Employee Voice: How to Find People Who Will Speak Up

Topic(s): culture, personality
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2013
Article: Doing Right Versus Getting Ahead: The Effects of Duty and Achievement Orientations on Employees’ Voice
Authors: S. Tangirala, D. Kamdar, V. Venkataramani, M.R. Parke
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Organizations need corrective feedback when policies or practices are not working effectively. This feedback often comes from employees who notice something amiss, and have the guts to bring it to the attention of their employers. Researchers call this “employee voice,” and new research (Tangirala, Kamdar, Venkataramani, & Parke, 2013) has helped employers understand how to maximize employee voice and encourage useful corrective feedback.


Of course, not all employees are equally likely to speak up when problems arise in the workplace. The researchers found that employees with a duty orientation– or those who put organizational goals above all else– are more likely to speak up when something is wrong. These people feel a moral responsibility to speak up, and consider it part of their job. They will often speak up even though bringing up unpopular or troubling information could expose them to backlash and personal harm.

Employees with an achievement orientation– or those who place personal success above all else– are less likely to endanger themselves by speaking up. To these employees, speaking up when problems arise is not part of their job description. They are less likely to risk the personal harm that speaking up may cause them.


So, if employers want people who aren’t afraid to rock the boat with corrective feedback, does this mean that they should only hire duty-oriented employees? Not necessarily. The authors found that achievement-oriented employees were more likely to speak up when they felt a sense of psychological safety and perceived that they wouldn’t get in trouble for bringing difficult information to the forefront.

Also, duty-oriented employees don’t always speak up, although they are more likely to do so when they believe that they are capable of competently speaking up and making themselves heard. In practice, this research supports the notion of hiring more duty-oriented employees, who may also be known as “team players.”


Organizations can encourage speaking up among their current employees by doing two things. First, make sure employees have the confidence and ability to make themselves heard when they have something important to say. This can be done through coaching or training. Second, make sure the workplace climate encourages people to raise all concerns, even those that sound troubling. If employees are too scared to say what needs to be said in order to fix problems in the workplace, the whole organization may suffer.


Tangirala, S., Kamdar, D., Venkataramani, V., & Parke, M. R. (2013). Doing right versus getting ahead: The effects of duty and achievement orientations on employees’ voice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(6), 1040-1050.