An Approach-Inhibition Model of Employee Silence: The Joint Effects of Personal Sense of Power and Target Openness

Morrison, E. W., See, K. E., & Pan, C. (2015). An approach-inhibition model of employee silence: The joint effects of personal sense of power and target openness. Personnel Psychology, 68, 547-580.

34 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2014 Last revised: 19 Nov 2017

See all articles by Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison

Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; New York University (NYU) - Department of Management and Organizational Behavior

Kelly E. See

University of Colorado at Denver - Business School; New York University - Department of Management and Organizations

Caitlin Pan

SIM University (UniSIM)

Date Written: October 2, 2014

Abstract

When employees consciously withhold potentially important suggestions or concerns from those who may be able to act on that information, it can have serious implications for organizational performance. Yet there is research suggesting that, when faced with the choice of whether or not to raise an issue, employees often choose to remain silent. Our objective in this paper is to expand current theoretical understanding of why employees often remain silent and of situational factors that can lessen this tendency. Drawing on the approach-inhibition theory of power, we argue that an employee's personal sense that he or she is lacking in power in relation to others at work is a key factor contributing to the decision to remain silent but that this effect is moderated by perceived target openness. We took a multimethod approach, testing these relationships across 3 studies: a laboratory experiment, a survey study of healthcare workers, and a survey study of employees working across a wide range of industries. Our findings suggest that, although silence is indeed rooted in the psychological experience of powerlessness, perceived target openness mitigates this relationship, encouraging employee to speak up when they would not otherwise do so.

Keywords: employee voice-silence, input giving, power, upward communication in hierarchies, healthcare-medical

JEL Classification: M12; M00; M50

Suggested Citation

Morrison, Elizabeth Wolfe and See, Kelly E. and Pan, Caitlin, An Approach-Inhibition Model of Employee Silence: The Joint Effects of Personal Sense of Power and Target Openness (October 2, 2014). Morrison, E. W., See, K. E., & Pan, C. (2015). An approach-inhibition model of employee silence: The joint effects of personal sense of power and target openness. Personnel Psychology, 68, 547-580., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2504688

Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

New York University (NYU) - Department of Management and Organizational Behavior ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

Kelly E. See (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Denver - Business School ( email )

1475 Lawrence Street
Suite 5015
Denver, CO 80204
United States

New York University - Department of Management and Organizations ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

Caitlin Pan

SIM University (UniSIM) ( email )

461 Clementi Road
Singapore, 599491
Singapore

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