The Silent Employee: Motivating Your Employees to Share Their Ideas

1. Create a group voice climate. According to Morrison and Milliken, studies show that employees value leaders’ decision-making procedures more “when those procedures allow for employee input, even when this input does not have much impact on decision outcomes . . . procedures that allow for employee voice are viewed positively, at least in part, because they signal that employees are valued members of the organization.” Creating a group voice climate in which employees understand that it is not only acceptable but expected that they speak up goes a long way to increasing their feelings of agency and satisfaction. This might be something as simple as implementing peer-to-peer recognition (in which employees have a daily opportunity to notice and comment on the work around them) or soliciting direct input via suggestion boxes, feedback forums, engagement surveys, or even regular employee pulse surveys.


2. Build trust and psychological safety. Research on procedural justice shows that encouraging ongoing feedback from employees can help give them a much-needed sense of control over their immediate environment, so provide opportunities for them to express their opinions and preferences. Also, seek ways to build employee trust in management and senior leadership.


3. Encourage group identification. Often employees will speak up because they believe they can have a positive influence on their group and environment. According to Morrison, managers should “foster higher levels of identification with the common enterprise in order to strengthen employees’ drive to make a positive difference.” The development of real, practicable values can help inculcate this sense of group-led goals and welfare.


4. Nurture a workplace climate that values honest communication. Morrison writes: There is a natural reluctance to convey negative or potentially threatening information, particularly to individuals in positions of authority or higher status. This means that active efforts need to be taken to counterbalance these inhibiting forces and to ensure that they are not reinforced by negative leadership behaviors, a climate of fear, or a work environment that causes employees to feel disengaged or powerless. The creation of a more connected and social workplace can be a great start in establishing a communication-focused climate.


5. Encourage the right kind of feedback. Although studies show that performance suffers under a high level of silence, there are suggestions that too much input—particularly dissenting voices—can overload decision making or negatively affect those who speak up. “Employees should recognize that their voice behavior is likely to be more effective and well received if they have established images of themselves as trustworthy and credible,” writes Morrison, “and if they are mindful of managing strong negative emotions.” Therefore focusing on constructive, positive feedback and providing ways for employees to nurture their own social capital (such as social recognition) may allay the negative effects of excessive input and still enable companies to reap the benefits of an engaged group voice climate.

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