Combating Silence in Organizations

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI was really afraid to publish a post called 50 Reasons You Feel Like Shit at Work, and I was fearful in large part because it was so critical of common organizational practices.

For a long time, I was worried about coming across as too negative, too anti-organization, and so I wrote more mild posts in an effort to support readers while also keeping a door open to do work within organizations. I thought that if I played nice enough, I could continue writing while also working to make change inside of companies, even though when I’d tried, it felt totally draining.

We need innovative, forward-thinking people inside of organizations to drive change. Absolutely. For sure. And we also need people on the fringes noticing and giving voice to the things that are harmful and need to stop, which is where I feel more aligned with who I really am.

We need both kinds of people if we’re going to create organizations that allow people to show up as wholly themselves.

There is an unhealthy amount of silence around our organizations and their practices today. I felt afraid to post what I did because it still feels taboo to me to be critical of companies or non-profit groups. And yet, they wield a lot of power, and because of that, need to be held to a higher level of accountability.

Why are so many of us uncomfortable talking about the lack of transparency and humanity in these places?

I think it’s because for many of us, doing so has been labeled “unprofessional,” and we’re afraid of what could happen if we’re critical of the very people who sign our paychecks.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMany of our ancestors have either been part of a labor movement or were working adults while their peers were trying to form unions. I know how controversial unions can be, and some of them are just as crooked as the organizations they’re “protecting” employees from, but their foundational purpose is pure: to publicly hold organizations accountable for how they treat their employees.

We need people to serve that function. We need to unveil harmful practices like hiding pay practices from employees, expecting salaried employees to work way more than 40 hours/week, and putting employees through patronizing disciplinary processes.

We need less silence and more accountability. Without bringing things out into the open, they stay secret and gnarly and more harmful than if we just looked at them and at least acknowledged that they were happening.

It breaks my heart when I hear about people who feel like they have no one they can talk to about an abusive boss, a total sense of overwork, or a suspicion that they’re being paid less than their peers for the same work. These are real, serious issues, and while I know the people in power often feel just as isolated and afraid as those “below” them, they’re kind of like politicians: they should be beholden to the people in their community.

Some organizational leaders will, for a long time to come, cling to the notion that they’re actually only beholden to “the business,” as if that’s a real thing.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe social contract between workers and organizations is changing though, and the organizations that succeed will be the ones who stop trying to hide harmful practices and who humbly partner with their people to make things better.

Whether you work in an organization or without, I encourage you not to be silenced anymore. If you see something destructive, shed light on it. If you see something beautiful that needs more room to grow, do whatever you can to give it that.

You get to decide what kind of a place you want to work in, and you can effect real change by doing your part to hold the organization and its leaders accountable for their decisions and their treatment of you, the community, and the earth itself.

I know it’s not always comfortable, but it is a requirement for those of us calling for a new, healthier, more authentic world of work.


If you’d like to join a community that’s discussing some of these issues, I invite you to check out our Facebook group, A Wild New Work.

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