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1. "Employee Silence on Critical Work Issues: Interview with Subra Tangirala". podcast.

Organizational Behavior Division of the Academy of Management. April 16, 2008.

Employee silence refers to situations where employees withhold information that might
be useful to the organization of which they are a part whether intentionally or
unintentionally. Employee silence, the antithesis of employee voice, refers to situations
where employees suppress information that might be useful to the organization of which
they are a part. One way this can happen is if employees do not speak up to a
supervisor or manager. This can happen if employees do not speak up to a supervisor or
manager. Employee silence does not only occur between management and employees,
it also occurs during conflict among employees, and as a result of organizational
decisions. This silence keeps managers from receiving information that may help to
improve the organization. Organizations where considerable risk is involved such as
airports and “hospitals; should be especially mindful of” employee silence. This is
because mistakes caused by employee silence in these organizations can lead to the
loss of life or serious damage costs to the organization.
In some cases subordinates don’t want to appear as though they are going against their
supervisors, as they may view the employees input as criticism of their practices, and be
“Employee silence affects the personal well being of employees, increases stress,” and
causes them to “feel guilty, where they often experience psychological problems, and
have trouble seeing the possibility of change.”
2. Milliken, Frances J.; Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison (4 Aug 2003). "Shades of Silence: Emerging
Themes and Future Directions for Research on Silence in Organizations".Journal of
Management Studies 40 (6): 1563–1568. doi:10.1111/1467-6486.00391. Retrieved Journal
of Management Studies.
Within organizations people often have to make decisions about whether to speak up or
remain silent - whether to share or withhold their ideas, opinions, and concerns … [The
problem is that] in many cases, they choose the safe response of silence, withholding
input that could be valuable to others or thoughts that they wish they could express.
3. Panteli, N., and S. Fineman. "The Sound of Silence: the case of virtual team organising."
Behaviour & Information Technology 24 (2005): 347-52.
Employee silence can occur in any organization. Specifically though, employee silence
occurs in most organizations where communication is suffering. Employee silence
causes the most damage when the employees and supervisors do not meet on a regular
basis. In a virtual workplace this is more than true. In a virtual workplace the only in-
person communication is in small discussion groups. This kind of organization is very
susceptible to employee silence because there is almost no person-to-person
communication, and it is very easy to ignore or misinterpret things like email. Employee
silence is a problem for more than just virtual organizations. Within the past few years
employee silence has been happening more often in non-virtual organizations (Fineman
and Panteli 347-348)
4. Jason A. Colquitt; Greenberg, Jerald (2005). Handbook of organizational justice. Hillsdale,
N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-4203-9.
There are many different reasons for the start of employee silence in an organization.
According to the Handbook of Organizational Justice, "a culture of injustice in
organizations, be it distributive, procedural, or interactional (what we would call
interpersonal), can lead to employee silence." (Colquitt and Greenberg 311)
In other
words, "if the organizational norm is an unjust environment such as one that is
characterized by intense supervisory control, suppression of conflict, ambiguous
reporting structures, and poorly conducted performance reviews, employees will choose
not to exercise voice and will therefore not receive the benefits available to those that do
express opinions and ideas." (Colquitt and Greenberg 311)
Supervisors, leaders, and managers alike can avoid the occurrence of a dissenting voice
among employees by monitoring their management style. Cooperative styles such as
"integrating, obliging, and compromising" are more effective than "avoiding and
dominating" styles, which could cause silence among employees (Colquitt and
Greenberg 312).
Employee silence is extremely detrimental to organizations often causing an “escalating
level of dissatisfaction” among employees, “which manifests itself in absenteeism and
turnover and perhaps other undesired behaviors” (Colquitt and Greenberg 311-312)
5. Tourish, Dennis, and Paul Robson. "Sense Making and the Distortion of Critical Upward
Communication in Organizations." Journal of Management Studies 43 (2006): 711-30.
One obvious cause of employee silence is constant negative feedback from supervisors. When
an employee gives a supervisor a suggestion and is shot down, employee silence is developed
in an organization. Over time employees start to feel that every time they make a suggestion it
will not be taken into consideration or will be rejected. A result of this is called a dissenting voice,
which contributes to employee silence. The dissenting voice is the voice of the supervisor
shooting someone down (Robson and Tourish 712).
6. Pentilla, Chris. "Get Talking." Entrepreneur Nov. 2003: 25-25.
Employee silence occurs because people fear that if they speak up they may lose their jobs
(Pentilla 1)
Communication is the key to an organization’s success. If employee silence does occur,
communication suffers, and as a result harms the overall functioning of the organization. In an
article entitled “Get Talking” author Chris Penttila says, “employee silence is killing innovation
and perpetuating poorly planned projects that lead to defective products, low moral and a
damaged bottom line” (1).
7. "Podcast - Procedural Fairness, It’s a Good Deal: Interview with Joel Brockner". podcast.
Organizational Behavior Division of the Academy of Management. February 20, 2008.
