This type of culture, which is often caused by egregious leadership practices, can put your company’s reputation and in some instances, its welfare, at risk. These practices can also negatively impact the productivity and mental health of your employees.
In fact, research shows that egregious leadership costs companies $23.8 billion annually in absenteeism, turnover and lower effectiveness, $44 billion in lost productivity and $50 billion in medical expenses due to stress. Egregious leadership affects approximately 13.6% of U.S. workers and inflicts high emotional and medical costs. It most commonly occurs in the form of public ridicule, angry outbursts, taking credit for subordinates successes, and scapegoating subordinates.
A culture of voice, on the other hand, encourages knowledge transfer among employees and managers, which not only keeps management abreast of what’s unfolding in its business—good, bad or ugly—but can increase innovation and employees’ emotional attachment to the company.
Consider Standard & Poors (S&P) and the University of North Carolina (UNC). S&P was fined $1.375-billion for allegedly inflating ratings on mortgage-backed securities. Meanwhile, Tom Ross, the former president of the UNC who was reportedly “unaware” of bogus classes for star athletes, was recently asked to resign. Both organizations suffered the consequences of a “culture of silence”—a culture that inhibits reliable, trustworthy and valid information from reaching management.
Your employees form perceptions about voice tolerance and silence from you and your management team. They listen to every word you speak and observe every move you make. Research shows that 93% of study respondents claim their immediate supervisor influences their voice behavior. That can go one of two ways: either it’s too risky to talk openly and share important information because there are negative consequences to speaking up or they are encouraged to ask questions (even if it contradicts the boss), challenge each other and exchange critical communications.
High-influence leaders encourage voice and watch for signs of silence. To be one of them, stop talking and start listening then try the practices below and track your results:
- Be visible and accessible. Get out on the floor. Ask a few people what they’re working on that they feel good about, and one thing they struggle with and why.
- Be approachable and seek out others who are not in your inner circle. You’re the big boss; reaching out to others is your responsibility if you want to encourage voice and minimize silence.
- Let the entire organization know your desire for a culture of voice as the only way to stay ahead of the knowledge flow curve.
- Strengthen upward communication using formal voice mechanisms such as a confidential hotline, electronic idea box or regularly scheduled focus groups.
- Respond even to half-baked ideas by building them up or explain your rationale for why something will or will not be implemented.
Ultimately, learn from others means you have to listen to them, inquire of them and trusting them to be your “eyes and ears.” After all, as one Boston-based financial services CEO put it: “I [alone] can’t possibly know everything.”
 Tepper, B.J. Abusive supervision in work organizations. Journal of Management.
 Burris & Detert. Quitting before leaving. Journal of Applied Psychology.
 Detert & Trevino, Speaking up to higher-ups. Organizational Science.