Employee silence is a common phenomenom in many distressed organizations and both results from and contributes to organizational decay and often a lapse in organizational integrity. Many of the problems which are associated with employee silence are also part of the overall causes of employee silence; before delving into these circular relationships, a definition of employee silence must be offered. Employee silence is defined by Pinder and Harlos as: the withholding of genuine expression about the individuals behavioral, cognitive and/or affective evaluations of his or her organizational circumstances to persons who are perceived to be capable of effecting change or redress. (Pinder/Harlos, 334).
Because the possibility for administrative corruption or incompetence exists in all organizations, the phenomenon of employee silence can prove to have devastating effects: masking an already distressed administrative staff, preventing pragmatic redress of institutionalized negatives and providing for employee loyalty and security.
In fact, a recent investigation by Harlos(1999) of employees from 33 different organizations across 12 industries found that some organizations have cultures of injustice. (Pinder/Harlos, 346). Obviously, any organization which is afflicted with a culture of injustice will function, at best, only somewhat efficiently; at worst, such an organization will not only fall short of matching its stated goals or pragmatically driven needs, but may actually foster a climate which is counterproductive to its stated goals or purposes.
Silence, then, functions within an organization at a potentially damaging level, particularly where silence is institutionalized and where employees believe a) that speaking up about problems in the organization is not worth the effort, and b) that voicing ones opinions and concerns is dangerous. (Pinder/Harlos, 346). In my personal experience, such a climate of silence (Pinder/Harlos) can actually destroy an organization.
I was once part of a not-for-profit arts-related group, the President of which was woefully incompetent and very vain. It was next to impossible to speak out against him or his policies within the group because the President was very well-liked ” personally ” and h e was very influential. However, his bad economic and public-relations skills soon ran the entire organization into the ground. Meanwhile, many individuals at the lower membership level were well-aware of the deep problems confronted the organisation which, at its peak, held upward of 400 members. Soon enough that membership was in the dozens and then later still, the organization disbanded altogether.
To help avoid and/or confront the culture of silence within an organization certain tools like voicesystems are encouraged by experts. Voice systems give voice to grievances and encourage open-door policies (Pinder/Harlos) and findings suggest that voice systems can increase employee satisfaction [¦]while decreasing their propensities to unionize, quit (Lind and Tyler, 1988) or launch lawsuits against their organizations. (Pinder/Harlos, 360). In conclusion, the existence of legitimate voice systems is a necessary component for any organization which hopes to sidestep the self-destructive and highly negative phenomenon of employee silence. The presence of productive communication strategies in an organization not only helps to ensure its health and survival, but it helps to keep the organization in touch with itself and bring its members to a more level playing field.
Pinder, Craig C.; Harlos, Karen P. Employee Silence: Quiescence and Acquiescence as Responses to Perceived Injustice. Research in Personnel And Human Resources Management, Volume 20,p331-369, 2001.