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Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations at work | AWI Workforce Impact series

Updated on April 2, 2024

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Topics Covered:

Manager effectiveness

What topics are appropriate for work? The old rules of no religion or politics seem dated, but are there new rules to replace them?

New data from Achievers Workforce Institute shows that employees want to be able to have hard conversations at work, but many don’t feel safe doing so. Safety and trust start with managers. How can HR leaders equip managers to give employees the support they need?

From war and social justice to climate change and a global pandemic, the rate of new crises is overwhelming, but we’re all still showing up to work. According to a March 2024 survey of 1,500 employees , most (62%) want to be able to have hard conversations at work, but one-third don’t feel safe doing so with their managers.

AWI research shows two-thirds of employees want to have tough conversations at workAWI research shows one-third of employees can't have tough conversations with their manager

Gen Z and Millennials — the youngest generations in the workplace — are 31% more likely to say they don’t feel safe having these conversations with their managers. These generations are the most likely to say they want to feel safe having these conversations, and that they want to work for a company that takes a stand on world events.

Employees with low trust are twice as likely to say they don’t feel safe having these conversations with their manager, and some groups are at additional risk due to low trust.

How can companies increase employee trust?

Companies can increase employee trust by building a strong foundation with recognition, listening, and compassion. Trust is needed in trying times, but it is built every day. Employees who feel recognized by their manager are twice as likely to have high trust and are almost twice as likely to say they feel safe having tough conversations with their manager.

Additionally, compassionate listening helps build trust so when employees want to talk about something difficult, they know they will be heard and valued.

How can managers support employees?

Managers can support employees by listening non-judgmentally and taking on a coaching, not a problem-solving, mindset. Often people just want to feel heard, they don’t need help solving a problem. Unless a team member explicitly asks for help, consider validating their feelings without trying to find a solution.

Which employees are most likely to distrust their managers?

Women and people with disabilities are more likely than average to distrust their managers. In fact, women are twice as likely as men to say they have low manager trust. Women with disabilities are especially at risk for low trust at work.

How does belonging at work increase trust?

A strong sense of belonging at work doubles the rate of manager trust for employees from one-third to two-thirds. People leaders can support a culture of belonging by using the five pillars identified in the research-backed AWI Belonging Model™ : feeling welcomed, known, included, supported, and connected.

Read more about having hard conversations at work in the Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable at Work report


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