TRAINING MANAGERS TO LISTEN AND RESPOND TO EMPLOYEE VOICE
How managers behave will directly affect whether an employee feels empowered to speak up. A large-scale study by Detert and Burris (2007) highlighted the critical importance of perceived psychological safety and the openness of leaders in empowering employees to use their voice. As frontline 'voice managers' (Saunders, Sheppard, Knight, & Roth, 1992), supervisors' behaviours can either encourage employees' voice (by listening, rewarding and responding), or deter it (by ignoring, punishing and not act- ing) (Keil et al., 2010). The behaviour of managers is crucial to free up employee voice as their actions send powerful signals about whether it is safe for employees to speak out. Managers who build trust through encouraging informal verbal communication are more likely to foster inter- nal reporting than those who insist upon a more formal, centralized system of communication (Andrews & Herschel, 1996). The importance of man- ager behaviour in empowering employee voice was highlighted in a recent survey by the ERC (2012). Fifty-six per cent of employee reports about misconduct were made to trusted direct supervisors, while only 26 per cent were made to senior managers. Surprisingly, less than 5 per cent of reports were made through anonymous employee hotlines.
Managers also play a critical role in reframing the implicit theories or internalized beliefs about speaking up that employees bring with them to the workplace. Detert and Edmondson (2011) argue that implicit theories that speaking up is unacceptable form in early childhood through socializa- tion experiences within families ('just do as I say'; 'don't talk back to your parents'), in the playground ('telltale'; 'snitch') and in the classroom setting ('don't tell tales'). These repeated messages prompt the internalization of a cultural schema that warns that speaking up to authority is dangerous and likely to provoke censure. Detert and Edmondson (2011) assert that such implicit theories exist naturally, irrespective of the actual behaviour of managers within an organization. However, any observed or experienced episodes of managerial intimidation or retaliation for speaking up will serve to reinforce the existing implicit theories (Burris, Detert, & Chiaburu, 2008). To counter this natural tendency, training is necessary to both surface and counteract these implicit theories.
Another reason for employee silence is the very real fear of workplace reprisals (Gundlach, Douglas, & Martinko, 2003). A former US Air Force whistleblower, retired Lt. Colonel William Astore (2012) sounded this warning: 'when you dare speak truth to power, the reality is that power already knows the truth, doesn't want you to share it, and will punish you for your trouble'. The ERC's (2012) recent NBES survey found that in the United States, workplace retaliation to speaking up had almost doubled over the past five years. One in four employees who internally reported wrongdoing incurred some form of retribution including their supervisor's verbal disapproval, or shunning by co-workers, or were denied a raise or promotion. Other studies have reported that up to half of whistleblowers are fired from their job (Alford, 2001), and many suffer longer term psy- chological and economic consequences like depression, alcoholism or bank- ruptcy (Miethe, 1999). Management needs to reconsider just how ethical such retaliatory responses are. In order to foster a 'speaking up' culture, organizations must institute a non-retaliation policy, and take strong steps to ensure that employees who report wrongdoing are actively protected (Slavin, 2012). When contemplating raising issues, employees perform a cost-benefit analysis (Keil et al., 2010) concerning the possible career and emotional pros and cons of their actions (Gundlach et al., 2003). The per- ceived likelihood of receiving negative reactions, or of having their reports ignored (Morrison & Milliken, 2000) may be the reason why over one third of the NBES survey respondents chose not to speak up (ERC, 2012).
As workplace retaliation is on the rise (ERC, 2012), it is likely that orga- nizations will see a corresponding increase in employee silence. Retaliation decreases the chances that the employee concerned will engage in future reporting of wrongdoing, and it also sends a clear message of deterrence to observers and other would be whistleblowers. To free and empower employee voice, managers need training in the need to maximize the bene- fits of reporting wrongdoing, while minimizing the costs (Keil et al., 2010). Employees are also more likely to speak up if they trust their immediate managers and perceive that voice will not lead to personal harm (Detert & Burris, 2007). To minimize the costs of speaking up, supervisors can be trained in establishing trusting relationships with their subordinates (Keil et al., 2010) and in creating an environment of psychological safety.
Such initiatives need strong support from the top: 'senior executives must work to create a culture in which employees know that being the whistleblower is something that will not get you fired or reprimanded' (Keil et al., 2010). Supervisors and managers must signal that they welcome voice and actively listen to their employees' concerns. Richardson and McGlynn (2011) advocate training supervisors to create 'constructive dissent' through encouraging and rewarding the free exchange of ideas, eliciting dissenting opinions and allowing disagreement with management views. In addition, supportive coaching of employees to speak up can be an effective training technique, coupled with observational learning through watching skilled managerial role models exhibiting the desired voice responses (Keil et al., 2010).
Morrison and Milliken (2000) argue that managers are often fearful of receiving negative feedback and therefore act in ways to block it. Managers need training in the skill of active, non-defensive listening so that they learn to be able to hear dissenting voices (Gentile, 2011). Through interpersonal skills training, supervisors can become more approachable leaders who engage in non-defensive listening and are able act upon employee concerns. Also, managers can be trained to provide real time honest feedback to the reporter about the manager's own evaluation of the report to avoid any employee-supervisor mismatch of perceptions over the value of the employee's concerns (Burris, Detert, & Romney, 2013). Supervisors and managers also need training in appropriate response procedures which include investigating the concern, taking appropriate action if warranted (Keil et al., 2010), and closing the loop through feeding back the results to the employee who voiced the original concern. Through being responsive and taking appropriate action, managers signal to their workforce that they value employee voice and that reporting produces results. Such super- visor behaviours also send a powerful signal to subordinates that it is safe to speak up (Detert & Burris, 2007; Milliken et al., 2003), and increase the likelihood that more employees will express voice (Miceli et al., 2008).