Who would you tell? Finding a workplace ally when something’s not right

Alison Best




In the months following #metoo many employers have done a lot of great work to address potential harassment risk in the workplace - embedding clear policies on behaviour and harassment and introducing staff training on appropriate workplace behaviour and harassment awareness. But there’s often still a missing piece… many people who are unhappy with something that’s happening to them at work still don’t actually speak up. 

Consider… If something in your workplace was making you uncomfortable would you tell anyone about it? I guess it depends on what the thing is, just how uncomfortable you feel about it, who’s doing it, how long it’s been going on, and a whole host of other stuff, including your individual personality and style.

Speaking up can feel hard. In our sessions on harassment participants tell us it’s hard if you’re junior, new, feeling emotional… It’s hard if you don’t know what will happen next, if you fear some automatic ‘HR process’ will be set in motion, if you fear negative repercussions, or if you don’t trust the organisation to do anything about the problem. It’s hard if you think, on some level, that what is happening might be your fault. Sometimes it’s difficult because you simply don’t want to rock the boat. Perhaps you really like your team, the people there and you don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker.

But when, for whatever reason, someone doesn’t speak up, a problem can fester. Left unaddressed it can build to create legal issues, business risk, health issues, and a negative culture. Speaking up is vital.

So it seems there’s a gap in the workplace market.  It's a gap for a role providing advice and support for those who don’t feel ‘safe’ speaking up to authority. It’s a role for ‘allies’, ‘champions’ or ‘guardians’.  These employee-volunteers are people who staff can approach with their concerns – knowing that they will be heard openly, neutrally, without judgement.  Allies provide a trained, confidential resource. They are empathetic people, good listeners, who understand your organisation’s culture. They support an individual who is uncomfortable to think about the situation they are in and consider the options available.  The allies provide an extra avenue for speaking up outside the formal procedures. Individuals can share concerns with them knowing that, in doing so, they are not giving up control of their career, and that they still get decide what, if anything, happens next.

We are holding a free open session to consider whether introducing allies might work in your organisation. Please do book a place: Speaking up event