Giving a Voice to The Silent Majority

“We’re on the best places to work list!” It’s something employers love to brag about, but one has to wonder whether the lists serve a useful purpose. Workplace rankings can be found all over the web. They’re featured on sites such as Business Insider, Glassdoor, and Forbes, just to name a few.

One of the biggest flaws of those rankings however, is the fact that the human dynamics of an organization can’t be summed up in a single study. In many cases, high-level surveys from outside parties aren’t even going to touch on hard hitting topics that employers prefer to avoid. Think office politics, workplace stress, and even harassment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t easy to talk about, yet it’s something companies literally can’t afford to ignore. A study found that for every employee harassed in a company, that employer loses out on $22,500 annually in lost productivity.

A taboo within workplaces

The common school of thought for employees is that when an individual sees something wrong in their workplace, or if they’re the victim of unethical behavior, their two best actions are to either do nothing, or quit their jobs. Unfortunately, speaking up and pushing for change isn’t practical as the last thing employees want at their jobs is added stress, and retaliation from their actions.

Executives love to boast about having inclusive workplaces, and that they take harassment seriously, however the facts certainly don’t support those corporate lines. A staggering 98% of organizations have sexual harassment policies in place, yet they don’t do much good because victims are afraid to speak up.

It’s impossible to punish wrong behavior when it isn’t recognized. Considering how 75% of workplace harassment victims don’t speak up due to fear of retaliation, the statistics on harassment in the workplace often understate the severity of this situation.

The lack of openness in the workplace doesn’t just hurt employees. It also harms employers as it leads to increased turnover, negative reviews on sites such as Glassdoor, and exposure to lawsuits. Companies such as Google have even been subject to employee walkouts because the staff felt that their concerns about harassment were not being taken seriously enough.

Although Glassdoor and many review sites allow employers to publicly respond to feedback, when a discussion gets to that point, it’s too late to repair the relationship. By then, the employee doesn’t trust the employer to act in their best interests, and the company has to deal with a hit to their public image.

An alarming lack of concern

While many employers try to promote transparency with tip lines and anonymous feedback forms, the feedback is one sided. There’s only so much information that can be conveyed in a single message, in the unlikely instance that an employee were to alert their employer to workplace issues.

Given the broken state of employee engagement, it’s time for employers to change their ways of thinking along with the way they interact with employees. Change needs to occur from the top down. It’s a known fact that the way leaders communicate in the workplace has a significant bearing on employee behavior.

A study of 618 online study participants found that simple differences in the way CEOs word their statements on harassment, can make or break a company’s image. In the study, participants were presented with a statement on sexual harassment within a fictional company, along with a statement from the CEO on the topic. The statement either showed the CEO took the situation seriously, while the other version was of the CEO downplaying the accusations.

The study participants that rated the skeptical statement were less likely to rate sexual harassment as a high priority issue in the workplace. When leaders don’t show concern for injustice, victims won’t rise up because doing so wouldn’t have any meaningful results.

Redefining the status quo within your organization

Implementing change within your organization to improve employee morale doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, you can empower employees to fight harassment in the workplace, with their smartphone.

Solutions such as Woices change corporate dynamics by enabling employees to speak up when they see areas their employer can improve in. Going beyond using the tool to reduce harassment, it also enables employers to solicit general feedback from their team members.

In order to stay competitive in today’s economy, executives need to foster a culture of transparency. Failing to do so, puts them at risk of scandals similar to what Uber and Zenefits recently faced.