Employees Who Speak Up: Why It Can Be Good or Bad for Management

employees talking
Topic(s): burnout, leadership, performance, wellness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2020)
Article: I’m Tired of Listening: The Effects of Supervisor Appraisals of Group Voice on Supervisor Emotional Exhaustion and Performance
Authors: H. Sessions, J.D. Nahrgang, D.W. Newton, M. Chamberlin
Reviewed by: Mona Bapat, PhD

Employee voice is when people speak up about workplace concerns or issues. Research has shown many benefits, including increased organizational performance and positive outcomes for voicing employees. Group voice is the combined input of all members in a group about work-related issues. There are two types of group voice: group promotive voice is the expression of ideas to improve work practices and group prohibitive voice is the expression of problems.

Little is known about how supervisors are affected by group voice. This information is important because supervisors are usually the targets of group voice; it could lead to positive emotions and improved performance for supervisors or negative emotions and diminished performance for supervisors. Researchers (Sessions et al., 2020) conducted two studies to determine the effects of group voice on supervisors. 


In their first study, the researchers surveyed 150 supervisors and 493 employees (administrative and support staff) at a large US university. The second study consisted of 135 undergraduate students who participated in an in-person lab experiment.

The researchers found that if group promotive voice was used, supervisors were more likely to interpret it as something that will foster their growth and well-being. In turn, the supervisors were more likely to experience lower levels of emotional exhaustion and higher job performance. If group prohibitive voice was used, supervisors were more likely to interpret it as inhibiting their growth and well-being. In turn, they were more likely to experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion and lower job performance.

Personal sense of power occurs when someone thinks he or she can influence circumstances and other members of the organization. The researchers found that supervisors with high personal power tend to view group prohibitive voice as less of an obstacle to their personal growth and well-being—these leaders were not as likely to form a negative view of group prohibitive voice.


Given that group promotive voice could generally lead to less emotional exhaustion and better job performance for supervisors, the authors suggest that organizations encourage groups to speak up along with sharing possible solutions. The authors also share research that says using promotive voice can improve the performance evaluations of the voicing employees.

Additionally, given that supervisor personal sense of power can impact how supervisors view group voice, the authors recommend that organizations provide supervisors access to organizational resources and increase the value of the resources that supervisors already have.


Sessions, H., Nahrgang, J. D., Newton, D. W., & Chamberlin, M. (2020). I’m tired of listening: The effects of supervisor appraisals of group voice on supervisor emotional exhaustion and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(6), 619-636.