Employees can be a source of critical business intelligence, yet a study of over 100,000 US employees reveals that many are afraid to share their voice. These perceptions typically stem from a culture that stifles the free expression of ideas, and from leaders who contribute to or create that culture. Fear of speaking up is extremely detrimental to organizations, often causing an escalation of dissatisfaction among employees leading to absenteeism, non-productive work behaviors, low team identification, and eventually reduced performance and turnover.
Fear of Retribution
Further analysis of employee survey data shows several factors leading to a culture where individuals are afraid to share their voice:
- Constant negative feedback from supervisors and leaders
- Leaders perceived as a dissenting voice (shooting-down new ideas out of hand, or ignoring feedback)
- Fear (real or feigned) of demotion or loss of job
- Raising issues draws undue attention to individuals or groups who make suggestions.
- Employees perceive that there is no procedural justice (fair use and application of employee feedback)
Every day, employees make decisions about whether to speak up or remain silent. The problem is that, in many organizations, the majority choose the safety of silence. This denies the organization and its leaders valuable information that could be used to make improvements. While there are ways to address the problem of employee voice, it is strongly recommended that all organization leaders receive training and coaching on how to create feedback cultures where ideas and suggestions are shared, employees are listened to, and appropriate responses to feedback are given. In addition, focus groups exploring antecedents and consequences of employee silence should be conducted immediately following the reporting of survey results. Whatever strategy is used to understand employee silence, the end result should be a culture which encourages the free flow of information and feedback resulting in higher employee engagement and organizational effectiveness.