Does human nature always benefit your organisation?

Understanding behaviours

Human nature instinct is to protect, when it comes to speaking up these instincts kick in making some people uneasy about speaking up to protect their position, reputation and identities.

Organisations can’t improve if they don’t listen to their People.  Unfortunately, sometimes management don’t grasp the need or have the time to listen. Additionally, staff may want speak up but find it just too hard, or don’t know how to communicate concerns safely.

Getting this wrong will frustrate staff, and cause issues including:

  • poor performance
  • increased absence
  • high attrition
  • and difficulty in recruiting

Getting this right has the opposite effect allowing organisations to grow and flourish more effectively with happier and more productive staff, happy to recommend to others as a great place to work.

How are your staff really feeling?

To understand culture properly, organisations and senior management need to understand how the staff are really feeling.

I say really feeling because staff often say what they feel management want to hear, and not how they actually feel about the organisation and their role.

Why? It’s human nature, everybody wants to protect their position, in this instance their job or role within the organisation.

Ultimately employees know that their employer has the power to either take their job away or make their employment very uncomfortable, so why take the risk of rocking the boat?

Speaking up in the UK’s largest employer – NHS

Let’s look at the U.K.’s largest employer as an example, the NHS which employs over 1.3 million people. 

From the NHS annual staff survey 2023 results we can see that around 30% of staff experience some form of bullying, harassment or discrimination either from managers colleagues or the public.

The NHS works hard to promote a culture of openness and has a well-established Freedom to Speak up Guardian program across all of its individual NHS Trusts in England.

NHS staff are encouraged to raise concerns or issues to their managers or if they are unhappy to do this, they can have a confidential conversation with their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian.

The good news from the NHS staff survey / National Guardians Office we can see that 57% of staff are happy to raise any issues or concerns with managers, and an additional 5% choose to speak up confidentially to the Guardians teams.

However, this still leaves 38% of staff who have a concern, and are not prepared to speak to anyone in the organisation.  Even more concerning these figures have not improved recently and in fact, worsened slightly in 2022.

Barriers to speaking up

Let’s think about the why.  The main reason why people don’t feel comfortable speaking up is down to human nature; fear and futility.

Fear leads back to the desire to protect your own position, and there are many reported stories and examples of staff suffering detriment for having raised concerns. There are even examples of individual NHS Trusts spending hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to silence whistleblowers, who were raising concerns about patient safety issues.

Futility refers to the fact many staff feel managers won’t take concerns seriously or take any action even if they are raised, again causing staff to choose to stay silent.

We see similar issues across other public sector organisations like the Police and the Fire Rescue Service, but many commercial organisations suffer the same issues, as do Charities and Sporting bodies.

So, if you’re an organisational leader, and you genuinely want to drive improvement across your organisation, what can you do to combat this fear of speaking up?

Empowering your people to speak up

Let’s look back at the NHS to see examples where forward-thinking NHS Trusts, have started to tackle the problem and implemented additional protection for staff, to allow them to speak up anonymously.

Workinconfidence was created and has evolved to tackle the heart of understanding how all of your staff are really feeling.

Anonymous Employee Engagement Surveys allow all the organisation to gain greater understanding of how staff feel – on areas like respect, engagement, resources and training or onboarding and exit surveys.  These can give a clear picture of what is working and what needs focus. 

For the 62% of staff in the NHS that are happy to speak to a manager or a Freedom to Speak up Guardian, the WorkInConfidence Case Management system enables all information to be captured tracked, triangulated and reported on, so Trusts can easily, understand areas for improvement and take actions.

For the 38% of staff feeling unable to speak up to anyone, WorkInConfidence offer Anonymous Speak Up, a two-way anonymous digital channel, (widely utilised in many Trusts across England), which is 100% safe and protects the individual’s identity, thus removing fear of repercussions or detriment.  The organisation gets to see under the surface so it can tackle, often long-term issues that have gone unseen and unreported.

There are two types of senior leader and organisations:

  1. Those that want to be seen to be running a spotless organisation and would rather not know how people are feeling.
  2. Then there are managers and leaders who truly understand that hearing the hard truth is often the best and only way to make real improvements in both operational performance, culture, and delivery to the end customer, or in the case of the NHS, patients.


For more information about improving speaking up and staff understanding in your organisation, get in touch with us at: [email protected] or click the Schedule a Demo button below.

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A safe and secure way for your people to anonymously raise concerns via phone, tablet, or PC, ensuring you are aware of any workplace issues and can respond quickly and accordingly
A secure online place to record, track, update, and report on all speaking up matters, whether raised through WorkInConfidence or directly.
Easily set up, run and interpret surveys on engagement, respect, wellness or other topics to ensure you always understand your people, their needs and motivations.
Demonstrate your commitment to collaboration with discussion boards to accelerate employee engagement and gain greater insights – anonymous if required.

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