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Are you speaking up and being heard? Study examines the implications of employee voice.

Most of us think our own ideas are terrific, whether it’s about how something could be achieved or how a problem can be solved. And many organizations and managers seek such input – indeed it can help create new products, fix problems, and help organizations improve. But how is your input viewed by your boss?

A recent study in Organization Science sheds light on the often-debated subject of employees voicing ideas for improvement – and what happens to employees when they do.

The study showed that, in general, employees are viewed as better employees when they speak up. However, they also found that perspective matters. In the article “Speaking Up vs. Being Heard: The Disagreement Around and Outcomes of Employee Voice,” Ethan Burris and his research colleagues examined 335 restaurant general managers and over 7000 employees.

“When the employee thinks he or she is speaking up a lot, but the supervisor doesn’t see it and rates their contribution as low, this is a signal of a disconnect that leads to very low performance evaluations.” says Nathan Hiller, Ph.D., Academic Director for The Center for Leadership. Dr. Hiller points out that the situation of overestimating how much useful input you’re providing is actually worse for your career than providing very little or no input at all.

While the study did not examine reasons for these disconnects between what the employee and boss think about the employee’s contributions, the authors offer a number of possibilities. One likely possibility is that some employees may be speaking, but not being heard because their input isn’t valued or considered useful.

A smart leader teaches employees how to speak up

What take-aways about leadership does the study lead to? “From the employee perspective, you should examine the situations when you have given input and see the results. “Did the boss seem receptive and have high regard for your input?” Dr. Hiller says. “What cues is the boss giving you about speaking up? If they don’t seem to value your input, there may not be a lot that you can do – other than bite your tongue or start looking for other opportunities.”

“For leaders, it is critical to not just encourage employees to speak up, but to teach them how to speak up effectively and give them feedback about content and delivery of those ideas. A smart leader encourages their members to speak up and teaches them how to do just that.”