Employee silence

Employee silence refers to situations where employees withhold information which may be of interest to the organization, but are intentionally or unintentionally. This can happen if you do not speak to a supervisor or manager. [1]

In the case of silence, they choose to hold their decisions, opinions, and concerns … withholding input that could be valuable to others or they wish they could express. [2]

– Frances J. Milliken and Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison, Shades of Silence: Emerging Themes and Future Directions for Research on Silence in Organizations

This means the situation is not going to change for the better anytime soon. Employee silence does not only occur between management and employees, it also occurs during a conflict between employees and a result of organizational decisions. This silence keeps managers from receiving information that can help to improve the organization. [1]


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 to employ a supervisor or manager.

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. Or it can be an unintentional failure to communicate or a matter of having nothing to say (Tangirala and Ramanujam, 2008). In an organization, this is interesting because it is so communicative that employees can decide to adopt.

Indeed, when there is a problem in the workplace, employees have two options: remain silent or speak up. Unfortunately, many employees choose to remain silent because they do not want to share information. Employees typically remain silent about conflicts with co-workers, disagreements about organizational decisions, potential weaknesses in work processes, illegal or dangerous behaviors, and individual / personal grievances. They would like to keep their organizations safe and effective because they would allow their organizations to improve their business.

The question of why employees choose an organizational setting is an interesting one. As Milliken et al. (2003) state, “there is evidence of a problem that is often noticeable in the face of problems related to organizational issues or issues that concern them.” Nothing would change, they might just 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 are not speaking up, they may be inclined to close their mouths, termed “collective silence”. They might not want to break away from the crowd and present an opinion that differs from the majority. Gold, employees might not feel like they have power and speak their opinions; This concept is of particular significance when the organization is structured and set up a hierarchy or bureaucracy.

Employee silence can occur in any organization, most often in organizations where communication is suffering. Employee silence causes the most damage when employees and supervisors do not meet on a regular basis. In a virtual workplace this is also true. In a virtual workplace the only in-person communication is in small discussion groups. This kind of organization is very likely to be used because it is not a 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. In the past few years, there is no such thing as non-virtual organizations. [3]Organizations where considerable risk is involved as airports and “hospitals; should be especially mindful of “employee silence. This is caused by the use of silence in these organizations can lead to the loss of life or serious damage costs to the organization. [1]


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.” [4] In other words, “if the organizational norm is an ambiguous reporting structures, and poorly conducted performance monitoring. therefore not receive the benefits of express opinions and ideas. ” [4]

One obvious cause of employee silence is constant negative feedback from supervisors. When an employee gives a suggestion and is shot down, Over time employees start to feel that every time they make a suggestion it will not be taken into account or will be rejected. A result of this is called a dissenting voice, which contributes to employee silence. The dissenting voice is that of the supervisor shooting someone down. [5]Supervisors, leaders, and managers alike can avoid the occurrence of a leadership message. 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). [4]

Another reason employee is doing it because they can talk about their job. [6] In some cases, they do not want to appear as though they are going against their supervisors, and they have seen the use of their practices, and be fired. [1] This is especially true of organizations which have just experienced layoffs. In these cases, employees feared that their jobs might be taken away from their positions rather than in the first place. [7]

Another cause of employee silence is when supervisors and employees fail to address problems. Avoiding problems or looking for “quick fixes” only makes things worse and causes people to feel that there is no hope for resolution. If employees lose hope that the situation will be resolved and resolved, it will be possible for the employee to be employed. [8]Employees then start to make it easier. If they want to be successful they need to confront the actual problem and fix it. Both employees and supervisors need to deal with the situation because of the employee’s position. [9]

Discursive formations

A discursive training is defined as the regularities that produce such discourse. Discourse (acts of speaking and writing) is the medium by which an individual’s behavior is framed for him / her and others. We are who we are, based on our communicative practices with others. Foucault uses this concept in his analysis of the political economy and natural history, but it is very useful when studying organizational communication. Discursive trainings may be used to build up the position of the silent employee based on the power of the discourse itself. When one speaks or writes, a message can be delivered in a certain context, Discourse is the product of the dominant power interests in organizations and these interests are perpetually based on the ideology that is represented through them. Employees can feel more powerful as a result of hearing dominating opinions and perceptions; these practices can encourage silence naturally.

Many factors contribute to the notion of employee silence, especially when it comes to being organized in an organizational structure. There are distinct organizational groupings or divisions, such as masculine or feminine, subordinate or dominant, manager or employee, that can influence silence. The way superiors communicate with the subordinates of the climate and the culture of the organization. Employees begin to identify themselves in the culture they work in, by the ways in which they participate in work rituals, through the relationships they form with co-workers and managers, and through the language / discourse they use. Communication is thus at the forefront of how to perceive employees in relation to the organization and in their relationships with other people.

