[August 22, 2018] Academic studies show that the majority of employees in the American workforce are afraid to speak up because of the fear of retribution. The cause is directly related to poor leadership and this fear is always present.
“The forces of retribution are always listening. They never sleep.” – Meg Greenfield, American editorial writer
We all know that organizations are complex and difficult to keep on track. We also know that the leadership, which is the lubricant that keeps everything running smoothly, is the key to success in the workplace.
If such fear is cultivated and allowed to grow untended, it will grow into a culture of suppression. The duty of all good leaders is to thwart that trend and to ensure everyone is aware that open and honest discussion of all things benefits us all. Discussion without fear of retribution is the ideal goal.
In the United States today that is not the case in our universities and many businesses. You may not criticize the status quo without fear of retribution. It is unfortunate that in large companies, like Google and Apple, that you must espouse a specific political ideology or your employment will be terminated.
The fear of retribution (aka “payback”) has serious consequences. Worker dissatisfaction rates and absenteeism are higher, non-productive work behaviors thrive, reduced performance and turnover are more common, and the fear that causes it grows if not addressed directly and forcefully by senior leaders.
Here are a few factors that lead to a culture where individuals are afraid to share their voice out of a fear of retribution:1
- Regular negative feedback from leaders.
- Shooting down of new ideas out of hand.
- Ignoring feedback.
- Fear of demotion or job loss.
- Raising uncomfortable issues draws attention to individuals or groups who make suggestions.
- Perception that there is no procedural justice.
The safety of silence becomes preferable. Organizational leaders, who desire positive change, will never get there as long as this fear exists.