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Sight Magazine – Essay: Quiet resignation and big resignation have a common cause: Dissatisfied workers feel they can’t speak up in the workplace


American workers have been at the forefront of three major trends in recent months.

First there was the “great resignation”, in which a record number of workers quit their jobs. This coincided with a flurry of organizing efforts in large American companies, including Starbucks and Apple. More recently, you’ve probably heard of “quiet stopan often misunderstood phrase that can mean either doing the bare minimum of your job or simply not striving to surpass yourself.

It’s not always easy to raise your hand in the workplace. PHOTO: Nattakorn Maneerat/iStockphoto

Like a management teacher who has studied worker behavior for more than two decades, I think these are all reactions to the same problem: workers are dissatisfied with their current jobs and feel they cannot express themselves, whether about organizational issues, unethical behavior or even just to contribute. knowledge and creative ideas. So, in response, they usually give up or lessen their efforts while suffering in silence.

It doesn’t have to be that way; but that’s not easy to change either. Simply put, it will take courageous actions not only from workers, but also from legislators and businesses.

“An online survey I have been conducting since 2018 suggests that workers stand up to their boss or other superiors about illegal, unethical, hurtful or otherwise inappropriate behavior about a third of the time. is not much higher when the questions are about talking about less thorny topics, such as operational issues or ways to improve the organization.The numbers are similar even when the other person is a colleague who doesn’t has no power over them.

The problem of “organizational silence”
Courage at work is actually the the main focus of my research. In other words, how often do workers speak up when they see a problem or have an improvement or innovation to suggest? In our field, we call the refusal to speak”organizational silence“, and my colleagues and I found it everywhere we looked in American workplaces.

A online survey I’ve been in charge since 2018 suggests that workers stand up to their boss or other supervisors about illegal, unethical, hurtful or otherwise inappropriate behavior about a third of the time. The frequency is not much higher when it comes to speaking out on less thorny topics, such as operational issues or ways to improve the organization. The numbers are similar even when the other person is a colleague who has no power over them.

Colleagues who study whistleblowing also find that only a fraction of people who see serious wrongdoing take sufficient measures to get him to stop, while others have documented how workers rarely say anything when they witness microaggressions.

My own little experience related to this is illustrative. In my “Defining Moments” course, I teach students how to speak competently in difficult situations. During the course, I record one-on-one simulations in which students present suggestions for improving the diversity and inclusion efforts of an unidentified two-person organization playing the role of senior executives. I order the male actor to express at least three microaggressions, such as “Honey, you’re taking the notes,” toward his female pair during their brief interaction with each student.

About half of the students – aged around 25 to 50 – never say a word in response to offensive comments. Otherwise, they only respond to about half of the microaggressions they hear, and it’s usually in the form of helping the victim — “I’ll take the notes” — rather than confronting the remark. herself.

These results, collectively, demonstrate the significant problems that arise – and are likely to worsen – when people remain silent. They also contribute massively employee disengagement and leave many people feeling inauthentic and helpless at work – or just regretting their inability to act.

The four fears
It’s not, for the most part, that people don’t recognize the problems they could or should address.

In the survey immediately following my microaggression simulation, for example, more than three times as many participants noticed the problematic first comment than they talked about it. Managers I work with on all kinds of consulting assignments readily admit a discrepancy between what “should” and “should” be done in situations where something difficult needs to be said to a boss, peer or even a subordinate. When asked to explain the gap, I hear the same response that research consistently documents: people are afraid to engage in these conversations.

That’s partly the nature of work in America today. About three quarters of all American workers are “at will”, meaning they can be returned for almost any reason – or not at all. That’s why you hear stories people to be fired to talk about matters that seem quite important or reasonable. And for what it’s worth, there’s no free speech in the workplace, like the first amendment. does not apply to “private actors“.

As I describe in my 2021 book choose courageThere are four common fears that keep people from speaking up or being completely honest when they do:

1. Economic or professional consequences – push your boss to be more flexible about working hours or where you work from and you could find yourself off the promotion track or even asked to find a new job.

2. Social exclusion – confront your peers about missed deadlines or their comments towards those of another race or gender and you could have lunch alone.

3. Psychological pain – offer a new idea for improvement that is harshly rejected and you might start to doubt yourself.

4. Physical damage – Stand up to a customer or colleague who violates policy or speaks inappropriately and you could be punched or threatened with a weapon.

Even if you haven’t experienced any of these negative consequences recently, you likely still have an internalized set of beliefs about the dangers of speaking out that, as my research with management specialist Amy Edmondson has shown, lead to self-censorship in situations where he might actually be safe to speak.

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A way forward
While I think workers bear some responsibility when they don’t speak up, companies and other organizations are also guilty of creating cultures and conditions that don’t encourage honesty.

For example, there are systemic barriers to giving more voice to workers – such as the steady decline in union membership since the 1950s and the lack of a sufficient number security net that decouples necessities like health care and a secure retirement from a specific employer.

Traditionally, unions have protected workers some of the harmful consequences listed above, such as preventing those who speak out about an ethical breach from being arbitrarily fired or otherwise punished.

In my opinion, there is a mixture of ways to turn the situation around. Lawmakers could strengthen laws intended to support workers who wish to form a union – especially useful in a time of restart of work and fierce union busting from some employers.

Leaders in businesses, nonprofits, and governments could do more to actually encourage their employees to have their voices heard by constantly soliciting and celebrating their contribution rather than punishing them for offering it. Incidentally, if managers did more to create these conditions, employees would probably see less need for a union.

For workers who fear repercussions, there are skills they can learn to help them speak up more effectively and minimize the negative consequences of doing so. Sometimes just changing the framing makes a meaningful difference—for example, asking managers to fix a safety issue because it’s an opportunity to improve efficiency—can resonate better than emphasizing the moral reasons for doing so. ‘to act.

None of these steps are easy. They will demand more courageous action from members of each of these groups. But I think it’s extremely important to find ways to help workers speak out on issues such as safety, misconduct and performance, because what happens in those cases shapes the places where people spend the majority of their waking hours – and if they even want to be there.The conversation

James Detert is a professor of business administration at University of Virginia. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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