Research by Milliken et al. (2003) suggests that employee is socially responsible for the social capital. Employees work hard to build and maintain social capital and typically do not engage in behaviors that may weaken or sever these vital social ties. They do not want to risk looking bad; this will reflect their identity, their role, and their overall connection to the organization. This is relevant as it relates to employee identity and power. Since they perceive themselves in relationships to others, they do not want to ruin their image.

Additional causes

In organizations, there is evidence that they are particularly uncomfortable conveying information about potential problems or outcomes (see Milliken et al., 2003). This contribution brings the notion of hierarchy and subordinate / supervisor relationships. Someone in a lower position will be uncomfortable expressing issues to someone in a higher position. If, however, subordinates have close, positive, interpersonal relationships with their supervisors, chances are higher that they will choose to communicate honestly. It comes down to the basic principle of trust and mutual appreciation, which is difficult to obtain in a bureaucratic structure. Willman, P. et al. (2006) present evidence that any hierarchical organization tends to support what its leaders already think is true.

But once you have been established, you are ready to go to work, and you are willing to help yourself, both professionally and personally. Pfeffer (2010) acknowledges the dynamic relationship between trust, relationships, and power when he says, “Sometimes it’s a relationship that’s more effective than people being polite and listening. It does not matter in which organizational structure, but does not matter in which organizational structure, however, or not to communicate concerns.

Donaghey, J. et al. (2011) can-do-it-yourself, through agenda-setting and institutional structures, can perpetuate silence over a range of issues, thus 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 inevitably silenced.

Tangirala and Ramanujam (2008) conducted research on nursing in midwestern hospitals in silence. With lives at stake 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 has shown that it is more important than it is. They did not want to talk to their bosses. They did not want to cause a stir; in their minds, it was better to stay silent than

The research is based on their workgroup, felt proud of and attached to their jobs, and perceived high level of fairness in the workplace. These startling according to whom? ] revelations relates to Pfeffer ‘s key point of action; perception is everything and perception is reality. He states, “We are choosing how we will act and talk, and those decisions are consequential for acquiring and holding on to power” (2010). It is clear that they do not have a stake, a personal investment, an organization, they will choose to remain silent. quote needed ]

So how can organizations reduce employee silence and increase employee commitment? According to Ewing (1977), managers need to create a safe place for employees to voice their concerns. They shoulds clarification needed ]create a comfortable, open space or environment Where employees do not feel threatened This Intimidated by gold Either internal or external Circumstances.

Tangirala and Ramanujam (2008) suggest that this should 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 their productivity by providing constructive feedback and feedback. Employees need to feel like their work is important and meaningful. When this occurs, they will feel like they are truly in an organization; they will become active players and their voices freely and without fear. They will more positively identify with their organizations, thus bringing the idea of ​​full employment.


Organizational effects

Employee silence is extremely detrimental to organizations, often causing an “escalating level of dissatisfaction” among employees, “which manifests itself in absenteeism and turnover and possibly other undesired behaviors”. [4]Communication is the key to an organization’s success. If used silence does occur, communication suffers, and the result of the organization. In his article “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”. [6] This indicates how much an organization can suffer just because of a lack of proper communication.

In an article titled “Re-Creating the Indifferent Employee”, Carla Joinson talks about negative effects of employee silence and monetary losses to the organization. Over time silence within organizations causes some people to be extremely indifferent. Indifferent employees are those who are “indifferent to their jobs, employers and quality of work”. [9]They cause the organization to lose money and function poorly. Uncertain cases of failure in the workplace, managers tend to react to loss of responsibility, while the fact that they have become indifferent is a result of unaddressed employee silence. More often than not, they are not doing their share of the work of the perpetrator. [9]

Effects on employees

Indifferent employees, the products of the company, the product of the business, the “go to get along, go along” approach. [9] They sometimes develop depression and other health problems. Sometimes these people use pills and alcohol as a “cure” for the problems they are experiencing at work, which actually makes their problems worse. In the book Moose on the Table by Jim Clemmer, Pete, the main character, develops these types of health problems. [10]Another example of such effects is the use of subrahmaniam tangirala, who says that “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. ” [1] Most people assumes that the employee is only the organization of the organization, but realistically it hurts both the organization and the employees.

