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What Is Organizational Silence, Why Don't Employees Talk To Their Organization?

What Is Organizational Silence, Why Don’t Employees Talk To Their Organization?

Employees Play An Important Role In The Success Of An Organization, And Their Behaviors And Views Can Have Positive Or Negative Effects On The Fate Of An Organization. 

Organizational silence happens when employees intentionally and purposefully hide their information and opinions about the organization.

Using this silence, the employees of an organization hide information that is vital for the growth and development of the organization or company.

Organizational silence can affect the success of the organization and the employees themselves.

In this article, we intend to discuss the causes and effects of organizational silence and provide examples for better observation and understanding of this phenomenon.

What is organizational silence?

The flow of information in an organization is one of the most critical success factors, but widespread concealment of accidental details is shared. Employees, who are the backbone of any organization, most likely have ideas and collect information about the essential activities of the organization.

Employees are often faced with whether to express these ideas and observations or remain silent and keep this potentially valuable information to themselves.

An employee’s voice can be defined as any effort to express ideas, concerns, information, or opinions to people inside or outside the organization. The absence and silence of such a voice are considered silence. The motive of this meaningful silence should investigate because it indicates that the employee has a severe problem with the organization or the company.

Using a purposeful and deliberate silence, employees individually or collectively hide and keep information that can be a factor in the growth and success of the organization.

Thus, organizational silence can be considered a situation where one or more employees have seemingly valuable information, opinions, concerns, or ideas and choose not to express this information.

The motivations for employees’ silence

There are different types of organizational silence, which are classified based on the motivation of employees to remain silent. According to Lynn Van Dyne, a professor at Michigan State University, employees’ explanations for silence are divided into three categories: complacent silence, defensive silence, and prosocial silence.

Good silence is said to be caused by a person’s lack of interest or desire to be passive. A complacently silent employee is more likely to conform to organizational norms or standards.

Defensive silence refers to cases where employees deliberately withhold information due to fear of the consequences of speaking up. Unlike compensatory silence, defensive silence is more deliberate and proactive, as the employee consciously chooses to remain silent to protect themselves from potential negative consequences.

Employees who choose prosocial silence intend to bring more benefits to others or the organization. Societal silence considers the collective well-being and concerns others instead of just worrying about oneself.

In a 2012 study by Chad Brinsfield, six motivations for employee silence were mentioned: deviant, relational, defensive, hypocritical, ineffective, and evasive.

  •  Strange silence: Brinsfield states that this type of silence is the purposeful concealment of vital information to defy the organization or endanger others.
  •  Relational silence happens when an employee chooses silence because he does not want to damage his relationship with others or have negative consequences for his relationship.
  •  Defensive silence happens when the employee is afraid of the consequences of speaking or realizes that speaking has adverse effects on him.
  •  Silence due to shyness: refers to a state where the employee lacks self-confidence or personal and internal ability to express their opinions or information.
  •  Ineffective silence happens when the employee thinks his information is not essential for the organization, is inadequate, or does not lead to a specific change.
  •  Non-committal silence: similar to complacent silence in which the employee is not interested in or committed to organizational values. However, non-committal silence is different from smug silence. In non-committal silence, the employee’s inability to change is due to his lack of commitment or engagement with the organization, not lack of interest.

Reasons for organizational silence

The line between the causes and motivations of organizational silence is very narrow because many factors encourage employees to be silent. The first concept we will discuss is faking compliance, proposed in 2003 by New York University professor Patrine Hevlin and the author of the article “An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence: Issues That Keep Employees from Communicating with the Organization.” He defines the pretense of compliance as: “False appearances made by employees to make it appear that they willingly accept organizational values.”

Its A definition that is very similar to the purpose of organizational silence. Pretending to follow is rooted in itself (taking into account the structure, culture, and organizational context) and the position of employees in the organization and their characteristics.

