This is a question I ask most CEOs I work with. Why? Because employees who come to work with purpose, feel fairly treated, valued, safe, and welcomed and are more likely to stay with an organization and perform to their full potential.
I find that many leaders underestimate the significant impact that a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace can have on engagement levels, discretionary effort (e.g., voluntarily going above and beyond minimum expectations to help the organization achieve its potential) and the desire to come to work.
For example, employees who feel unsafe and fearful tend to be silent and operate in self-protection mode. They don't often speak their mind because they fear reprisal or exclusion. When employees withdraw or recede this way, they naturally become disengaged.
When we consider the behaviours aligned with psychological safety, such as accountability, authenticity, transparency, equality, belonging, and learning, it's easy to see why it so naturally intersects with engagement.
Does procedural justice exist in your workplace?
One of the ways to create this type of environment is to pay attention to procedural justice. Research has found that psychological safety and procedural justice predict workers’ job satisfaction and retention.
Yale Law School's research indicates that procedural justice is "critical for building trust," and while primarily applied in law enforcement, this approach can be effective in many settings, including supervisor-employee relationships.
"Individuals' perceptions of procedurally just encounters are based on four central features of their interactions with legal authorities:
- Whether they were treated with dignity and respect
- Whether they were given voice
- Whether the decision-maker was neutral and transparent
- Whether the decision-maker conveyed trustworth motives"
Why you should pay attention to procedural justice in your workplace?
The pandemic enlightened us about the importance of the employee experience, and it spurred many employees to take stock of their sense of satisfaction and safety in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how many engagement surveys you conduct; if employees are mistrusting and have little confidence in the processes and behaviours of leaders and their peers, they won't feel engaged or inspired to apply any discretionary effort to their work.
Applying this approach in your workplace
Below are some steps you can take to ensure that procedural justice exists and is applied consistently in your workplace:
- Seek input. Commit to and make time for consulting employees and seeking their input when you can. When they see that your words and actions are aligned, and you really do engage them in planning and decision-making, they will feel more confidence and trust in the organization.
- Allow employees to improve processes. Diverse experience and opinions are valuable resources readily available in your workplace. Frontline workers have the most tacit knowledge and expertise about how work actually gets done. They see and feel when there are process gaps, but they may never mention them if they don’t feel safe or they aren't asked. Seeking their input and involvement in process design will increase buy-in and support and create a sense of ownership, which can help drive discretionary effort.
- Be transparent about your decisions. Senior leaders make decisions all day long, including tough decisions that may not be popular. When you are transparent and explain your rationale you can demonstrate integrity and increase trust. And, as noted above, including employees when you can will help offset the times when you aren’t able to seek their input or make a decision that they don't favour.
- Allow workers to express their concerns without fear of retaliation. It is not unusual for employees to question leaders' decisions. They may become emotional if they feel an action or situation is unjust. Allowing them to express their opinions reinforces a sense of psychological safety and can help keep people engaged in difficult times. This doesn't mean employees should feel entitled to behave badly or disrespectfully, but it is reasonable to expect that emotions might run high sometimes.
Making these practices the norm in your organization and not the exception will help employees feel included and see that your organizational processes are fair, consistent, accurate, ethical, and lack implicit bias. And, perhaps most importantly, they will stay engaged even in the tough times and come to work because they want to.
Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt