11 ways leaders can encourage employees to speak freely

Some professionals have no trouble speaking their minds in the workplace. However, there are others who may have some of the best ideas to contribute but are simply too nervous to speak up.

The Business Journals

Leaders should encourage all their employees to speak freely, but sometimes special emphasis needs to be put on the ones who are too timid or introverted. Here, 11 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss the best ways for leaders to encourage employees to be less afraid to speak freely.

1. Practice transparent, honest communication.
An employee that is afraid to speak up is often the result of the actions of someone in a position of authority. Transparent and honest communication from people in upper-level positions empowers effective communication. People who are in positions of authority must learn to listen actively. Do not just try to think of the next thing to say — listen, digest and then respond. – Lane Conner, Fuzse

2. Create a safe space for introverts to talk.
Different personalities want to share ideas differently. Extroverts can sometimes overpower a room without knowing it, so I make sure that I create a safe space where introverts can come to me and openly discuss anything they care to share in a private setting. I reassure everyone and involve them in planning things so they feel encouraged by sharing their ideas and making them come to life. – Messina Truttman, Beck Flavors

3. Be approachable, appreciative, act on input.
If employees are afraid to speak freely, it may be a symptom of another problem. The corporate culture may allow or encourage intimidation, or leadership may not be approachable or too judgmental. To encourage active input from employees, leaders must: 1. Be approachable and truly interested; 2. Be appreciative of employee input; 3. Act on meaningful input where warranted. – Doug Kinsey, Artifex Financial Group

4. Reward innovation and try something new.
Elon Musk once said that the biggest problem in many organizations is that they encourage playing it safe. The risk often means making mistakes, and mistakes are often punished. Think about how you can reward innovation and try something new, even if it means messing something up at some point. It has to be a part of your company culture. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

5. Create a safe culture and value diversity.
Create a safe culture and environment that values the diversity of thinking that every single person brings to the table. If employees are connected to the values and purpose of a business, and they understand the importance of their role, then they also respect the contributions of others as everyone is aligned. Then curiosity and conversation grow, and great ideas will flow. – Joanna Swash, Moneypenny

6. Actively listen and be consistent.
Listen when they talk and be consistent. If you are pushing for “openness” as a team but fly off the handle at the smallest infringement, you remove the comfort level. Be moderate and listen. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

7. Ask questions to seek insight and experience.
Ask questions of the team to seek their insight and experience. When talking through an issue, let employees speak first and then replay what you hear. When a decision is made, explain the thought process and how their input shaped the decision. – Jason Comstock, Clarity Technology Solutions LLC

8. Show humility, humor, self-depreciation.
I think a big part of the process is showing traits of humility, humor and a healthy little dose of self-deprecation to get your team feeling comfortable. In brainstorming sessions, I also like throwing out a crazy, off-the-wall idea to help get the ball rolling and to disarm everyone. Showing authenticity and vulnerability helps build trust over time while also encouraging others to use their voices. – Scott Harkey, OH Partners

9. Discuss opportunities and challenges.
Have weekly meetings with your entire team where you discuss opportunities and challenges and allow employees the space to be able to present their thoughts and feedback on how to effectively overcome those challenges. They could bring some great ideas that weren’t thought of before. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Invest time to interact with employees.
A reason why employees are afraid to speak freely is that they don’t know their leaders. Many leaders don’t invest enough time with their employees, and their interactions are typically an exchange between a leader asking an employee to perform a task. If leaders want employees to speak freely and care about the organization, they need to invest their time with employees. – Quoc Nguyen, Arthur Lawrence, LLC.

11. Hire a facilitator to establish relations.
Provide facilitation. Many employees are afraid to speak openly even when encouraged to do so because they fear the repercussions in case of saying something that the management does not agree with. An effective way to build a culture of “freedom of speech” is to hire a professional facilitator who helps establish the right environment and the necessary relations between managers and employees. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

15 important things leaders should understand about employee morale

As a busy business owner or team leader, it can be difficult to gauge employee morale. If employees are unhappy, the signs and damage may not be obvious until it’s too late — leading to high turnover, a culture of mistrust and, ultimately, hindering productivity across the company.

The Business Journals

An employee may hide unhappiness from their supervisor because they don’t feel confident enough in the relationship to share their feelings. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to understand factors that affect employee morale. Below, 15 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share what leaders need to understand if they want to keep their employees’ morale high.

