Employee voice is the proactive, voluntary sharing of suggestions, concerns, opinions and feedback about work-related issues, with the primary goal of strengthening organizational performance. But when employees feel that speaking up with negative feedback or voicing concerns and problems is likely to be futile or dangerous, it perpetrates a culture of organizational silence.
One key factor that creates such a culture of silence is the fear in organization’s senior leadership of receiving negative feedback, especially from subordinates. Research suggests that feedback from below is often seen as less accurate and legitimate, and as more threatening to one’s power and credibility. This fear of critical feedback is thought to be especially high in more senior managers, as they often feel a strong need to avoid embarrassment, threat and feelings of vulnerability. The inclination then is to avoid any information that could suggest weakness. But such resistance to feedback, promotes conditions such as excluding employees from decision making to avoid dissent or feedback, lack of formal upward feedback mechanisms, centralized decision making and hostility towards those carrying bad news or negative feedback.
Such a climate of silence will impede organizational change and development as without critical feedback corrective actions can’t be taken when errors are made. Less visibly perhaps, it also comes in the way of forging a diverse and pluralistic organizational fabric that allows an expression of diverse conflicting perspectives. This is problematic because multiple and divergent points of view are crucial for effective organizational decision making.
Thus, to buffer against such a climate of silence, organizations need to create structures and practices that 1) enable every employee to freely and safely speak up with critical feedback and voice independent opinions while 2) strengthening the capacities to take in, process and learn from the critical feedback being voiced.