S2 Episode 1: It’s Good to Talk - Creating a Safe Space for Employees with Jenni Field | Oak Engage
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S2 E1: It’s Good to Talk - Creating a Safe Space for Employees with Jenni Field

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S2 E1: It’s Good to Talk - Creating a Safe Space for Employees with Jenni Field
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    We’re back and better than ever with a second season of Comms In A Nutshell! A brand new look, a new episode format (episodes are now more appropriately nutshell sized) but all the same great internal communications insights you all know and love. 

    To mark the first episode back we’ve got a great guest.... She is an international speaker, author, podcaster and business communications strategist and having worked in communications for almost 20 years she specialises in helping teams and leaders use communication to take people, and organisations from chaos to calm. 

    We're joined today by Jenni Field who we're going to be chatting to about how to create safe spaces for employees within your organisation. Creating safe spaces is incredibly important when ensuring employees feel safe at work and feel like they can talk about their feelings and experiences.

    In our latest report with our partner, If U Care Share, we found that on average 58% of respondents have suffered mental or physical stress as a result of work in the past two years and we want to explore how businesses can deal with the factors that impact mental health in the workplace from creating a safe culture to the importance of values.  

    In this episode Vic, Scott & Jenny cover: 

    • Getting to know Jenni and her experience in the world of internal communications
    • How important is the role of internal communications in creating a safe space for employees to talk/ how can they use their function to create a safe workspace?
    • A culture that supports openness and feedback with help from leaders
    • Do your internal comms encourage participation? 
    • Do the communication methods match the needs of your employees?
    • How to drive awareness and communicate the values of the organisation, what the business stands for and what do they mean?
    • Jenni's 5 tips in a Nutshell on how to create a safe space for employees

    Listen to the episode right here: 

    Reading & Resources:

    Episode Transcript 

    [00:00:00] Vic: Welcome to Comms In A Nutshell, a podcast by Oak Engage. Comms in a nutshell is the go-to place to listen to discussions with the oak engage team, industry experts, and global brands about the world of work, internal comms, intranets, and how you can get the best out of your workforce. At the end of each episode, we wrap up all the tips and findings discussed in a nutshell so that you can start implementing them right away. Enjoy this episode.

    Hello everybody, and welcome back to Comms in a nutshell. I'm Vic.

    [00:00:45] Scott: I'm Scott, and we're your hosts

    [00:00:46] Vic: This is the first episode of season two where we'll be bringing you internal communications and workplace best practices, tips and tricks. Our latest mental health in the workplace report with our partner, If U Care Share, has highlighted a whole host of challenges that employees face as [00:01:00] well as the value of staying connected with others and looking after your mental health.

    So we found on average that 58% of respondents have suffered mental or physical stress as a result of work in the past two years, and we want to explore how businesses can deal with the factors that impact mental health in the workplace. So addressing mental health in the workplace starts with creating safe spaces for employees to share their feelings and experiences.

    And in this episode, we'll show you how to do that with our guest. So today we're joined by Jenni Field. Jenni has a wealth of experience helping businesses align their teams and encouraging them to work efficiently. She's a charter practitioner, fellow of the C I P R and an international speaker, and she also has her own podcast, redefining Communications with Jenni Field.

    So I won't go on too much and I'll let you speak about yourself, Jenni, and let you introduce yourself to the guests.

    [00:01:45] Jenni: Thank you. Thank you both for having me. It's really nice to be here today. So, I mean, you've pretty much done my introduction for me, Vic. There's not much more I can add to that other than I suppose I've got sort of 20 years’ experience working in communications and I worked in organisations for a long [00:02:00] time up to the role of communications director.

    I've set up about four different communications functions. So, I tend to help organisations where there maybe isn't a communications function or they've been through rapid growth and they've got a communications function, but it's not necessarily doing what it needs to do. So, in addition to some of the things you talked about, I've also published a book called Influential Internal Communication. Which is designed to help you look at how communication can streamline your organisation and make it more efficient and more engaging. And I've also published a couple of research papers trying to help us look at how we can communicate better with deskless workers. And also looking at the role of the line manager, which was sort of after the pandemic where there were lots of questions about do we need line managers if we're all working remotely?

    I'm just very curious and got a lot to say it seems.

