What’s So Great About a Speak-up Culture?
Compliance Corner – Issue 1.4
With all the talk about creating a speak-up culture within the workplace, you may be asking yourself, “What’s so great about a speak-up culture?”
And, given the position you hold within the university, you may have a different perspective than some of your fellow employees. For example, let’s say that you’re in a leadership position, and you’ve just led a session on speaking up, complete with instructions for contacting the VCUHelpline to report concerns. Do you feel like you need to be more careful about what you say, now, in case someone calls to report YOU? What if they report something that’s incorrect or untrue?
Or, maybe you’re a member of a team that collaborates on projects together, sharing documents and sending chat messages back and forth throughout the day. Do you feel like you need to think twice before typing, in case someone “calls you out” for something you’ve shared? What if they call the hotline to report what you typed? It’s their duty, and their right, as part of the speak-up culture the university supports, isn’t it?
Yes. It is.
According to an article on ethicalsystems.org, Speak-Up and Call-Out Culture, when a company builds “a credible, trusted speak-up mechanism…there’s always a risk that sharing information openly will reveal truths damaging to company personnel, or the entire organization. There is also the complementary risk that someone may put forward false information that spreads quickly, doing damage before anyone can correct it.”
Most of us don’t want to feel like we’re looking over our shoulder all the time. But as they say in the article, in speak-up cultures, “employees also become aware that they are susceptible to more scrutiny themselves.” Still, we should accept that the odd report that discloses something that’s incorrect or ill-intentioned is a risk that’s worth taking.
The point of a speak-up culture is to provide everyone with a certain level of comfort; comfort that they’re working in a safe place that values them as people and operates in an ethical way.
The challenge is that, while most of us can agree on The Big Questions About What’s Right and What’s Wrong, people sometimes have different perceptions about what is acceptable and the lines around ethical behavior become blurred. So, it makes sense that people will raise concerns by speaking to a manager, or HR, or by calling the hotline when they feel that someone’s behavior has been questionable.
And, with a robust compliance department handling an internal investigation to delve deeper, it will soon become clear whether the reported behavior was unethical or not. In short, we have to trust the process.
Good things happen when we do. According to Ethisphere, companies with higher marks on their Ethics Index outperform larger companies with lower scores:
In the words of Ethisphere, “The World’s Most Ethical Companies historically outperform their peers and competitors financially, demonstrating a tangible ROI for doing the right thing,” meaning there is a “connection between good ethical practices and financial performance.” So, having a strong speak-up culture can even help an organization’s bottom line.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, there are other benefits to working for an organization that embraces speak-up culture. Amy Edmondson, in her book The Fearless Organization, discusses psychological safety; when employees sense this, they feel like it’s o.k. to speak up.
And, in study after study, employees who felt free to speak up demonstrated higher engagement, which led to better mental health and less turnover.
Edmondson also links employee innovations to speak-up culture. The reason? Using Taiwanese tech firms as an example, she explains that firms that outperformed the others innovated the most because their employees were willing to offer ideas free from fear of rejection or embarrassment.
So, instead of seeing the office as a place where “surveillance-culture” or “call-out culture” is in play, we should see it as a place where we feel engaged because we work for an employer who fosters an ethical workplace, and ready to innovate because we feel safe to share new ideas. We can also enjoy a workplace free from discrimination, harassment, dishonesty, fraud and safety violations because those things go away when people spot them and speak up to report them.
So, what’s so great about a speak-up culture? Plenty.
What’s New With Policy?
Want to know which university policies have changed, and which ones have been added? You can read all about the latest policy updates in the July issue of Policy Points. This quarterly report highlights policy changes from April through June of 2022.
“2022 World’s Most Ethical Companies.” Ethisphere, 15 June 2022, https://ethisphere.com/what-we-do/worlds-most-ethical-companies/.
Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization. John Wiley & Sons, 2018.
Langer, Melanie. “Melanie Langer, Brian Harward, & Alison Taylor.” Ethical Systems, Melanie Langer, Brian Harward, & Alison Taylor Https://Ethicalsystems.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/2020/04/ES-Logo-Final-White.gif, 8 June 2021, https://www.ethicalsystems.org/speak-up-and-call-out-culture/.