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For better or worse, our childhood experiences shape us into the people we are today. Despite the nature vs. nurture, children who grow up in a supportive and caring family can achieve more than children who experience adversity at a young age. No matter how we internalize and carry those experiences, shapes our maturity.
What we draw from our experiences – the good and the bad – benefits ourselves and others around us. As a child I was told that I was only allowed to talk when I was spoken to. This experience of being silenced fueled my belief that everyone has a voice. I believe everyone’s voice matters, and when employees feel seen and heard, it affirms that they matter and belong, boosting company morale and performance. Being suffocated as a kid made me better at my job, because I know what it feels like to not matter, and I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way, especially at work.
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Don’t make the same mistakes
Raised in England in the 1980s, children were not treated like humans until they became adults. I was no exception. We were expected to follow the rules: “Don’t take up space”, “Adults first, wait your turn.” I knew I had something I wanted to contribute and more that I wanted to say, but all these instructions on how to behave towards adults made me feel like I didn’t matter. Growing up and being able to communicate more freely, I realized that I never wanted anyone to feel unheard of or that their opinion didn’t matter.
Where I never felt seen as a person in my youth, I now make sure that everyone’s voice is always heard and that everyone feels involved. Respect for the individual and care for people primarily provide a safe environment where people feel free to express their opinion. Some ideas may work, some may not, but at least everyone knows they have a chance to offer them.
Everyone has something to say and we as leaders would like to hear it. I don’t have all the answers and I can’t develop all the ideas on my own. Treating people as people with valuable opinions and something worth adding always leads to better solutions.
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Younger people have – and should – have a voice
We need to empower people to feel safe enough to express their opinions, considerably younger or newer employees who may feel less confident. Every year the workforce gets younger and a solution I like may not look the same from a younger perspective.
As remote and hybrid work options become more common, going to an office and clocking in and out is much less important. If we don’t listen to our employees, we may not understand why they don’t want a “return to normal,” which could lead to events such as the Great Resignation. Employees who don’t you feel heard are the ones who often leave.
After the pandemic lockdown was lifted, we consciously decided to hold off on developing a plan so we could watch and learn from other companies that imposed a hybrid model. We saw how their people resisted, which created more friction and caused employees to leave. So we kept waiting, listening to what our people needed and supporting them in the process. We have been able to avoid the same exhaustion problems.
The only important part about where employees do their jobs is where they do it best. Leaders can facilitate that by being flexible, giving employees the right tools and benefits, and appropriate health insurance plans depending on their needs. But to get those things right, leaders need to be open and listen.
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Make sure everyone is heard
Many people don’t feel confident or comfortable expressing their concerns or ideas, so we need to make time and space to make that opportunity available to them. In my team and within our organization we use exercises to create a level playing field so that everyone can share and we can listen.
Creating a space where people can express their problems raises awareness of areas where everyone feels the same, which can help us develop much more empathy for each other as organisms within an ecosystem. If this was how most adults would treat children – making room for them to have a voice at the table instead of expecting them to be silent – we would learn to do things better and get closer by working through it. . This may not have been the case in my youth, but I was able to turn my experience into something positive by giving even the most introverted of us a voice. Now people are more engaged because no one is afraid to speak up.