Moose on the Table

Moose on the Table by author Jim Clemmer is a useful tool in study. Clemmer uses a metaphor to explain the effects of employee silence and poor communication in organizations. He formulates the metaphor with a character named Pete, who begins to see his view of the place of work. The book portrays what can happen to employees and organizations when this problem is ignored. [10]Clemmer suggests that organizations should take an active approach. First, it is important to recognize that there is a problem with employee silence. Managers and employees must work together to identify what issues are not being talked about. In doing so, managers could conduct interviews with employees and disperse surveys. [10] Employees “often have ideas, information, and opinions for constructive ways to improve work and organizations”. [11] As such, they want to know that their opinions are important and not only taken into consideration, but are being acted upon as well. [10]

Procedural justice

Procedural justice “refers to how people go about planning decisions and implementing them”. [7] Specifically, this term can be applied to managers within organizations, who should make decisions that will affect their subordinates. Employees within these organizations who feel that these procedures are [1] executed fairly reflect that it is a high procedural fairness climate.

Procedural justice / fairness climates

According to researcher Subrah Tangirala, an expert on the topic of employee silence, ” Procedural justice climate is related to employee silence, where a majority of employees in a workgroup feel that their managers make decisions that include employee input, that are ethical, that The following are some of the most important aspects of the process, and they are useful for the environment and the environment . ” [1] in which they reduce the likelihood of employee silence. [7] Research on this area suggests that “silence may be a rational response to some forms of unfairness when in a low power position”.[4] Procedural fairness climates enable workers “to feel the most safe” and “provide favorable contexts for employees to speak up.” [1] It is when they perceive that they are being “unfairly treated” that they begin to withhold important information from the organization. [1]


Being able to use the silence of the company and the organization of the company, organizations should try to minimize it. One way to do this would be to try to establish procedural climates. Another way to prevent employee is to create an employee who is committed to the organization. This is done by showing that the organization is fair and committed to its employees. When the organization is committed to the employee, the employee is committed to the organization, which limits employee silence. [12]

Establishing procedural justice climates

In order to establish a judicial climate, managers need to ensure that their decisions are “ethical, consistent, and accurate.” [1] Managers can establish these climates by being mindful when executing:

  • Organization of this kind of technology, restructuring, and relocation. [7]
  • Individually targeted events such as performance appraisals and one on one negotiations. [7]

Downsizing and procedural justice climates

Changes such as it is downsizing. For example, if the process of the layoff was done poorly and without concern, employees feel that decisions are being made unfairly. If this is happening the security of their own jobs. [7] A “high degree of variance in survivors’ reactions to layoffs” indicates the absence of a procedural justice climate. [7] When they are fairly well organized, they are not varied and do not fear the security of their jobs.

Other things that effect employees are committed to their careers, and status of the manager. [1]

According to Subrah Tangirala, “people who are committed to their professions and their work would be less likely to remain silent.” [1] He also noted that “the status of the manager has an impact on employees speaking up. ” [1]Employees are more likely to withhold information from managers with” high power status “” because they do not want to be seen as criticizing them. [1] “Employees are especially uncomfortable conveying information about potential problems or issues to those above them. For example, several studies have shown that they are subordinate to the information that they convey to their superiors, communicating upward in a way that minimizes negative information, “or withholds the information entirely. [13]According to an article on employee silence, “structuring groups into hierarchies automatically introduces restraints against free communication, particularly criticisms by low-status members towards those in higher-status positions.” In other words, high status can intimidate employees in order to protect their jobs and relationships. [13]

When trying to avoid employee silence, managers and leaders also need to know “how to have a difference in consensus”. [14] In a recent business column entitled “Silence Does Not Equal Agreement,” [14] The article suggests:

  1. “When presenting information or asking questions of a group, make contact with each other at the table or as many people as possible in the room.
  2. Watch for the subtle signs of people agreeing or disagreeing with what is being said. Positive gestures include: eye contact, slight smile, nodding. Gestures of dissension include: raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, a slight sneer, looking down, shifting in the seat, avoiding eye contact.
  3. When someone makes a comment or suggestion, do not rush to discount their opinion or defend your own. To shut down someone who will tell you that you are not sincere, and people will retreat back into non-participation. Instead, say something like, ‘Thanks for your idea, Holly, let me think about that.’
  4. Learn to be comfortable with silence. It is a question of how much it is about to be able to get to where it is, and what is it?
  5. If you try to encourage more openness, and are more likely to be able to participate, you may find that you may have had something to do with it. ” [14] ]

Interactional justice

In a podcast entitled “Under New Management”, Joel Brockner, a professor of business at Columbia University, discusses the importance of “interpersonal justice”. [7] Interactional justice refers to “how the employee feels that the implementer did things. ” [7] Some questions they may ask that “have a huge bearing on whether or not people think the procedure is fair” are:

  1. Did they express concern?
  2. Did they show signs of treating the person with dignity? …respect? …compassion?
  3. Did they provide an explanation? [7]

If employees can answer “yes” to these questions then the implementer has done things fairly and it is likely that employee has been reduced or avoided.

