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An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence: Issues that Employees Don't Communicate Upward and Why

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  • Frances J. Milliken

Abstract

There is evidence from a variety of sources that employees often do not feel comfortable speaking to their bosses about organizational problems or issues that concern them. The purpose of this study was to shed light on the types of issues that employees are reluctant to raise, and identify why employees sometimes decide to remain silent rather than voice their concerns. We interviewed 40 employees and found that most had been in situations where they were concerned about an issue but did not raise it to a supervisor. Silence spanned a range of organizational issues, with several of our respondents indicating that they did not feel comfortable speaking to those above them about "any" issues or concerns. The most frequently mentioned reason for remaining silent was the fear of being viewed or labeled negatively, and as a consequence, damaging valued relationships. From our data, we develop a model of how the perceived consequences of voice contribute to silence, and a model of how the social and relational implications of speaking up can take away employees' ability to have influence within an organizational setting. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2003.

Suggested Citation

  • Frances J. Milliken, 2003. "An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence: Issues that Employees Don't Communicate Upward and Why," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(6), pages 1453-1476, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jomstd:v:40:y:2003:i:6:p:1453-1476
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    3. Chin-Yi Shu & Nguyen Thi Nhu Quynh, 2015. "Guan-Xi, Loyalty, Contribution And ‘Speak-Up Behavior: The Role of Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) as Mediator and Political Skill as Moderator," Eurasian Journal of Business and Management, Eurasian Publications, vol. 3(2), pages 54-73.
    4. Weiner, Bryan Jeffrey & Hobgood, Cherri & Lewis, Megan A., 2008. "The meaning of justice in safety incident reporting," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 403-413, January.
    5. David Whiteside & Laurie Barclay, 2013. "Echoes of Silence: Employee Silence as a Mediator Between Overall Justice and Employee Outcomes," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 116(2), pages 251-266, August.
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    8. Allison Ballard & Patricia Easteal, 2016. "Australia’s National Anti-Bullying Jurisdiction: Paper Tiger or Velvet Glove," Laws, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(1), pages 1-18, February.
    9. Venkataramani, Vijaya & Zhou, Le & Wang, Mo & Liao, Hui & Shi, Junqi, 2016. "Social networks and employee voice: The influence of team members’ and team leaders’ social network positions on employee voice," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 37-48.
    10. Karina Lloyd & Diana Boer & Joshua Keller & Sven Voelpel, 2015. "Is My Boss Really Listening to Me? The Impact of Perceived Supervisor Listening on Emotional Exhaustion, Turnover Intention, and Organizational Citizenship Behavior," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 130(3), pages 509-524, September.
    11. Travis, Dnika J. & Gomez, Rebecca J. & Mor Barak, Michàlle E., 2011. "Speaking up and stepping back: Examining the link between employee voice and job neglect," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(10), pages 1831-1841, October.
    12. Hilal BARAN & Ceren GİDERLER, 2017. "A Study on Determining the Influence of Organizational Identification on Organizational Justice and Organizational Silence," International Journal of Asian Social Science, Asian Economic and Social Society, vol. 7(3), pages 242-258, March.
    13. Kristen Lucas & Jeremy Fyke, 2014. "Euphemisms and Ethics: A Language-Centered Analysis of Penn State’s Sexual Abuse Scandal," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 122(4), pages 551-569, July.
    14. Vallaster, Christine & Lindgreen, Adam, 2013. "The role of social interactions in building internal corporate brands: Implications for sustainability," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 297-310.
    15. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:10:p:1829-:d:114643 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Özen Kutanis Rana & Ardiç Kadir & Uslu Osman & Karakiraz Ahmet, 2014. "Emotional Intelligence, Fear Based Silence And Trust To Manager: A Case Study," Polish Journal of Management Studies, Czestochowa Technical University, Department of Management, vol. 10(2), pages 133-142, December.
    17. Kato, Toshihiko & Numagami, Tsuyoshi & Karube, Masaru & Sasaki, Masato, 2013. "Types Of Upward Communication And Organizational Characteristics In Japanese Firms," Hitotsubashi Journal of commerce and management, Hitotsubashi University, vol. 47(1), pages 1-16, January.
    18. Pettit, Nathan C. & Doyle, Sarah P. & Lount, Robert B. & To, Christopher, 2016. "Cheating to get ahead or to avoid falling behind? The effect of potential negative versus positive status change on unethical behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 172-183.
    19. Li-Yueh Lee & Veasna Sou, 2013. "The Antecedents of Innovation Climate: Cross-Level Mediation Perspectives," Diversity, Technology, and Innovation for Operational Competitiveness: Proceedings of the 2013 International Conference on Technology Innovation and Industrial Management, ToKnowPress.
    20. Silke Eisenbeiß & Felix Brodbeck, 2014. "Ethical and Unethical Leadership: A Cross-Cultural and Cross-Sectoral Analysis," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 122(2), pages 343-359, June.
    21. Long Zhang & Yulin Deng & Qun Wang, 2014. "An Exploratory Study of Chinese Motives for Building Supervisor–Subordinate Guanxi," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 124(4), pages 659-675, November.
    22. repec:kap:jbuset:v:145:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2861-4 is not listed on IDEAS
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    24. Jinsong Li & Long-Zeng Wu & Dong Liu & Ho Kwan & Jun Liu, 2014. "Insiders maintain voice: A psychological safety model of organizational politics," Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Springer, vol. 31(3), pages 853-874, September.

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