    [00:02:49] Vic: That's amazing. Lots of resources, lots of knowledge, and we're excited to hear about it. And any resources will pop in the show notes so that people can browse.

    [00:02:56] Jenni: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. And I'm bound to [00:03:00] mention books because anyone that's heard me speak before will know that I'll mention books wherever I am. So we'll definitely pop links to all of those in the show notes.

    [00:03:08] Scott: Jenny, as Vic mentioned, how can businesses kind of go about and create safe spaces within the workplace, building trust and psychological safety for their employees, especially if they're as you mentioned, you know, gone through a period of rapid growth or just struggling with communications in general.

    [00:03:22] Jenni: So, I think this is something that's really come up almost since the pandemic. This talk around sort of psychological safety, certainly for internal communicators. I think it's been around for a very long time, but I think for communications professionals it started to become something we are looking at as we are looking at culture a little bit more and as we are looking at the employee experience a little bit more.

    So, as we're looking at all of those things together, this needs for sort of safe spaces at work has definitely come forward. And I think so much of it is linked to inclusion and diversity and belonging, which is something that's come further on the agenda since 2020 around the world. So, I think it's I think it's something that has probably always been there, but I think there is definitely this intentionality around it now in terms of, you know, are we making this a safe space? Do people feel included? Do they feel they can speak up? Do they feel they have a voice? Do they feel they are listened to? And these are the sort of questions and conversations that I think we're having more of now, rather than just that sort of old school broadcast mentality of what communication was before.

    [00:04:25] Vic: Definitely. So how do you think. Leaders and internal communications can create a culture that supports like openness and feedback so that everybody's involved in that conversation rather than top down, like you said.

    [00:04:39] Jenni: I think that's the golden question. How can we do that? And I think so much of it for me starts with the leadership.

    So quite often we talk about making sure that we're getting things right from the ground up or we focus on line managers. All of those things are important, but if we don't get that alignment from the leadership team and we don't coach and work with our leaders, then it's going to be really difficult to create any kind of space and culture through the organisation.

    Culture has to be set by the leadership team. You can't set a culture any other way. And I think the investment in time that's needed to really get that alignment, get the behaviours aligned to the words, and all of those things are what will create that safe space. And I was reading a book not that long ago called Digital Body Language by Erica Darwin and.

    It's something that I never really thought about but to talk about a lot, which is how you demonstrate your body language in a digital or online space. Now, we talk about this a lot when we're talking about communication skills. I just didn't know it had the name Digital Body Language, but it's an incredibly helpful book if you're looking at.

    How to create that culture in a hybrid, online, fully remote world, cuz it's about how you react to things online with emojis or you use things like that. All of those things play a role in culture and how you can create spaces where people feel safe because that's about helping [00:06:00] people feel listened to in a remote way.

    And if I think about some of the leadership teams we work with, I've already come back and sent it to some of my clients and said, everyone needs to read this because it's so important that we understand how digital communication will play such a big role in that safe space and how that feels. We can't just look at the physical spaces and being together, it has to kind of go all the way across and I think there's lots of little things we need to do to build that culture and create that safe space. It's not about creating big campaigns or looking at data like the report you've done is brilliant, but some people might take that and then do a big campaign around it, whereas actually it's the day to relationships, it's the one-to-one interactions. It's all those little things that add up to create that safe space. And if we don't focus on those and we just focus on the campaign, then we're not getting to sort of that root cause of what's really going on. And that's the bit that's important.

    [00:06:55] Vic: Yeah, definitely. So I think my next point is kind of how can your internal comms encourage participation? So you said they're like with the one-on-ones and meetings, so like how else can businesses ensure that they are getting everyone involved?

    [00:07:08] Jenni: I think for me it always comes down to what's the role and purpose of your internal communication function.

    So for some people they might be listening to this thinking, that's not my job in internal comms to get involved in doing that and others, this will be absolutely what they're doing. There's no right or wrong there. It completely depends on your organisation and what the purpose of your function is.

    But if you are looking at this, then there has to be the role of advising and I'm starting to see. Communication teams that aren't taking on that advisory role, and that's a worry because I think, you know, that's the role we really have to take. We have to advise leaders. We have to be the person in the room saying, oh, that language isn't quite right, or, we need to think about this, or you've missed that.

