Inhibiting Employee Voice
May 26th, 2010 - 11 Comments
Employees fears of losing their job in this economic environment and supervisors who, either knowingly or unknowingly, discourage their employees from speaking up are just two examples of the many reasons why employees may feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions in the workplace.
Harvard Business Review’s research blog recently posted the second of a series of four posts addressing why employees don’t speak up within organizations. Guest commentators include Smeal Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management David Harrison, James Detert, assistant professor of management at Cornell’s Johnson School, and Ethan R. Burris, assistant professor of management at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business.
Smeal’s Linda Treviño, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and Ethics, worked on a study with Detert, recently published in Organization Science, addressing this very issue. Detert and Treviño discussed “skip-level leaders,” which is any leader above one’s immediate supervisor, and how these leaders can inhibit employee voice within an organization.
Below are excerpts from an article discussing their study on Smeal’s “Research with Impact” site.
“These skip-level leaders need to get outside their offices and other formal venues,” says Treviño. “They need to go to these distal subordinates and break down barriers, perhaps by sitting down one-on-one in the cafeteria, playing down authority differences, and sincerely expressing their desire for the truth. They must listen carefully and then respond, letting the employee know that action was taken to address the concern.”
In order to increase voice within the organizations, managers need to be aware of the effect of their authority role and pay close attention to the opportunities they have to directly impact voice. “There’s a real lack of understanding on the part of many leaders about the fear they may provoke just by virtue of being an authority figure,” says Treviño.
The researchers indicate that their findings have implications for leadership evaluation and training programs as well. “Leadership evaluations for anyone with skip-level subordinates should require input from employees at all levels,” write Detert and Treviño, “because leaders may find that whereas direct reports find them open or accessible, distal subordinates do not.”
“If leaders truly want to hear all employees’ concerns and improvement ideas, they must proactively and consciously create opportunities for direct, informal interaction with employees at multiple levels, build trust by consistently welcoming feedback, following up on it, and reporting back about action taken,” the researchers write.
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