July 16, 2018
Employees who keep quiet for too long on problems they spot could cost their employers as much as $25,000, a new VitalSmarts’ study found. Researchers David Maxfield and Steve Willis said that when employees don’t to speak up, or wait too long to do so, about such problems as a poor performing coworker, ineffective policies, conflicting strategies and other issues, a company’s ability to thrive is hampered.
The research found that 52% of workers hesitate to discuss a coworker’s performance problems; 47% say they don’t share ideas or concerns about ways to improve the company because it’s someone else’s concern; 49% admit taking a week or more to speak out once a policy decision starts having detrimental effects; and 55% hesitate to speak up when they believe someone has made a bad choice.
The study also found that people don’t speak up because they think others won’t support them (45%); about half fear retaliation (46%); and several thought it would harm their careers. Maxfield and Willis refer to the lag time between when employees see a problem and when they report it as the “accountability gap.” In organizations with a short accountability lag, people feel empowered to speak up.
Getting employees to speak up about problems goes back to culture and enabling employees to feel they are a part of the work experience. An employer that doesn’t react when employees bring forth issues or seems to retaliate via denied promotions or pay raises to employees that do is setting up the wrong culture for creating a good dialogue.
Various studies have shown that employees want feedback on a more regular basis, including feedback on strengths and “redirecting” (negative) feedback, so employers have a real opportunity to improve engagement and reduce turnover cost by opening up feedback channels both ways. For this reason, some employers have moved away from the annual performance review to more regular reviews to better encourage dialogue.
Employers who take adverse actions against employees for exercising their rights risk liability. Protection from retaliation is present in a multitude of laws, including equal employment opportunity laws and the National Labor Relations Act, which protects workers’ right to work together to improve working terms and conditions.