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6 Reasons Employees Don’t Feel Comfortable “Speaking Up”

Employees don’t always feel comfortable “speaking up” when they see a problem at work. And the results can be disastrous. The best-case scenario is that unaddressed problems only end up costing time and productivity. Other far-too-common results include accidents and injuries, failure to address unethical behaviors, and public scandals.

Employee silence can also reduce innovation and damage morale, job engagement, and satisfaction.

Why don’t employees feel comfortable speaking up?

Keep reading for useful insights from a recent series of studies tracking the nature of actual employee silence incidents.

When employees didn’t feel comfortable speaking up

These are the issues that employees most report remaining silent about:

Experienced unfair treatment 21%
Someone else behaving unethically 18%
Concerns about a co-worker’s competence or performance 17%
Operational process concern and/or idea for improvement 13%
Disagreement or concerns with company policies or decisions 6%
Personal performance issue 6%
Concerns about supervisor or management competence 6%
Someone else being treated unfairly 4%
Personal career issue or concern 2%
Unsure 7%

Who employees don’t tell

These are the relevant people that employees most often didn’t tell about an important issue:

Upper management 41%
Direct supervisor 28%
Coworkers 17%
Other team members 3%
Anyone 2%
Outside authorities 1%
Subordinates 1%
Customers 1%
Outside consultants 1%
Unsure 5%

6 reasons why employees don’t feel comfortable “speaking up”

These are the types of reasons employees choose not to speak up.

1. Deviant

Example: To get even with another person.

2. Relational

Example: To avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

3. Defensive

Example: Due to fear of retaliation.

4. Diffident

Example: Did not feel confident enough to speak up.

5. Ineffectual

Example: Did not believe concerns would be addressed anyway.

6. Disengaged

Example: Did not care what happened.

Research has found these 6 distinct types of motivation for silence in the workplace.

It is an important and complex set of issues, but unfortunately, one that is unlikely to have any easy answers.

Identifying these motives could be an important first step to making employees more comfortable with speaking up at work.