Organizations that adopt an incentive system are more likely to face the concept of faking compliance, Hevlin believes because the system encourages employees to suppress their divergent personal values. Also, Havlin points out that an employee’s power in the organization has much to do with his position and demographic characteristics that can affect his power of expression.

For example, minorities may express their opinions and concerns less than others due to the significant difference in their personal and organizational values ​​and their more excellent need to follow corporate standards. The example of pretending to follow minorities can be an example of defensive silence.

While Havlin reveals a significant and fundamental procedure in the behavior of employees, New researches deal with specific organizational functions that encourage employees to silence organizational.

Since people often fear negative feedback, they try to avoid hearing it altogether because it may make them feel embarrassed, threatened, vulnerable, or incompetent. Ignoring or attacking negative feedback creates an environment where people are discouraged by negative feedback and top-down communication.

Managers’ implicit beliefs about employees and the type of management are also significant factors in organizational silence. More precisely, managers often believe that employees are selfish and untrustworthy, which causes managers to behave in a way that discourages employees from bottom-up communication. These beliefs may not be conscious, but they negatively affect the communication culture within the organization.

Another thing that plays an essential role in this context is the implicit belief that managers are the most qualified people to make decisions about the organization. The perception that employees have no place to express their opinion or participate in management decisions creates an environment that encourages people to be silent in the organization. It causes frustration for employees to express their ideas and concerns because of their lower position.

Finally, there is a belief that unity, agreement, and consensus are signs of organizational health, and any contradictory statements should avoid. This belief creates an atmosphere where only public or managerial opinions are welcome, thereby preventing the expression of dissenting views that are a recognized reason for growth.

Effects of organizational silence

By studying the effects of organizational silence, we reach two schools of thought: the impact on employees and the effect on the organization. Guilt, sense of responsibility, loss of opportunity, and other psychological aspects cause anxiety in an employee who is silent. Staying silent or becoming silent can make employees feel that the organization does not value them. Employees may feel out of control in their work situation, which can have far-reaching consequences such as withdrawal, dissatisfaction, low motivation, or deviance.

Cognitive dissonance, or the feeling of disconnection between what a person believes and the behavior they perform, occurs in employees who feel that their values ​​are not maintained in their work.

Apart from low morale and negative feelings towards their work, high anxiety caused by maintaining organizational silence can cause employees to suffer mental and emotional problems such as depression or other diseases, which have severe consequences for them in the long run.

In analyzing the consequences of organizational silence on an organization, one should remember how this issue affects employees, affecting the entire organization.

The most obvious effect that occurs in an organization in the face of employees’ organizational silence is the culture and communication patterns within the organization.

Organizational silence can strengthen the feeling of extreme indifference in employees and commonly affect the productivity and communication system within the organization. In most cases, organizational silence has negative consequences for the organization. Reducing the productivity of the organization’s communication systems can generally lead to financial loss, reduced production, decreased work quality, and poor performance.

In this context, there are different views about the consequences of organizational silence. First, organizational silence harms corporate decision-making. It has been proven that decision-making has the best quality when diverse ideas and perspectives are proposed, and organizational silence is an obstacle to decision-making.

Second, organizational silence destroys an organization’s capabilities to understand and correct intra-organizational mistakes. These errors can worsen without knowing about them, eventually causing significant problems in the organization.

last word

Organizational silence is when employees have helpful or valuable information about their organization but are deliberately and purposefully silent. This information may include opinions, observations, concerns, or information that could be useful to others in the organization, especially higher-ups.

Many motivations have been mentioned for organizational silence, including satisfactory silence, defensive silence, and community-friendly silence. Organizational silence can be a product of employee motivation, management beliefs, or more significant issues related to corporate culture.

 Organizational silence can negatively affect employees’ health and well-being and make the organization face more significant problems such as loss of morale, reduced productivity, low communication performance, and reduced ability to make decisions. Organizational silence can be dangerous for organizations and their employees, so it should be avoided and resolved as soon as possible.