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Creating a conversational workplace culture

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What are the benefits of creating a conversational culture and how can businesses prioritise this? Wellbeing and Culture guru Becky Thoseby helped HRD investigate.

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Creating a unique culture has been acknowledged as a point of importance for many businesses to continually improve on. How can businesses facilitate a safe space for feedback and continuous conversations among their workforces? Culture and Wellbeing expert, Becky Thoseby, provided insights on creating a conversational culture.

So how important is feedback and continuous communication within a workforce? Becky believes that workplace wellbeing and relationships are heavily dependent on how much employees communicate with their managers.

“Research shows that the #1 determinant of workplace wellbeing is the line manager relationship,” said Becky Thoseby, Group Head of Wellbeing, Department for Transport (DfT).

“Given that feedback and continuous communication are cornerstones of a good quality line manager/jobholder relationship, surely they are of paramount importance to workplace wellbeing.”

Despite there being many benefits behind a conversational culture, studies by TUC found that almost a third of employees don’t feel comfortable approaching their line manager about any issues they’re having at work. What’s more, only one in fifth employees think that their line managers know what is best for them.

Many businesses face the challenge of breaking the stigma with open conversation and transparency. A survey by Ultimate Software People First found that 75% of employees say that approachability is the most important quality in an effective manager today, but only 5 out of 10 employees say they have an approachable manager. A trustworthy and transparent line manager can be pivotal to spark this shift.

So how can businesses instil this positive culture? Becky explains what they do at the Department for Transport to push forward this initiative.

“In DfT we encourage managers to have wellbeing conversations as part of normal business,” explained Becky.

“As we recognise this can be challenging and indeed frightening for some colleagues, we provide written guidance on how to have a good quality conversation, provide training on how to do this as part of our Wellbeing for Line Managers workshop, and reward those who do it well.”

For businesses to push forward this agenda, the responsibility lies with the senior leaders of the business to ensure that this culture is being encouraged from the top down. If employees see that most senior members are having open conversations, it will encourage them to do the same.

“Senior leaders are the ones who set the culture of an organisation, so it’s up to the senior team to be explicit that this is a behaviour they value and will reward. But it’s also up to managers to do this proactively, whether leaders are telling them to or not,” continued Becky.

Many challenges arise to create this conversational culture, TUC highlighted the key areas that business leaders need to improve if they are to instil this culture:

  • Helping to boost morale at work
  • Ensuring workers know their rights
  • Actively making sure that workers feel supported

Training is required to ensure that these areas are addressed. Once business leaders have suitable training to improve their skills in this department, it will make achieving these goals easier. Despite training being an effective solution to ensure this culture is built, TUC found that  1 out of 3 managers haven’t received specific training. Lack of training opportunities can massively impact the lack of managing culture within organisations.

Additionally, Becky believes that there is a lot of fear behind instilling this culture.

“There is a lot of fear on both sides. The jobholder might be worried that they will be judged negatively for raising a wellbeing issue, or that their confidentiality might be compromised,” continued Becky.

“Line managers often worry that they have to then fix the issue, or that when someone discloses a wellbeing issue, they don’t know what to say. Through our training and guidance, we help to take the fear out of the conversation and demonstrate that it’s possible to have a positive, action-focused conversation that doesn’t stray into counselling.”

Once obstacles in breaking the stigma, and with the right training provided, creating this culture of ongoing conversation can significantly impact the life cycle of employees.

“Very simply, if jobholders can’t tell their line managers about their wellbeing challenges, and how these are evolving,” continued Becky.

“They can’t get the support they need, and this might impact on their ability to do their job. Regular conversations about wellbeing are key to ensuring all colleagues are performing to the best of their capability.”

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