In October, Talent Rewire hosted our first in-person event in three years – an experiential workshop for employers with significant operations in Southern California. The workshop – Activate Employee Voice to Become an Employers of Choice – used TR’s recently published tool, “Engaging Frontline Employee Voice” as the basis for the curriculum.
Both our research and the event were funded by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation which focuses on economic mobility for low-income and frontline employees in California. Our local partner San Diego Workforce Partnership helped us with recruiting and hosting the event. San Diego was recently ranked as the least affordable U.S. metro area, making the opportunity to work with local employers to advance their frontline employees timely.
Our research started off with the question “what are actionable ways employers can engage employee voice?” and we quickly learned that the question we needed to address was “what steps can employers take to build trust and relationships to enable a culture of authentically engaging employee voice?”
One of the final and most integral parts of bringing this research to life was inviting frontline employees, employers, and coaches together for the workshop experience.
Bringing Community Voices To The Room
Since its inception, Talent Rewire has been committed to bringing employers and frontline employees together in a way that considers power dynamics and structural inequity. To position frontline employees as experts of their own experience, we invited nine current frontline employees to join us for a portion of the workshop. Bringing together employers and the frontline ignited powerful conversations about how the intersections of identities affect us in the workplace.
A member from our frontline advisory group shared how their gender identity makes even simple things at work like using gendered bathrooms feel unsafe.
During and after the workshop, many of our frontline advisors expressed their gratitude at how they felt heard in a way they hadn’t felt before. Our three coaches – Carmen, Debbie, and Jejuana – brought expert guidance as well as their own real life examples of navigating the workplace. Overall, the diverse range of experience, positionality, and perspective brought to the table created a special energy for personal stories to emerge.
The personal anecdotes shared truly drove home how important it is to connect “the head and the heart” when it comes to shifting mindsets about frontline employees and their experiences.
One employer left saying: “we tend to forget our decisions impact other humans,” and that the workshop “humanized the topic at hand.”
Going Slow To Go Far
At the heart of our work around employee voice is a commitment to mindset shift. Mindset shift is a commitment beyond an intellectual understanding of privilege and identity. Bringing together the three groups that attended our workshop – coaches, employers, and frontline advisors – meant being intentional about how positionality might affect interaction and learning. In practice this meant slowly building a diverse group of frontline advisors, compensating them for their attendance at the workshop, and also not tokenizing their participation.
We know that change doesn’t happen overnight. Through our own business practices, we hope to model how true mindset and cultural shifts mean going slow- rather than fast – to go far.
At Activate, we created an intentional space for everybody to slow down. In one of our exercises, we asked attendees to participate in a race where the goal was to be the last one to cross the finish line. We all laughed as everybody moved as slow as possible, moving one toe at a time. Creating an environment of laughter and movement gave everybody a chance to relax and to connect to the workshop in a genuine way.
Continuing The Work
Two weeks after the workshop, we brought all three groups back together to share feedback and for employers to show the steps they’ve started to take.
Employers shared that they were planning to:
- Hold focus groups and conduct interviews focused on frontline employees and their experiences.
- Dive deeper into the research on toxic culture and how to create psychological safety for all employees.
- Communicate the importance of creating a trusting workplace culture through all levels of the organization, including leadership.
- Review and change their communication channels and processes.
- Share data and information to solicit feedback from employees on decisions that affect them.
After listening to employer presentations, several frontline advisors shared that “it is amazing that people actually hear our voice,” and that the actions gave them hope. However, they requested that employers continue to take more concrete actions towards intentionally making frontline employees feel safe enough to offer their input.
Our team, as well as the employers left the entire experience energized and even more excited to continue the work of advancing frontline employees.
During a period of time of intense change and fluctuation in the world and in the workforce, it’s more important than ever to gather, share, and get back to the human heart of how we can listen to each other and amplify the voices that most need to be heard.