Boss’ reaction influences whether workers speak up, research suggests

Washington: A leader’s response to employee suggestions can impact whether or not the employee opens up in the future, recent findings suggest.

A latest study explains how leaders can use language that encourages workers to offer more ideas in the future, even if their suggestions are not implemented.

After conducting two studies, a team of researchers found that people who speak up at work only to have their ideas rejected by supervisors will nonetheless offer more suggestions later if their bosses respond properly.

“Given that many employee ideas for change cannot be endorsed, our results highlight the practical importance of providing sensitive explanations for why employee suggestions cannot be embraced. Specifically, it is critically important for leaders to exhibit sensitivity in their communication with employees,” said Danielle King, an assistant professor of psychology, and lead author of the study.

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The second study, including 223 students, involved two 30-minute online surveys. In this experimental study, students worked as interns for a marketing firm that was developing advertisements for businesses frequented by other students.

The findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

Students who provided suggestions about the marketing materials received one of four responses, all of which indicated their boss didn’t agree with their advice.

Those four responses covered a range of answers, from sensitive and well-explained to insensitive and poorly explained. The students then had a second chance to offer suggestions on different material.

Researchers suggest that it would be useful for organizations to offer training and development for leaders on how to let employees down gently while encouraging them to speak up in the future.

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