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4 Steps to master any tough conversation, improving leadership skills, team productivity, and connection.

Avoiding Tough Conversations is Costing Companies Billions

The Problem

70% of employees are avoiding tough conversations in the workplace1.

VITALSMARTS

70% of employees are avoiding tough conversations in the workplace.

Of those people, 34% admitted to staying silent for more than a month, while 25% said they kept quiet for more than a year.

Managers struggle to speak up at the same rate as their direct reports, causing ripple effects downstream.

Topics They’re Avoiding

Topics avoided include: performance, broken promises, and mismanaged expectations1.

72 percent of respondents reported instances when they or others failed to speak up effectively when a peer did not pull his or her weight. Sixty-eight percent reported a failure to address disrespect, while 57 percent let peers slide when they skirted important workplace processes1.

5 Common Conversations:

  • Prickly Peers: Failure to confront rude, abrasive, defensive and disrespectful colleagues. Examples included failing to confront harsh language, backbiting, bullying, harassment, withholding information and resistance to feedback and input.
  • Ticking Time Bombs: Failure to speak up when proposals and procedures are riddled with inaccuracies or faulty thinking. The problem is exacerbated when leadership makes decisions without first consulting experts or is unresponsive to employee concerns.
  • Lazy and Incompetent Colleagues: Failure to talk to peers and direct reports about poor work habits, incompetence and lack of engagement.
  • Abusive Bosses: Failure to openly discuss damage done when people in power resort to control and reliance on position to push their agenda.
  • Management Chaos: Failure to get clarification when people feel uncertain around roles, responsibilities, specs and timelines. Lack of safety makes voicing uncertainties feel risky.

So Instead People…

Instead of speaking up, people report engaging in resource-sapping avoidance tactics including complaining to others, doing unnecessary work, and ruminating about the problem. In extreme cases, they sabotage company performance or quit.

Research from Bravely illustrated that when employees failed to confront their situation head-on, they often took their complaints (and negative attitude) elsewhere2. People who admitted to staying silent were 8x more likely to post a negative review of their company on an anonymous review site like Glassdoor, damaging employer brand, and 12x more likely to complain to colleagues—spreading negative sentiment and toxicity.

WHY are People Avoiding the
Tough Conversations?

Survey respondents reported:

  • A lack of trust between employees and their companies
  • Fear of retribution
  • Fear of making the problem worse
  • Futility – nothing will change

Many people report a lack of skill and confidence in having the conversation. Of those who did go forward, only 50.3 percent reported ‘great or excellent’ outcomes.

Only 48% of non-executives claim to trust the company they work for

Eldemen trust barometer

Only 65% of people claim to trust the company they work for, and this number drops to 48% among non-executive employees3.

This trust gap has employees afraid that speaking up will lead to retribution. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, “leaders generally react quite negatively to employees who challenge them….Employees trying to resist certain changes or demands … are more likely to be labeled poor performers by their supervisors.”4

53% of employees in the United States who reported misconduct in their companies said they experienced some form of retaliation5. This often took the form of poor evaluations and performance reviews, or being passed up for promotions and raises. 

More than 40 percent of people believe that once alerted, company leadership would do nothing to address the problem.

Only 20% believed that a co-worker would change when confronted6.

The options are limited: put up with the problem or quit.

Do They Have the Skills?

Just a third of managers (31 percent) think that they handle confrontations well, and only 26 percent of employees believe that their employer adequately handles office conflicts and workplace disputes7.

A staggering 93% of managers feel like they lack the training needed to effectively coach their direct reports.

A staggering 93% of managers feel like they lack the training needed to effectively coach their direct reports

SHRM and Globoforce


What about HR?
Only 19% of people go to HR when they have an issue, even when they haven’t been able to resolve or improve their situation with their manager2.

Respondents said that the benefits that companies have brought on to close this gap—manager trainings, diversity and inclusion programs, mentorship initiatives, flexibility policies—had little to no impact on their likelihood to speak up. Sixty percent of people who said they had access to these programs still admitted to avoiding tough conversations.

The Staggering Cost

The result? Decreased engagement, lost productivity, and increased turnover—all of which cost companies and damage their culture.

Gallop reports that just 29 percent of millennials say they are engaged at work.

“Fifty-one percent of employees are considering a new job”8, and “30% of employees will leave their jobs within the first 90 days.”9

Every single conversation failure costs an organization $7,500 and more than seven work days. (VitalSmarts, Costly Conversations: Why The Way Employees Communicate Will Make or Break Your Bottom Line)

The study found that one in five employees estimate that their inability to speak up in crucial moments costs their organization more than $50,000; and 40 percent estimate they waste two weeks or more ruminating about the problem.

One in five employees estimate that their inability to speak up in crucial moments costs their organization more than $50,0001

VitalSmarts

The Solution

Employees are in need of an alternative outlet that encourages open, honest, and proactive dialogue, and prepares them for the next step: approaching their boss, colleague, direct report, or HR team with a clear goal or outcome in mind. When these spaces are created, employees are happier and healthier, and the entire workplace thrives as a result.

This is a new kind of benefit in support of workplace health.

I’m making coaching available to the people who need it most, in the moments they need it most.

Early Data

Employees are 85% more likely to approach a difficult conversation after speaking with their coach. Additionally, 91% say they wouldn’t have gone forward to HR if they hadn’t had coaching first—and 60% say they feel more positive about their future at their company after their session2.

Over time, these habits lead to behavior change— resulting in employees that go forward more often and more productively when they have issues that are impacting their workplace health.

Employees are 85% more likely to approach a difficult conversation after speaking with their coach.

bravely conversation gap white paper


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1 Vital Smarts, Costly Conversations: Why the Way Employees Communicate Will Make or Break Your Bottom Line
2 Bravely, Conversation Gap White Paper
3 Edelman Trust Barometer
4 Harvard Business Review, Can Employees Really Speak Up Without Retribution?
5 Ethics and Compliance Initiative, 2016 National Business and Ethics Survey
6 Quantum Workplace & Fierce Conversations, 2017 survey of 1,344 full-time employees
7 Legal Zoom, Workplace Insight Report for Businesses 2018
8 Gallup, Workforce Panel, 2015
9 JobVite, 2018 Job Seeker Nation Study

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Get the Free Tough Conversations CARE Model

4 Steps to master any tough conversation, improving leadership skills, team productivity, and connection.