Speak up! Too many workers staying silent in pandemic

‘When these unresolved issues continue, there are some really harmful outcomes to not only the employees but to the organizations themselves’

Speak up! Too many workers staying silent in pandemic

Workers are becoming more reluctant to speak up to their colleagues and managers about significant subjects relating to work, judging by a recent survey.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 22 per cent of the respondents said they were hesitant to speak up ─ this number has jumped to 54 per cent these days, according to VitalSmarts, an online training company.

And the distance between people plays a huge part in this, says Scott Robley, director of training success at VitalSmarts, in an interview with Canadian HR Reporter.

“In this past year, the main focus has been social distancing. And that social distancing, which was designed to keep us safe, has really created a little bit more of a challenge for us when it comes to our ability to communicate. We really have truly distanced ourselves from each other.”

When people moved to remote work in response to the pandemic, their perception of the importance of talking with their colleagues and managers changed.

“When we’re distanced, I think our mindset changes; it doesn’t seem as important: ‘Well, we’re not working together now anyway.’ So it may be that people don’t see the importance and need [to have those conversations] as much as they did when they [were] in-person,” he says.

But not having the right skills to address these issues may be the “real” problem, says Robley.

“The real challenge… in terms of why we’re not speaking up to these things really comes down to the idea that we don’t know how; we just don’t have the right skill sets. And so whenever we’re fearful, whenever we feel ignorant, silence is always the best resort.”

The remote work setup forced upon people by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to feelings of isolation and alienation among workers, according to a separate survey.

Performance management

Poor performance is among the top five crucial conversations that employees are struggling to have with their managers, according to the survey.

Scott Robley

“Performance management has always been a key indicator; it’s always been one of the top components on the list of what are some of the things we’re not speaking to. And it can become even more difficult… when we’re in a virtual environment, because we feel the disconnect,” says Robley.

“When we’re in a remote situation, I think we get really concerned [with] how they will [respond] when I give them performance feedback via Zoom, versus sitting down together and talking about those things. And so I think it will always be a struggle because we want people to be their very best and we don’t know how they’re going to receive it, but it becomes more magnified.”

Canadian HR Reporter spoke with another expert about best practices for performance managemenet with people working from home.

Negative effects

And letting issues go unresolved has harmful outcomes, found the survey of 1,145 people conducted in February. These include more stress (23 per cent), more time-wasting, lower morale (both 21 per cent) and lower productivity (14 per cent).

“When these unresolved issues continue – when we continue to avoid, ignore, sweep under the rag – there are some really harmful outcomes to not only the employees but to the organizations themselves. And one of the biggest outcomes and impacts is increased stress,” says Robley.

“Another big one is wasting time, because they spend all this time wondering and stewing and thinking about all these things that they’re not focusing their intention on the work in hand. I mean, think about the impact that that has on my morale and my motivation and willingness to do things when I’ve got these real issues that are weighing in our minds and we’re not addressing... So we’re seeing some really big, harmful outcomes that are happening because we’re simply avoiding these conversations.”

Having a collaborative discussion between the employer and the employee is important for employers to effectively support workers working from home, according to another expert.

Solving the problem

Fostering a culture of dialogue can help address the problem, says Robley.

“These are emotional things, and when we confront these kinds of issues, emotions kick in, adrenaline kicks in, and we’re not at our best and we don’t know how to control it. So, I think, number one, it’s about fostering and encouraging and inviting dialogue,” he says.

“And the second thing is making sure we’re training [employees to have these] skill sets, that we’re providing the training, necessary for our people so that they can actually have… the ability to step up to these kinds of situations.”

And the problem must be addressed now, says Robley.

“For many of us, the standard is ‘Let’s wait and see and things are going to get back to normal and I won’t to have to address it.’ I don’t know what normal is going to look like. And so even if we start moving back, I really believe… that virtual, remote work is here to stay,” he says.

“Whether we go back to in-person or we stay in remote, we have got to learn these skills to be able to move forward, to achieve results and get the outcomes that we need, organizationally and personally.”

Many workers have said they will quit their jobs if they're not allowed to work remotely at least some of the time, according to a recent survey.

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