CIRAS' Catherine Baker discussed the importance of listening for an inclusive, safe and healthy workplace – whichever industry you work in – and especially in times of change.

Director of CIRAS Catherine shared her thoughts about listening to colleagues in a recent article for RailBusinessDaily.

In the article, Catherine says:

‘Have you ever proofread your own work and then somebody else picks up a glaring error that you’ve missed?  Because I think listening is a little bit like that.

‘If I’m an expert in a process, system or asset and someone raises a query or concern about it, I hear them through the filters of my own experience.

‘This can be a good thing, but equally there is a possibility that I don’t really hear something that I’m not expecting, in the same way that we don’t always spot mistakes when proofreading our own work.  As an independent listener, CIRAS takes the time to really understand what the concern is without those filters, so we can hear things that wouldn’t get picked up otherwise.

‘It isn’t a criticism of anybody, it is just a human characteristic that it can be really difficult to listen, even though it is something we do every day.’

She continues:

‘Confidential reporting is one way we can lower the barriers to someone being prepared to speak out, and free the listener from unconscious bias relating to who raised the issue.’

Catherine is encouraging organisations to pause when they do hear concerns from someone – whether it be informally in a car park, formally through the internal system or through CIRAS – so they can ensure that person is listened to and that listening leads to action.

She said: ‘It is such a powerful message to an employee that they are being listened to and what they say matters.

‘If an organisation promotes that listening – open-door policies, days when senior staff walk around the frontline, promoting confidential reporting – it demonstrates a real sense that they want to hear and they’re not afraid of what people are going to say, and I think that’s really important.

‘During the Covid-19 pandemic I have definitely seen evidence of positive indicators when it comes to listening, whether that’s organisations that have changed the way that they talk within their organisation, their channels, or perceptions of reporting culture.

‘At the same time there have been indications of a suppression in the reporting of concerns that didn’t relate to Covid-19.  Quite rightly, lots of organisations have been really focussed on managing that risk, but the relative scale of reporting other issues seemed to have fallen away.’

Catherine adds further on:

‘The key message for organisations is that it always starts with listening, because the person who recognises the problems needs to know they will be listened to – otherwise, why bother?

‘Looking to the future of CIRAS, the priority is to continue working closely with all our members to enable speaking up and listening.  It has been turbulent in the rail industry over the last 18 months, and there is more change to come.

‘Whether it is the post-pandemic adjustment, or the Williams-Shapps Review, there is much reshaping to come.  Change can drive uncertainties in people and that can affect reporting behaviours, so there is work for us to do in making sure that all voices keep being heard through this period of time and beyond.

‘There is also an opportunity to continue shifting the culture of listening in organisations so that workers feel more able to speak up.’

Read the article in full on

More about CIRAS membership

Find out more

Listening well can improve outcomes in times of change

Listening inclusively: check your own biases

Why listening can improve safety silence

The power of listening in safety and wellbeing – Watch Catherine Baker's talk for the Rail Wellbeing Live event