not forget writing – all usually done with a really good cup of coffee close at hand! Outside of blogging for 34 Strong Shelley’s own blog can be found at: