Why openness in the workplace is important

A quick summary:

  • What is openness in the workplace?
  • 3 reasons why openness is important in the workplace?
  • What COVID-19 taught us about openness at work
  • How to build trust and openness at work
  • Our final thoughts on openness in the workplace

There is one major difference between a good workplace and a great one, and that’s openness. While most leaders listen well, they sometimes lack action. Great leaders listen, act, and build a culture of openness in the workplace — and only then can teams break through the ceiling of success.

Whether you’re a leader or not, you can encourage openness in the workplace amongst colleagues and senior team members. Unfortunately, it’s not an overnight achievement. Like anything, it can take time to instil a culture of trust, honesty and open dialogue in the workplace.

This shouldn’t dissuade you, however. What takes time is often worthwhile. This form of behavioural change can lead to long-lasting results in the way of a healthier, and happier workforce.

Done properly, your entire team will begin to embrace trust and openness in the workplace. So, what are we going to learn in this guide? We’ll kick things off with a simple explanation of what openness is, before understanding its importance for businesses.

We’ll then explore the impact of a global pandemic, before diving into some ideas you can try to build openness in the workplace. Finally, we’ll discuss our conclusive thoughts, and let you in on a little secret about healthier, happier employees.

Spoiler alert: it’s all the great things Heka does for companies just like yours! But before we get to that, let’s jump into what openness in the workplace looks like.

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What does openness in the workplace mean?

What does openness in the workplace look like

We tend to start all of our HR guides with a rounded definition; something that gives you, as the reader, a better insight into the topic at hand. If you already understand the importance of openness in the workplace, skip ahead.

So, what does openness in the workplace really look like? For many organisations, it’s about creating a supportive environment where employees can thrive, regardless of their background, beliefs, struggles, or any other characteristic for that matter.

It’s recognising that people deserve to be themselves, not only for their personal wellbeing but for the betterment of the company as a whole. When employees are happy, business results smile right back too.

Openness and honesty in the workplace refer to how leaders conduct themselves as leaders, and how culture is directed by senior teams. It’s the perks and initiatives, the wellbeing meetings that are held, and the overarching strategy for improving people’s health and happiness.

In an article published on Medium on Workplace by Facebook, openness at work is described as not only being open about emotions, struggles and the need for support but also being open to different ways of thinking, of working and new ideas.

Why is openness important in the workplace?

Now that we’ve covered the meaning, let’s turn our attention to our next topic — why is openness important in the workplace? Below, we’ve highlighted just a few reasons to embrace openness at work.

Promotes equality, diversity and inclusion

Firstly, let’s discuss equality, diversity and inclusion. When we are open, accepting and amicable with others, we can improve diversity, inclusion and create an environment whereby everyone is treated equally.

It’s all about encouraging mutual respect amongst your workforce, which is the essence of trust and openness in the workplace. According to one source, organisations that embrace D&I see “greater readiness to innovate”, higher retention and higher revenue growth; just to name a few.

It’s by and large an appealing quality that employees now look for when choosing their next career move. Organisations that mistreat employees and fail to adhere to diversity and inclusion are labelled as behind the times, and rightly so.

Transforms company culture

Next, let’s discuss the transformation company culture may see as organisations increase their openness in the workplace. As we’ve touched on above, company culture is everything.

It’s the driving force that dictates everything from the employee experience to your retention, engagement, and ultimately the bottom line. If organisations cannot construct a culture where employees feel safe, supported and heard, there’s little chance of success.

We’ve said before and we’ll say it again, your employees are one of the biggest stakeholders in your business — it’s important they are happy, and this happiness must begin with culture.

From open dialogue in the workplace to trust and honesty, leaders lead by example and instil these characteristics in the company.

Embraces innovative and forward-thinking ideas

Last but not least, the final point to make is how openness in the workplace enables employers to embrace innovative and forward-thinking ideas.

A workplace that doesn’t embrace trust and openness in the workplace cannot embrace innovation. When people feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts, their ideas, they share less and less.

What leaders neglect is just how powerful ideas can be for the business. It’s those random moments of brainstorming that really makes the difference. The worst thing leadership teams can do is belittle the ideas or pass them off as laughable.  

Instead, managers should take all ideas seriously, whether they agree or disagree with their potential. The more employees are encouraged to come forward with ideas, or even concerns with the running of a project, department or the business as a whole, the more that can be improved.

What COVID-19 taught us about openness at work

The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic taught us a lot about ourselves. Like just how important community and socialising are to mental health and happiness. We learnt that the taboo around openness in the workplace has haunted employees for far too long - prompting demand for change.

Funnily enough, a lot of employers did embrace this. Providing mental health initiatives, flexible working arrangements to support parents and virtual community-building activities.

While mental health and wellbeing became a strategic priority, these efforts to improve open dialogue in the workplace appear to have dwindled in the aftermath of the pandemic. It seems as though the taboo around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has slowly improved, but incentives and perks to support healthier, happier living has not.

In the next few years, businesses of all shapes and sizes will draw on their experience and efforts during the pandemic. Hopefully realising the sheer level of positivity that arises from promoting openness in the workplace and building a people-centric culture.

The secret right now, however, is getting started before everyone else. Begin supporting health and wellbeing initiatives before your competitors. Not only will this help transform the company culture before it's too late, but you can also get ahead of everyone else.

An empty office space with tables and chairs
How to build openness at work

How to build openness in the workplace

Take a look at some of the ways to build openness in the workplace. From listening more and speaking less to creating company-wide transparency, there are many chances to boost trust and openness in the workplace.

Speak less, listen more

Starting with speaking less and listening more. Leaders have a duty of care for the health and wellbeing of employees. It’s only when listening takes place that initiatives and strategies can be adopted to support openness at work.

For instance, when leadership teams listen to the mental health struggles of their people, they can go about looking for mental health support programmes. Seeing action off the back of a conversation can create the biggest boost to openness and honesty in the workplace.

Leaders are there to listen, and by encouraging conversations, especially those that are hard for people, it can shift culture in a positive direction. Quite simply, none of the points below can be taken seriously, if leaders aren’t willing to listen.

Listening more is where all the magic begins. If you’re a leader that struggles to listen, try to improve your listening skills before moving on to the next points. Let people feel heard and understood, and not only will you see a lift in trust and openness in the workplace, but you can also build more productive teams.

If you’d like to find out more about why listening is an art, read our article on conscious leadership — a framework and style for developing the very best qualities as a leader.

A work-from-home set up with Macbook laptop on a table
Honesty and transparency are key for openness at work

Honesty and transparency are key

Closely following the art of listening are honesty and transparency. Answer this, how often have you felt uncomfortable or sceptical about someone or something you know little about? The answer is probably very often!

When we don’t know or understand something, we naturally assume something negative is likely the outcome or answer/result. For instance, your company might be experiencing high turnover, but it could be nothing more than a blip in an impressive five-year retention rate.

Regardless, most employees won’t know this, and so the rumours and false accusations begin. Like Chinese whispers, redundancy talks spread, the blame of an individual takes shape, and all of a sudden turnover is due to something malicious.

This is just one example of how a lack of openness and honesty in the workplace doesn’t create the healthy culture you were hoping for. Everything from employee benefits, business performance, problems or general concerns should be spoken about honestly and with the truth.

While many employers fear scaring employees away from their roles, openness and honesty in the workplace ensure everyone is on the same page and can fight the upward battle to success together.

Lead by example for your team

Next up, leading by example. If you want to instil something into your employees, you must show to be leading by example. This applies to everything from using employee benefits, eating healthier lunches, sleeping well, avoiding burnout or speaking up about problems.

It is hypocritical to suggest people eat healthier in the work environment, but arrive at the office with fast food. Or promote exercise, but do very little yourself as a leader. Encouragement without involvement from leadership teams is nothing short of hypocrisy.

This behaviour will certainly dissuade anyone from following your ideas and suggestions. In fact, as someone with reputation and influence, it’ll likely persuade them to behave similarly.

We all know too well how tempting it can be when someone orders fast food - all of a sudden, we’re overcome with the need for fast food. Leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to build openness at work.

You should also take note when creating trust and honesty around mental health and wellbeing. Show your team that you use the cycle-to-work scheme yourself. Speak up about your emotions, and how you are dealing with them.

Of course, you don’t need to reveal everything about your journey and experience, but opening up about how you feel will help people better understand what you are going through. And this will reflect in your employees opening up and speaking about how they are dealing with life too.

Ultimately, it’s your business (or team), and you are the one that wants to build trust and openness in the workplace. Leading by example is the best way to introduce new (and positive) behaviours or traits

The art of appreciation for building trust

Lastly, let’s talk about appreciation. It costs very little to express gratitude and be thankful for the efforts of your employees. Appreciation is something a lot of us overlook in everyday life. Not because we don’t appreciate someone's favour, gift or hard work, but because it simply slips our mind in the moment.

If you want to build open dialogue in the workplace, you need to show appreciation for your team’s hard work and efforts — even for the small things.

When employees feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to trust you. They will suggest new and innovative ideas - some good, others not so much.

It’s leadership teams who shoot people down for their ideas and suggestion, who are often left squeezing ideas out of a team too afraid to share their thoughts. That is why employee trust is so important, and gratitude can get you there.

Hopefully, now, you can see exactly what it takes to build openness in the workplace for a positive environment. It’s a combination of things that will transform company culture for the better. Each of the tactics above cannot exist alone. Making any change to company culture requires team-wide acceptance and ongoing efforts.

Other ways to enhance openness and honesty in the workplace:

  1. Involving employees in wider decision-making
  2. Welcome criticism and embrace change
  3. Knowledge sharing amongst employees, i.e ‘lunch and learns’
  4. Empowering your workforce with surveys and feedback reports
  5. Show genuine empathy and sensitivity towards employees
  6. Try one-to-one wellbeing meetings with employees
  7. Embrace employee wellness metrics to create healthier, happier and supportive teams

Final note on openness in the workplace

There you have it! We’ve covered everything from what makes openness in the workplace to the various tactics and ideas you can try for a healthier, happier workforce.

In the most simplest form, employers must adopt a people-first approach to doing business. It’s organisations like Netflix, Salesforce and Microsoft (just to name a few) that have revolutionised the employee experience as they have scaled.

Some of these examples now have onsite facilities for healthcare and general support, others have increased their family planning and fertility benefits. In short, their benefits are built around the needs and concerns of their people.

Businesses need to embrace openness at work wholeheartedly. From new ideas, to ways of working to the topics and discussions that employees want to have, to the wellbeing strategy in place and all the smaller details.

Whilst there are hundreds of ways to grow a business, one of the most prominent is creating a solid workforce and culture. When people are truly invested in your business, your product, then your company’s results can skyrocket.

If you take anything from this article on openness in the workplace, let it be the above statement. Now, let’s take a look at that secret tip to healthier, happier employees…

Someone in a gym environment to improve their wellbeing
Improving workplace wellbeing with Heka!

Improving workplace wellbeing with Heka

Building openness in the workplace requires a culture of wellbeing at the heart of a business. To achieve this, people need to perceive their job as a positive work environment; a place that creates health and happiness in their lives.

Now, a lot of people don’t think ‘happiness’ and ‘work’ can exist in the same sentence! Yet, here at Heka, we’ve proved time and time again that it can. Take our members, for instance, they are using credits gifted by their employer to improve their health and wellbeing each and every month.

If that isn’t the definition of building healthy lifestyles in and outside the workplace, what is? Through Heka, members can book thousands of wellbeing experiences, products and services.

This means healthy meal deliveries, treetop climbing, language learning, online therapy and so much more. The benefits of bringing health and wellbeing into the workplace are phenomenal. People are more productive, perform better and generally experience higher job satisfaction.

Take a look around and meet Heka yourself. Alternatively, book a demo with one of our wellbeing experts!

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