Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Breaking the Silence

Employee silence -- the intentional withholding of information -- may contribute to huge troubles and unresolved issues.

Yet many workers won't speak up because they fear retaliation or do not want to point out problems with peers, according to Subrahmaniam Tangirala, assistant professor at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business.

Workers are more likely to bring up their concerns if they feel connected to their profession and employer, and if they perceive their supervisor to be fair, he found. But if a supervisor has a lot of power, that could reduce the likelihood of feedback.

His recent research, which appeared in Personnel Psychology, is based on mailed surveys to 600 hospital nurses. At least a third said they had kept silent about potential patient safety issues.

Full-timers and those with longer tenure were more likely to speak up. So were those who took pride in its accomplishments. Others had pride in their profession but wouldn't speak up, he found. "Rather than confront a problem head-on, they would try in small ways to tackle the problem because they were afraid."

-- Vickie Elmer

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