    If we are not being that voice, then I don't know who is. And I think that's the bit that internal comms can play is being that voice in that space, being that coach, being that advisor.  Almost being that agitator sometimes that you might need to be yeah, to really help people think a little bit differently.

    I think you can also look at how you can help the organisation. Look at being more efficient. So, you can look at the meeting, the rhythm of the organisation, those sorts of structures. How are you helping the flow of information through the organisation? From an internal comms perspective, that's allowing everybody to be included and making sure that it's flowing in the way that works to help the organisation achieve its goals, which is ultimately what you're trying to do.

    So, If you work in communications and you want to look at how to create, you know, more safe spaces, or build this culture of psychological safety, you've got to look at how you're advising and coaching. You've got to look at your channels and making sure that they are inclusive. I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten soapbox in the last two years about our lack of focus on the desk less worker. You know, we focus a lot on hybrid, the office worker. Something like 70% of the workforce are desk list, yet we're just talking about hybrid. I mean, it's mad. So your channels and your content have to be accessible and not just the desk list workers. They have to be accessible to people if they've got a disability.

    There's lots of things to consider and making sure that it is two way that you've got a space for conversation and listening and that isn't. . We do a survey once a year or we do a poll survey once a quarter. You know, that's not listening. That's . That's throwing out something. Yeah, getting something back and analysing it, you know, true listening has to be more conversation and relationship built.

    So those are the things I would be looking at. Definitely.

    [00:09:32] Vic: And I think, obviously you've spoke there about the various employees. How can we make sure that the communication methods match the needs of your employees? So is that obviously dependent on job role, age groups, gender? Yeah,

    [00:09:46] Jenni: there's, it's interesting because at the moment we are having more conversations about personas than I think I've ever had.

    A couple of communication professionals have got in touch with me to say, yeah, you've said that you've done some work on this. Can you share with me what you've done and what that looks like? Cause I'm being asked to do personas, but I don't know. What that looks like as an output. So we've put together a little sort of PDF that we've sort of sent around to a couple of people just based on what we've done with a client.

    Try and help people do that, and I think that's the key. That's the bit you've got to get in the shoes of your. Stakeholders. And that's looking at their demographics, that's looking at, you know, what stops them what worries them, what's going to make them leave? What are the risks, what are the opportunities, what engages them?

    And then verifying that with people if you can't do it with them, you know, in the first place. So I think that's really important. And if you can do a channel matrix and we can share a link to a template in the show notes, a channel matrix will help you look at. , you know, what channels have I got?

    Are they hitting all the different audience groups that I've got? Are they a mix of channels in terms of online and maybe a bit of print and face-to-face? Are they working at the right times? You know, am I overloading things? And that's something we do when we are auditing communication functions with the communications team, because sometimes you get so [00:11:00] stuck in doing the same things, or you've put things in place from the pandemic that just need to be looked at and reviewed.

    And the matrix just allows you to really have. Look across everything to make sure it's doing what you want it to do. And the matrix template I use is the one I had when I was global head of comm in a role. And it was just something that I created and it's always been a really popular tool and it's one that we've just carried on using.

    So I'll share that because it's helpful to look at. Whether or not you've got that two way, whether or not you've got all your audience groups, all those things. So it's just a nice, helpful thing and you can do that as a team together and map it out quite easily.

    [00:11:32] Scott: Looking at channel metrics, it's such kind of a good realisation because, you know, you can send an email to the entire organisation and anybody who doesn't look at email, the kickback's always, well, I sent the email.

    Yeah. But actually it's, was that the right channel? Yeah. Is it the right way to get in touch with those? And what could you, as the IC professional do, which is tough. There's more out there than just email. And I think you kind of, well, trying to get in touch with people is so hard, these days. Like [00:12:00]

    [00:12:00] Jenni: It's not the right channel always.

    Yeah, it's not. And I think, you know, when you're thinking about people and how they're feeling, whether it's from a mental health perspective, whether it's from feeling, you know, safe, they can speak up. You know, you've, you've got to be mindful that people's inboxes can be so overwhelming and I think we can all feel that at times, that if you are just adding to that noise and it is noise, if the content isn't relevant to that person, then that's definitely not going to reach them.

