Published on November 11th, 2018 | by Sunit Nandi


Honesty in the Workplace: Why It’s Important and How to Foster It

Honesty is generally seen as a positive trait until it’s not. This can be a tricky line to navigate, especially in the workplace—an environment that requires more care than most. Employees are often afraid to speak up for fear of retribution, meaning their true opinions never see the light of day as they try to avoid “rocking the boat.” While this is completely understandable, it’s also less than ideal from an organizational decision-making standpoint. For example, an employee might have a great idea but “hold back” to avoid stepping on a superior’s toes. If a member of a leadership team asks an employee what they think about a new initiative, they might give a positive answer, afraid to offer up critical feedback.

When employees feel they can’t be honest, they stop telling the entire truth. This has the potential to negatively affect both individuals and organizations as a whole. Here’s more on honesty in the workplace, including why it’s important and how to foster it.

Benefits of Honesty at Work

Reaping the benefits of an honesty-forward workplace is just as important as avoiding the consequences of failing to develop one.

Here’s what can happen when a team functions without the ability for its members to be honest: Having important, candid conversations becomes impossible. As one Forbes contributor notes, “How [a] team functions is rooted in trust, shared purpose and mutual accountability.” Lack of honesty usually indicates—and fuels—a lack of trust between colleagues, meaning conversations end up skirting around real issues instead of addressing them productively. This type of company culture can easily boost turnover rates, as employees move on seeking better camaraderie and communication. And, as we all know, turnover is expensive for companies.

Honesty is a major component in transparency. That is, do employees believe what leaders are telling them? Do employees feel they can be forthcoming about challenges and critiques? Is transparent feedback taken personally, or is it implemented in a way that benefits workplace culture? Are decision-makers getting all the information they need to make savvy choices and develop policies accordingly?

Tips for Facilitating an “Honesty Culture”

There’s nothing more disingenuous than a company with an “open door policy” that’s actually not receptive to honest feedback at all. It’s important to not only say you encourage and value honesty, or talk the talk, but to actually walk the walk when it comes to facilitating a culture of honesty.

Here’s a simple way to get started: Consider whether your company currently collects anonymous or public feedback. As one communications expert writes, “People are far more likely to sugarcoat things when they know their identity is associated with their response.” By implementing anonymous feedback through an audience response system, you will give employees a forum for expressing themselves honestly—without fearing the consequences. Decision-makers will then have more accurate information from which to work, and participants will feel like their voices are being heard without the anxiety of having to reveal themselves to do so.

Additionally, if you do implement an open-door policy, meaning employees can speak with any manager at nearly any time, make sure these leaders are equipped to respond in a way that builds trust. Employees “burned” by faulty open-door policies will learn quickly to keep their opinions and issues to themselves; employees who have a positive experience will learn to contribute valuable feedback in a healthy way.

Honesty in the workplace is important because it determines whether or not employees feel they have a real voice. It can reduce turnover and strengthen company culture. Fostering it is a matter of enabling employees to say what they really think.

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I'm the leader of Techno FAQ. Also an engineering college student with immense interest in science and technology. Other interests include literature, coin collecting, gardening and photography. Always wish to live life like there's no tomorrow.

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