Areas for further research

Employee silence is still a new topic of exploration. Organizations have come a long way in how they treat their employees. In the past, people have been treated to machines and less like people. As such, it is not unusual that “employee silence has emerged as a subject of research only recently”. [15] Current theories on the subject are in disagreement regarding the role of “individual-level antecedents (job satisfaction) or group-level antecedents (group climate, presence of formal communication channels)” in employee silence. [15] Further information on silence, how it affects organizations, and how to reduce it.

Future research should be devoted to the study of one’s position in the company and to the other. It would be interesting to discover if job titles play a part in employee silence or it’s just a matter of analyzing each individual situation or event.

Another area of ​​potential future research should be the concept of silence and the absence of speech (a non-behavior, essentially). The absence of such a behavior is difficult to study (see Johannesen, 1974). This act has many implications for employee and organizational performance.

Non-verbal behavior should be addressed in silence. It may be beneficial to research the effect of body language and the importance of gestures to interpret employees’ motives. Perhaps these cues symbolize much more and have the meaning of silence in organizations.

A more critical approach

In an article published in Work, Employment and Society in March 2011, Jimmy Donaghey (University of Warwick), Niall Cullinane (Queen’s University Belfast), Tony Dundon (NUI Galway), and Adrian Wilkinson (Griffith University) and argue that the approach taken to date is neglected by the analysis of the role of management in constructing silence. The silence is in the process of being silent, it is necessary to recognize that silence may work in favor of management, and thus management may have an interest in maintaining or creating employee silence.

See also

  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Workplace deviance


  1. ^ Jump up to:n “Employee Silence on Critical Work Issues: Interview with Subra Tangirala” . podcast . Organizational Behavior Division of the Academy of Management. April 16, 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-03-08.
  2. Jump up^ Milliken, Frances J .; Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison (Aug 4, 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 .
  3. Jump up^ Panteli, N., and S. Fineman. “The Sound of Silence: The Box of Virtual Team Organizing.” Behavior & Information Technology 24 (2005): 347-52.
  4. ^ Jump up to:e Jason A. Colquitt; Greenberg, Jerald (2005). Handbook of organizational justice . Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN  0-8058-4203-9 .
  5. Jump up^ Tourish, Dennis, and Paul Robson. “Sense Making and the Distortion of Critical Upward Communication in Organizations.” Journal of Management Studies43 (2006): 711-30.
  6. ^ Jump up to:b Pentilla, Chris. “Get Talking.” Contractor Nov. 2003: 25-25.
  7. ^ Jump up to:j “Podcast – Procedural Fairness, It’s a Good Deal: Interview with Joel Brockner” . podcast . Organizational Behavior Division of the Academy of Management. February 20, 2008. Archived from the originalon 2009-03-08.
  8. Jump up^ Vakola, Maria, and Dimitris Bouradas. “Antecedents and consequences of organizational silence: an empirical investigation.” Employee Relations 27 (2005): 441-58.
  9. ^ Jump up to:d Joinson, Carla. “Recreating the Indifferent Employee.” HRM Magazine Aug. 1996: 76-81.
  10. ^ Jump up to:d Clemmer, Jim (2008). Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work . Ecw Press. ISBN  0-9782221-7-2 .
  11. Jump up^ Dyne, Linn V., Soon Ang, and Isabel C. Botero. “Conceptualizing Employee Silence and Employee Voice as Multidimensional Constructs.” Journal of Management Studies40 (2003): 1359-392.
  12. Jump up^ Glazer, Sharon and Kruse, Bradford. “The role of organizational commitment in occupational stress models.” International Journal of Stress Management15 (2008) (329-344).
  13. ^ Jump up to:b Milliken, J. Frances, Elizabeth W. Morrison and Patricia F. Hewlin. “An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence: Issues That Employees Do not Communicate Upward and Why.” Journal of Management Studies 40 (2003): 1453-476.
  14. ^ Jump up to:c McDonald, Leslie A. “Employee Silence Does Not Equal Agreement.” The Post-Standard [Syracuse] 25 Jan. 2007, Business Column sec .: C2-C2.
  15. ^ Jump up to:b Tangirala, Subrahmaniam, and Rangaraj Ramanujam. “EMPLOYEE SILENCE ON CRITICAL WORK ISSUES: THE CROSS LEVEL EFFECTS OF PROCEDURAL JUSTICE CLIMATE.” Personnel Psychology 61 (2008): 37-68.

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