    And it absolutely depends on the content, but we tend to think channel first. We tend to, you know, I need to send an email, I need to do a poster, I need to create a campaign. We don't think about the content first. And I think if you think about content, and then you think about how do I want, how do I want people to think, how do I want them to feel? What do I want them to do? You know, the core principles. Then you would think about the channel, and so much of that has to come back to is this doing what we need it to do from a culture perspective? And that's ultimately when we talk about. , making sure that we are creating safe spaces, making sure that we're being mindful of burnout, those things.

    That's all culture related. So the [00:13:00] channel, I always say communication is the tangible representation of culture. So your channels represent that, and if they don't, then that's something that you need to kind of look at and make sure it's aligned as well, because they should be a really good representation of what it's like to.

    [00:13:16] Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Obviously, values are important to businesses and employees, but how do you kind of, how do you drive awareness around those values and make them accessible to employee, to employees as such? And how do they tie into the bigger picture?

    [00:13:27] Jenni: So, I love a values question this year, cause I've got, got a slightly different view of them.

    So, I've in some work I've been doing and researching for some other projects, I was looking at values and behaviours. And in most of the work we do with clients, we focus more on behaviours than values. And part of that is because the behaviours are what you are seeing every day. The behaviours are what link to culture and the behaviours are what you can link into sort of appraisals, competency frameworks, those sorts of things.

    And interestingly, I was reading something recently where it talks about the fact that we don't. Engage with values of an organisation unless they mean something to me. So I won't suddenly see this amazing values campaign and decide, oh, this is wonderful. I must say here, that's not how values work.

    They have to match my values, but I don't know that we do a lot of work helping individuals understand their values. And so I think there's a bit of a flip on values that we could do to really get culture. In the right space, which is to get people to think about their values and then sort of roll that up through the organisation.

    To then create the organisational values. Whereas what we tend to do is ask people, you know, we've got these six values that we've looked at in our boardroom. What do you think of these? And how do they feel? ? And I'd rather flip it the other way and get people's real individual values and not even how they perceive the organisation's values.

    It's their individual values. Cuz that's the bit we've got to engage with. And I think that's what we need to do because I think if we just. Creating [00:15:00] values that are usually very similar in lots of different organisations. You know, we have integrity, you know, we trust others, we support each other.

    We're collaborative. , you know, name that company . It's so mu it's so the same. And there's apparently Harvard Business Review article that's done a bit of analysis on this. So I'll try and dig it out for the show notes cuz it's quite interesting I think, in terms of looking at that looking. What corporate values tend to be.

    So I think we need to turn it totally on its head. And I think really it's about focusing on behaviours because values can be just quite meaningless if you don't have the behaviours attached to them. . Yeah.

    [00:15:35] Vic: Yeah. It's interesting, isn't it? Because onboarding and recruiting, you tend to like, that's where you're first introduced to the values and you kind of tried to get that match.

    But it would be interesting to not have those, and like in recruitment, listening to people's first hiring people based on that. Cause you'd get a lot more diverse exclusion, like you say, that way,

    [00:15:54] Jenni: Yeah. There was also something that I read, which was just an example of a job advert. And it was from, you know, years and years ago, and it was a job advert looking for people to go on an expedition.

    And like the first advert was something like, you know, you must be able to, you know, climb up a mountain and you know, know how to do this, know how to do this. And then the second advert was basically like, you must be a good team player and be okay if you don't come back which, you know, is a bit dark, but it was recruiting for the right, for that sort of person that had those values, that had that belief and rather than the tasks that they needed them to do.

    And there was sort of, I think it was two different expeditions and the expedition that was recruited with you know, be okay if you don't come back I think all of them did come back, and the other one, unfortunately it didn't go very well. So, I think that's such an example already of that recruitment example of how you can do things a bit differently.

    And I'd love to see onboarding that, you know, part of your employee experience is helping people think about what are the values that are important to you? What do you want from your career? And how can we help you thrive? Because the employee [00:17:00] experience is an end to that. You know, people will leave. We just never talk about it.

    It's like, you know, everyone's gotta stay here forever. So how do we help people explore their values, help 'em be great? Because that for me helps create this culture of psychological safety. You are interested in me as an individual. That's really important this year, that individualness is something that we're seeing across lots of different industries, lots of different organisations as being a really important trend for 2023.

