As far as workplace culture goes, transparency is still a fairly new concept. After decades of closed doors and strict manager hierarchy, organizations are finally starting to open their doors and collaborate across departments. For good reason, too: Transparency at work has a proven track record of helping employees feel better-connected to management, feel more heard, and improve levels of trust across the board.
At eLearning Mind, we use Slack as a tool for communication transparency between leadership and employees, as well as between departments. Each department has their own slack channel for correspondence, and anyone from any other team can join the channel and the conversation.
But, before you decide to convert all of your office doors to windows, it’s important to understand both sides of the story we’ve experienced when it comes to promoting a more transparent workplace.
A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that 25 percent of American employees don’t really trust their employer. It may not seem like a big deal, but contrast that data with the following statistic: 27 percent of employees admitted they intended to seek new employment within the next year. And the number continues to rise.
Coincidence? Probably not. A lack of transparency breeds employee mistrust, and that mistrust can bring on a whole slew of other negative emotions, such as a lack of feeling appreciated, not feeling heard, and even refusal to collaborate. On the flip side, when employees feel like management is open and honest, it promotes a sharing and collaborative environment. Rather than being suspicious and closed-off, employees trust their employers and are more likely to build strong workplace relationships.
On Slack we constantly give employees “props” (giving someone a public congrats) for doing something great, which is a great way to show appreciation for the work someone is doing. We add props to the beginning of our meetings as well to start the conversation out with what we are doing right.
At ELM, we also hold monthly All Hands meetings to make sure everyone single team member knows what every department is working on, where financials are at, and where we are heading as a company.
As a result, we’ve experienced unique collaborations amongst employees, new ideas, increased trust through knowing at all times where the business is at, and higher engagement and teambuilding amongst employees.
In short, transparency—whether it’s through open communication, a better workplace culture, or even an open office floor plan—is overwhelmingly beneficial. Still, it’s not a perfect strategy.
But Transparency Doesn’t Always Lend to Positive Outcomes
Transparency might help improve levels of trust and collaboration, but it’s important to remember that it can act as a catalyst for some less-desirable emotions and reactions, too. Sometimes, transparency can be more of a distraction than anything: Does the accounting department really need to know when graphic design hits a snag? Could transparency about short-term financial woes make employees nervous about possible instability (and therefore more likely to seek other employment)?
Transparency can also create an environment where competition becomes the most significant motivating factor for employees. For some, that’s fine: Those with competitive personalities may thrive when seeing their direct impact in comparison to their colleagues’. Unfortunately, other employees might be more likely to avoid risk or reaching out, for fear of everyone witnessing a potential mistake. Some employees simply prefer anonymity in their work.
Transparency has been a great thing for our business, especially in building trust and fostering collaboration that wouldn’t otherwise happen. But remember that instead of showing all the cards at once, maintaining a balance between open, honest communication and using restraint around transparency can help limit the negative impact of a transparent culture.
This piece is authored by our co-founders, Andrew Fayad and Simon Casuto.
What do you think about transparency? How has it worked for your business? Let us know in the comments below.