Organizations which have just experienced high level layoffs where a number of employees have
been downsized. In these cases, employees fear that their jobs could be taken away and are
even less likely to voice their opinions than they did in the first place.
8. Vakola, Maria, and Dimitris Bouradas. "Antecedents and consequences of organisational
silence: an empirical investigation." Employee Relations 27 (2005): 441-58.
Another cause of employee silence is when supervisors and employees fail to address the actual
problems that exist within organizations. Avoiding these problems or looking for "quick fixes" only
makes things worse and causes employees to feel that there is no hope for resolution. If
employees lose hope that the real problems will actually be addressed and resolved, it can lead
to a host of problems for the organization and for the employee, one of which is continued
employee silence (Bouradas and Vakola 442).
9. Joinson, Carla. "Recreating the Indifferent Employee." HRM Magazine Aug. 1996: 76–81.
Employees then start to feel it is better to remain silent about issues because nothing will change
anyway. If companies want to be successful they need to confront the actual problem and fix it,
Both the employee and the supervisor need to deal with the situation because employee silence
usually stems from the higher management down to lower level employees which is the cause of
the indifferent employee. (Joinson 77-78).
In an article titled “Re-Creating the Indifferent Employee” Carla Joinson talks about negative
effects of employee silence such as monetary losses to the organization. Over time silence within
organizations causes some employees to be extremely indifferent. Indifferent employees are
those who are “indifferent to their jobs, employers and quality of work” (Joinson 76).

Indifferent employees cause the organization to lose money and function poorly. Unfortunately
when major monetary losses are detected in organizations, managers tend to react by trying to
recover the loss, overlooking the fact employees have become indifferent as a result of
unaddressed employee silence. More often than not employees who are not doing their share of
the work are also not speaking up with the problems they see, leading to a perpetual cycle of
employee silence (Joinson 1048).
Employee silence also has many effects on the employees themselves. Indifferent employees,
often products of ignored employee silence, tend to feel like cogs at machinery factories,
developing the attitude “to get along, go along” (Joinson 1048).
10. Clemmer, Jim (2008). Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work.
Ecw Press. ISBN 0-9782221-7-2.
Moose on the Table by author Jim Clemmer is a useful tool in studying what can actually happen
when employee silence is a problem in the workplace. Clemmer uses a metaphor to explain the
effects of employee silence and poor communication in organizations. He formulates the
metaphor using a character named Pete, who begins to see imaginary moose in his place of
work that represent all the problems that aren't being addressed and have gotten larger over
time. The book portrays what can happen to employees and organizations when this problem is
left alone.
This book is instrumental in teaching different groups how to deal with employee
silence. Clemmer suggests that organizations who suffer from employee silence should take an
interactive approach. First, it is important to recognize that there is in fact a problem with
employee silence, next managers and employees must work together to identify what issues
aren't being talked about. In doing so, managers might conduct interviews with employees and
disperse surveys.
Indifferent employees sometimes develop depression and other health problems. Sometimes
these employees use pills and alcohol as a “cure” for the problems they are experiencing at
work, which actually make their problems worse. In the book Moose on the Table by Jim
Clemmer, Pete who is the main character of the book develops these types of health problems.
As such, employees want to know that their opinions are important and are not only being taken
into consideration, but are being acted upon as well
11. Dyne, Linn V., Soon Ang, and Isabel C. Botero. "Conceptualizing Employee Silence and
Employee Voice as Multidimensional Constructs." Journal of Management Studies 40 (2003):
Van Dyne et al. (2003) define silence as an employee’s motivation to withhold or express
ideas, information and opinions about work‐related improvements. This silence can be
intentional or unintentional; information can be consciously held back by employees.
Employees "often have ideas, information, and opinions for constructive ways to improve
work and organizations" (Lin and Ang 1359)
12. Glazer, Sharon and Kruse, Bradford. "The Role of organizational commitment in occupational
stress models." International Journal of stress management 15 (2008) (329-344).
Being that the effects of employee silence can be severe and detrimental to the overall
functioning of a company, organizations should try to minimize its occurrence. One way to avoid
this would be to try to establish procedural climates. Another way to prevent employee silence is
to create an employee that is committed the organization. This is done by showing that the
organization is fair and committed to the employees. So when the organization is committed to
the employee the employee in return is committed to the organization which limits employee
silence (Glazer and Kruse 330-331).
13. Milliken, Frances J., Elizabeth W. Morrison, and Patricia F. Hewlin. "An Exploratory Study of
Employee Silence: Issues that Employees Don't Communicate Upward and Why." Journal of
Management Studies 40 (2003): 1453-476.
As Milliken et al. (2003) state, “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.” Employees might be afraid of the outcome of speaking up, they might feel like
nothing will change, they might simply feel intimidated with the subject matter that they wish to
express, or they might feel intimidated by whom they would have to talk to. Also, if their co-
workers aren’t speaking up, they might be inclined to close their mouths as well, termed
"collective silence". They might not want to break away from the crowd and present an opinion
that differs from the majority. Or, simply, employees might not feel like they possess enough
power to speak up and voice their opinions; this notion is of particular significance when the
organization is structured and set up as a hierarchy or bureaucracy.
Research by Milliken et al. (2003) suggests that employee silence is related to social capital
(valuable resources such as trust and goodwill that are embedded within a social structure).
Employees work hard to build and maintain social capital and typically do not engage in
behaviors that may weaken or sever these important/vital social ties. They do not want to risk
looking bad in any sort of situation; this will reflect on their identity, their role, and their overall
connection to the organization. This is pertinent as it relates to employee identity and power.
Since employees perceive themselves in relations to others, it is interesting to discover that
employees do not want to ruin their public image because that image alone protects their social
capital. Additional causes In organizations, there is evidence that employees are especially
uncomfortable conveying information about potential problems or issues to those above them
(Milliken et al. 2003).
14. McDonald, Leslie R. "Employee Silence Does Not Equal Agreement." The Post-Standard
[Syracuse] 25 Jan. 2007, Business Column sec.: C2-C2.
15. Tangirala, Subrahmaniam, and Rangaraj Ramanujam. "EMPLOYEE SILENCE ON
CLIMATE." Personnel Psychology 61 (2008): 37-68
16. Tangirala and Ramanujam (2008) conducted research on nurses in Midwestern hospitals
to study employee silence in health care. With lives at stake each and every day, the
notion of employee silence in such an industry is a particularly devastating one due to its
potential implications.
[citation needed]
Their research showed that the more power a
supervisor is perceived to have, the less likely it was that nurses would share critical
information. They did not want to cause unnecessary tension and sever professional
bonds with their bosses. They didn’t want to cause a stir; in their minds, it was better to
remain silent than address conflicts and clear up confusion.
Tangirala and Ramanujam (2008) suggest that organizational pride needs to be
enhanced in the minds and souls of workers. Employees need to feel a high amount of
satisfaction in order to positively identify with their organization. Managers can also
increase employee pride in their respective professions by giving constructive feedback
after projects are completed and by engaging in constant training to continually enhance
performance. Employees need to feel like their contributions matter, and that their work is
significant and meaningful. When this occurs, employees will feel like they truly do matter
in an organization; they will become active players and voice their concerns freely and
without fear. They will also more positively identify with their organizations, thus bringing
the whole idea of employee identity, communication and job satisfaction full circle.
17. The research also found that nurses were less silent when they identified with their
workgroup, felt proud of and attached to their jobs, and perceived a high level of fairness
in the workplace. These startling
[according to whom?]
revelations relate to Pfeffer’s key point of
acting like one has it (confidence and power); perception is everything and perception is
reality. He states, “We choose how we will act and talk, and those decisions are
consequential for acquiring and holding on to power” (2010). It is clear when employees
feel they don’t have a stake, a personal investment, in an organization, they will choose
to remain silent.
[citation needed]
So how can organizations reduce employee silence and
increase employee commitment?

18. Willman, P. et al. (2006) present evidence to support that any hierarchical organization
tends to support what its leaders already think is true more than it challenges them to
think differently. The levels below the leaders are more interested in keeping their jobs
than in telling the truth. But once a relationship is established, and the lines of
communication are open, it is undeniably easier to have others on your side and others
who are willing to help you out, both professionally and personally.
19. Pfeffer (2010) acknowledges the dynamic relationship among trust, relationships, and
power when he says, “Sometimes building a relationship so that others will help you
requires nothing more than being polite and listening…Being nice to people is effective
because people find it difficult to fight with those who are being polite and courteous.”
When that key component of mutual understanding is absent in an organizational
setting, however, silence comes into play, and a myriad of power schemes/competing
agendas can influence the decision of whether or not to communicate concerns.
20. Donaghey, J. et al. (2011) suggest ways in which management, through agenda-setting
and institutional structures, can perpetuate silence over a range of issues, thereby
arranging employees out of the voice process. When a dominant group voices certain
opinions, these perceptions become the dominant ideologies that float across the
organization. The subordinate viewpoints are therefore never brought to the forefront
because they are inevitably silenced.
21. According to Ewing (1977), managers need to create a safe place for employees to voice
their concerns. They to
[clarification needed]
create a comfortable, open space or environment
where employees do not feel intimidated or threatened by either internal or external
22. According to researcher Subrah Tangirala, who is an expert on the topic of employee
silence, “Procedural justice climate as related to employee silence, exist when a majority
of employees in a workgroup feel that their managers make decisions that include
employee input, that are ethical, that are consistent over time and based on accurate
information, suppress any bias, and provide favorable contexts for employees to speak
Based on such criteria, procedural fairness climates make for the most favorable
and healthy work environments for organizations and employees, in that they reduce the
likelihood of employee silence.
Research on this area suggests that “silence may be a
rational response to some forms of unfairness when in a low power position” (Colquitt
and Greenberg 312).
Procedural fairness climates enable workers “to feel the most
safe” and “provide favorable contexts for employees to speak up.”
It is when
employees perceive that they are being “unfairly treated” that they begin to withhold
important information from the organization.