Voice and Whistleblowing in Organizations
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Voice and Whistleblowing in Organizations

Overcoming Fear, Fostering Courage and Unleashing Candour

Edited by Ronald J. Burke and Cary L. Cooper

This book examines the decision to speak out in organizations or to keep silent, the roles of fear and courage, and why increasing valid information and truth is central to individual and organizational health. Employees in organizations face countless daily situations in which they make a choice to speak up, exercise voice, or remain silent. Too many choose to remain silent. Others only tell supervisors what they want to hear, becoming ‘yes’ men and women. Expressing one’s voice increases individual health and well-being and enhances learning, quality and timeliness of decision making, work engagement, and ultimately team and organizational success. This volume, containing chapters by international researchers, examines the causes and consequences of exercising voice and ways individuals and organizations can support voice in the workplace.
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Chapter 3: Fear and silence in the workplace

Jennifer J. Kish-Gephart and Denise M. Breaux-Soignet


Employee silence can have deleterious consequences in work organizations. For employees, the decision to withhold valuable information can negatively affect well-being and job commitment (Bowen and Blackmon, 2003), as well as contribute to a sense of failure, poor performance, disengagement, and turnover (Brinsfield et al., 2009; Pinder and Harlos, 2001; Ryan and Oestreich, 1991). For organizations, silence means missed opportunities for innovation and improved processes (Argyris and Schon, 1978; Tangirala and Ramanujam, 2008). In some cases, it has even contributed to corporate scandals (e.g., Enron), and human and environmental tragedies (such as the BP oil rig explosion and the Columbia spacecraft disaster, respectively) (Ashforth and Anand, 2003; Schwartz et al., 2005). Such potentially far-reaching consequences speak to the importance of understanding why employees engage in employee silence – that is, why employees withhold “ideas, suggestions, or concerns about people, products, or processes that might have been communicated verbally to someone inside the organization with the perceived authority to act” (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009:165–166).

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