    [00:17:26] Vic: And I think it would help people like link purpose in their job more, which people are obviously looking for a lot more now.  

    [00:17:31] Jenni: Yeah. And that's what I mean, we need that purpose is  you know, from a motivation perspective, we need to understand that purpose and not everybody's going to have some big life altering purpose to want to change the worlds, but understanding what your purpose is and how you fit into the organisation and how your values align to it and that might help you with development or, you know, whatever it might be. I think there's an opportunity there that we're missing and maybe not looking at something from a slightly different angle, because we've always done it that way really, when it comes to values.

    [00:18:05] Scott: Those ads, because there was a Arctic Explorer, Shackleton, and he put a newspaper ad in the newspaper.

    At the time, the newspaper ad was, and I've just got up here, men wanted for hazardous journey.

    [00:18:18] Jenni: Is that the one's it, yes, that's the one. That's

    [00:18:21] Scott: the one, yeah. Yeah. Bitter for long hours of complete darkness, safer term. Doubtful. Yes. On your recognition in event of Success, . Yes.

    [00:18:29] Jenni: That's exactly the one.

    That's exactly, I think it's in the book Start with why. So, we'll have a little look, but that's exactly it.

    [00:18:34] Vic: We've covered a lot. We've covered creating a place of psychological safety, creating the right culture and values. So Jenny, in a nutshell, can you explain the key things that communicators can do to create a safe space for employees?

    [00:18:49] Jenni: So, in a nutshell, the five things that I would look at are from a communications perspective, making sure that you are talking to your [00:19:00] key stakeholders internally, which would really be hr. If you're not in the HR function, you've got to have some conversations there. So that would be one of the first things, because we have to look.

    The whole employee experience and that journey. So HR have to be part of that conversation. The second thing is to look at conversations with the leadership team. So making sure that you have a relationship with them. , and if you don't, then trying to have some one-to-one conversations to understand whether or not the culture is where they want it to be.

    Whether or not they want the culture to be somewhere else. You know, what is it that's working or not working to help the organisation achieve what it wants to achieve. And that's, we always have to come back to that, you know, the organisation. is trying to achieve something. How do we as communicators help it do that?

    So there's got to be some conversations with leadership, I think. Then the third thing is to have the conversations with the employee base. So we always have to start with insights, and this is ultimately what we're looking at. So how are you listening to people? How are you getting the information about how people feel about how they work?

    Now, this isn't about people being happy at that's a whole other soapbox. I'm not going to get on here but it's making sure that you are listening to people, you know what's happening for them, what their experiences are, because that will help you look at whether there's any kind of pockets of toxic chaos, as we would call it, whether you've got specific issues that need to be addressed.

    So, you've got to do that. That's the third. Then the fourth would be starting to look at your channels and reviewing what you've got to make sure that you are inclusive. in your channels and how you communicate. And then the fifth would be making a plan and doing it because I think we spend a lot of time talking about things and not actually getting it over the line to really start doing it and having objectives that we can measure in terms of impact.

    So they would be the sort of five things I would be looking at. And there's a couple of other books I would also recommend. One is Inclusion on Purpose. I'll put a link to. In the show notes and the other is rebel Ideas by Matthew sae, but just would help you look. Culture in a slightly different way with intention, especially around inclusion and belonging and some of [00:21:00] those other things.

    [00:21:00] Scott: Well, thank you very much Jenny, for being on the show. If anyone who is listening would like to read our mental Health in the Workplace Report, you can access that along with additional resources at www.oak.com. And we'll be sure to include links to Jenny's podcast in the show notes along with a whole host of references.

    [00:21:20] Jenni: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

    [00:21:22] Scott: We hope you enjoyed this episode. Make sure you subscribe to us on YouTube, our social media channels, and your favourite podcast player to get all the latest comms in a nutshell content.

    [00:21:30] Vic: If you want to learn more about how an internet can transform employee engagement and streamline your communications, why not head to our website and book a demo with one of our experts?

    [00:21:41] Scott: So go ahead, give us a follow and we'll see you for our next episode.


    Vic is one of Oaks Content Marketing Specialists. She specialises in communication and marketing and is also a host on the Comms In A Nutshell podcast for Internal Comms & HR professionals.