Guest post by Michelle McKinney
Companies today are highly vocal about promoting an environment of openness and support for individual employee needs. However, there’s often a disconnect between what is said and what an employee feels about how much support they would receive from their manager and company leadership if they needed it. Encouraging managers to dig deeper and show up for individuals on their team is essential to demonstrating how willing a company is to listen to and support an individual’s unique needs.
One way in which this gap between intention and reality forms is in the relationship between manager and employee. Company culture and policy often promote one-on-one meetings as a time for an individual to speak out about their needs or frustrations. These meetings have some of the biggest impact on an employee’s willingness to participate in self-advocacy. Yet these check-ins can often feel rote or insignificant because managers often need to balance managerial roles with their own deadlines, priorities, and demands from higher leadership.
To better support managers in creating this connection and fostering a self-advocacy environment, consider incorporating training that includes these tips:
Take the first steps.
A manager needs to be willing to take the time and lay the groundwork to show that they are willing to prioritize these conversations with employees. It’s unreasonable to expect an employee to pipe up and voice their needs before they know that a manager is interested and open to hearing it.
Be ready for any answer.
More important than asking a question is listening attentively to the response. Maintaining eye contact and giving ample space for an employee to speak signals to them not only that they are listened to, but that they are free to be open and honest.
Step away from “checking the box” mentality.
How many times, when someone asks you how you’re doing, do you automatically respond, “I’m good,” regardless of whether it’s true? It’s a societal norm to ask a question and respond not because it matters, but because it’s expected. If the response to your question feels like a rote answer, ask a follow up to take the conversation further. If you hear, “I’m good,” then you could say “Fantastic! What’s going good for you?” or “Tell me more about that,” so that an employee feels encouraged not to simply leave it at, “I’m fine.”
Engagement beyond workplace needs.
A good litmus test for those in managerial positions is to ask themselves if they know three non-work-related things about each of their employees. What’s their family life like? Where do they want to go for their next vacation? What are their goals not only for their career, but for their personal life? Showing this level of interest and willingness to engage in demonstrates willingness to support and invest in needs beyond the office.
If employees feel that they can’t talk about what they need or see that their requests aren’t discussed in a respectful, timely manner, then what the company is conveying to them is that they are not seen as a full, authentic, embraced self; that their identity is limited to someone who clocks in, clocks out, and gets the work done. This isn’t just a barrier to self-advocacy, but to an employee’s motivation to contribute to a team at a high level of innovation and creativity.
Until the employee sees that an organization is invested in their well-being, they are not going to be inspired to think outside the box, push their innovation beyond the tasks at hand, and engage wholeheartedly with the problems and challenges in front of them. A company and manager that take initiative to get to know an individual will see a return on that investment in the form of engaged ingenuity. Once an employee feels known and advocated for, they will be ready to reciprocate by bringing their whole selves to the table and apply their creativity and energy at a higher level to challenges at hand.
Identifying employee needs using a UX approach
Understanding how to support self-advocacy culture in your workplace can’t be solved without knowing your employees. While UX research is traditionally used to refine tools and technologies, it also helps us discover employees’ needs and expectations of their environment. Applying best practices such as root cause probing or mapping individuals’ workplace experiences can help your leadership teams to understand how to promote important causes like self-advocacy and to uncover insights for your workforce’s strength and well-being.