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Wilfrid Laurier University Lazaridis School of Business & Economics
December 10, 2016
Canadian Excellence



Business: Organizational Behaviour/Human Resource Management (OB/HRM) Area

Research Tidbit: Are Your Employees Withholding Their Ideas? The Bottom-Line is Not the Only Thing Being Hurt.

New Research from David Whiteside and Dr. Laurie Barclay (OB/HRM)

May 24/13

To run effective organizations, managers must be aware of the challenges and opportunities that can impact their company. Employees are a valuable resource for gaining access to this information – employees not only understand the problems from the “ground floor” but they can also offer ideas for improvements. However, over 85% of managers and professionals admit to withholding critical information in the workplace.

Why is this problematic? New research by doctoral student David Whiteside and Dr. Laurie Barclay (Wilfrid Laurier University) suggests that the bottom line is not the only thing that is negatively impacted when employees remain silent in the workplace – employees’ well-being and effectiveness can also suffer.

Employees who remained silent were found to have lower performance, were less able to cope with job demands, and were more likely to disengage from their work (e.g., daydream, leave work early) than employees who did not feel the need to remain silent. In addition to the detrimental toll on employees, this research suggests that organizations can be directly impacted by losing access to critical information and indirectly harmed by increased health-care costs and decreased employee efficiency.

How can organizations prevent employee silence? Employees may be silent in the workplace for a number of reasons – they may feel unable to make a difference (i.e., speaking up is futile) or frightened of the repercussions of speaking up. This research suggests that employee silence can be prevented by treating employees fairly – ensuring that their rewards are justified, procedures are implemented consistently and without bias, and employees are treated with dignity and respect. These actions can help organizations create the type of environment where employees feel that they can make a meaningful contribution to the organization and not have to worry about the repercussions of speaking up about workplace issues.

For more information about this research, please contact David Whiteside (

Whiteside, D. B., & Barclay, L. J. (in press). Echoes of silence: Employee silence as a mediator between overall fairness and employee outcomes. Journal of Business Ethics. DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1467-3.


Despite burgeoning interest in employee silence, there are still significant gaps in our understanding of (a) the antecedents of employee silence in organizations and (b) the implications of engaging in silence for employees. Using two experimental studies (Study 1a, N = 91; Study 1b, N = 152) and a field survey of full-time working adults (Study 2, N = 308), we examined overall justice as an antecedent of acquiescent (i.e., silence motivated by futility) and quiescent silence (i.e., silence motivated by fear of sanctions). Across the studies, results indicated that overall justice is a significant predictor of both types of silence in organizations. Furthermore, Study 2 indicated that the implications of silence extend beyond the restriction of information flow in organizations to include employee outcomes. Specifically, acquiescent silence partially or fully mediated the relationship between overall justice perceptions and emotional exhaustion, psychological withdrawal, physical withdrawal, and performance. Quiescent silence partially mediated these relationships, with the exception of performance. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings for both the justice and silence literatures are discussed.

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