1. Your employees’ mental health matters.
Every person matters. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Mental health is essential now for employee morale and productivity. Focusing on mental health may seem like a “soft benefit,” yet uncovering struggling morale is a smart move to help get ahead of potential decreases in efficiency. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

2. Life events happen to everyone.
The most fundamental detail to remember is that your team members are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and children, and life events happen to everyone. Be flexible and be there for them in good times and tough times — you will go a long way toward them wanting to be there for you in good and tough times as well. – Oyvind Vik, Omega Project Solutions (US)

3. They want their achievements to be recognized.
Recognize your team members’ achievements. When leadership takes the time to recognize their team members’ accomplishments and note specific details about their work, it illustrates to the team that the appreciation is genuine and their work is noticed. – Gregory Herrman, Herrman & Herrman, PLLC

4. Any employee can impact morale.
Any employee in any part of the organization can affect partial or overall morale. Managers need to meet with each of their employees weekly or biweekly and have open communication to address any challenges that may arise. When an issue arises, it’s important for the manager to partner with the employee to discover the root of the issue and help support that employee with solutions. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

5. Open communication is vital.
Communication is vital in understanding how to keep employee morale high. Leaders should not gloss over challenges they must work through. By keeping an open line of communication, leaders can show they are able to handle difficult times and provide confidence to their team. – Mark Gibbens, Erudite Capital

6. Empathy creates strong bonds.
A leader who leads with empathy will create strong bonds with their employees, positively impacting morale. A leader who shows they care, helps to remove obstacles and recognizes achievements impacts everyone around them. Employee morale is more about the environment a leader creates day in and day out than it is about an employee’s attitude or personality. – Lauren Winans, Next Level Benefits

7. They need to see you pitch in.
Engage with your employees. Get out and get your hands dirty. Let them see you pitching in. For example, one of my techs was having an issue with a network setup. I went to the site and we talked through it together. He was then able to complete the install. I would also encourage you to share what is happening in the company — in sales, finance, marketing and so on. – Jason Comstock, Clarity Technology Solutions LLC

8. You can stay ahead of issues by checking in regularly.
Checking in with your direct reports individually every week provides you with the opportunity to stay ahead of employee issues. If every manager in the business maintains the habit of meeting with all of their direct reports each week, the business has an opportunity to solve employee issues early, demonstrate true caring and maintain high morale. – Jason Dunn, DACS Asphalt & Concrete

9. Each person is motivated by different things.
Every person in your team is unique; everyone has their own way of having their needs met. You can’t just throw an occasional team-building event and expect the entire organization to stay happy for the rest of the year. It’s important to take one-on-one time with your employees and give them the kind of help and support they really need. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

10. You should regularly check on their workloads.
Leaders need to keep a pulse on the happiness of their employees. It’s important to frequently touch base with employees to see if they are overwhelmed with their workload or not challenged enough by their position. Jobs need to be fulfilling — not just for professional development but also for the employee’s overall mental health. – Jeremy Hedrick, DialCare

11. Listening must be your top priority.
Listen, listen and listen! We flipped the organizational chart so our front-line team knows they are at the top — the most important part of our team. We make sure that this is reinforced at meetings, town halls and every time we get together. It sounds simple, but the truth is, all anyone wants is to be heard and respected. – Yanet Herrero, Kings Service Solutions, LLC

12. Companies must offer multiple paths to better morale.
There’s no “one thing” that companies can do that makes everyone happy. So companies need to offer several ways for employees to connect, boost morale and get feedback about their performance. Embracing a diverse workforce not only means embracing cultural diversity but also differences in how someone connects with their work team and company. – Tom Rourick, RSM US LLP

13. Employees know when other team members aren’t pulling their weight.
Prune dead branches. Employees know when certain team members are not pulling their weight. In some cases, having certain employees around is counterproductive. This is even worse if the employee is the boss’s family member. After working side-by-side to help each team member succeed, pruning counterproductive ones as a natural part of day-to-day work is healthy for everyone. – Kirk W. McLaren, Foresight CFO

14. External tools can help you learn what motivates employees.
Everyone has different motivators. Don’t jump to the conclusion that what motivates you will be what motivates someone else. Spend time learning what motivates your team members individually, including using external tools such as personality tests to gauge additional insights. Learning what motivates your team will put you in a better place to keep team members motivated and engaged. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

15. You can’t rely on ‘gimmicks.’
Rather than seeking to keep morale high through gimmicks and ping pong tables, the focus should be on creating true relationships where the people know that their leaders truly care about them and want the best for them. This is what is lacking the most in today’s environment. Leaders need to love and serve their people first; as a result, their people will love and serve them in return. – Jonathan Keyser, Keyser