How Group Culture Can Encourage Employees to Speak Up

Topic(s): culture, leadership, teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Speaking Up in Groups: A Cross-Level Study of Group Voice Climate and Voice
Authors: E.W. Morrison, S.L. Wheeler-Smith, D. Kamdar
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Think of the last time you had an important suggestion to make while at work. Did you say it? According to research (Morrison, Wheeler-Smith, & Kamdar, 2011), the answer may reveal as much about the beliefs of the people you work with as it does about you.


Research has traditionally focused on employee voice from the perspective of the individual. Employee voice means the willingness to make extra suggestions or comments to help improve something. For example, researchers have always wondered what motivates people to speak up more often, and what factors people consider when deciding if they should voice their opinions. This new research goes one step further. It says that employee voice will be more likely to occur when certain beliefs are shared by the entire work group as a whole.

After conducting a survey of distinct work groups within a single company, the authors identify two factors that create a group voice climate, or the type of setting which will encourage employees to speak their minds. The first factor they call group voice safety beliefs. This is whether all people in the group feel safe to voice controversial opinions, or if they fear punishment for doing so. 


Groups will see more suggestions when members do not fear retaliation for making suggestions that aim to change the status-quo. The second factor is group voice efficacy. Groups high on this factor collectively believe that their input will be taken seriously and will be utilized and lead to successful outcomes. This too will encourage employee voice and increased suggestions.

In the past, research has shown that employee voice is related to an individual employee’s level of satisfaction with the group, level of identification with the group, and perception of a just and fair work climate. By controlling for these factors, this study shows that group voice climate is related to employee voice beyond these individually held attitudes. Additionally, the authors found that the connection between an individual employee’s level of group satisfaction and that employee’s voice is strengthened in group voice climates, further underscoring the importance of beliefs common to the entire group. 


So what does this all mean? First, leaders who want to encourage their employees to offer suggestions and solutions need to do more than concentrate on making that specific employee feel happy or part of the team. The authors explain that context is also important, and leaders must make sure to create the type of group environment that promotes employee voice, by always welcoming opinions and always considering suggestions. 

Another interesting finding of this study is that the extent to which a group encourages suggestions may differ widely within a single company. It is not necessarily the overall culture of the organization that matters, instead the specific, malleable climate of a small work group can make the difference between a valuable contribution saving the day or never being said at all.


Morrison, E.W., Wheeler-Smith, S.L., & Kamdar, D. (2011).  Speaking Up in Groups: A Cross-Level Study of Group Voice Climate and Voice. Journal of Applied Psychology96(1), 95-112.