Silence at Work – What Are the Consequences?

Silence at Work – What Are the Consequences?

It is a well known fact employees are inclined to behave in a way that they perceive to be consistent with the social values and expectations that constitute their organization’s culture. These behavioral norms are established through executives’, managers’ and supervisors’ instructions, rewards and the allocation of attention.1 These managerial patterns of rewards and reinforcement are consistent with the rewards and reinforcement of their childhood. Thus, everyone feels safe and secure in the relationship.

Research into the impact of organization culture on employees’ work behavior has generated little substantial improvement to the issue of employees remaining silent about critical issues. This trend has reached such a concern that regulatory bodies, such as: OSHA in the U.S. and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the U.K. have strongly encouraged organizations to implement ‘positive safety cultures,’ as part of their overall safety management programs.

When executives, managers, supervisors and opinion leaders infrequently or inconsistently address issues of silent behavior, it leads employees to believe that formal communication standards are loosely valued and employees are not genuinely expected to adhere to them. Thus, the low frequency of interventions in the workplace contributes to a culture in which employees are not positively influenced to work within strict safely standards, cohesiveness team work is happenstance, comradery is weak, thus, the company culture becomes loosely defined. The Silence syndrome impacts two levels of an organization:

The Organization:

Like indifference and neglect, employee silence is extremely detrimental to organizations often causing a ‘spiral of dissatisfaction’ among employees, which results in absenteeism and turnover and other undesired behaviors (Colquitt and Greenberg 311-312).2 Communication is key to all transactions, relationships and success. When employee silence occurs the result harms the overall functioning of the organization.

In an article, “Get Talking,” author Chris Penttila states, “employee silence is killing innovation and perpetuating poorly planned projects that lead to defective products, low morale and a damaged bottom line.3

”In an article, “Re-Creating the Indifferent Employee,” Carla Joinson describes the negative effects of employee silence as monetary losses to the organization. She states, “Over time silence within organizations causes some employees to be extremely indifferent. In different employees are those who are indifferent to their jobs, employers and quality of work.” (Joinson 76)4

Indifferent employees cost the organization money and function poorly. When major monetary losses are discovered in organizations, managers tend to react by working to recover the loss, overlooking the fact employees have become indifferent as a result of unaddressed employee silence. Moreover, employees, who are not doing their share of the work are also not speaking up about the problems they see, leading to a perpetual cycle of employee silence. (Joinson 1048)4

Organizational impact alone causes a huge deficit to the overall functioning and profitability of the company. The above detrimental issues are by no means the total impact of employee silence.

The Employees:

Most people assume that employee silence only hurts the organization. However, on a deeper level it hurts both the organization and all employees. While employee impact has been included in organizational impact, employees in the end bear the most impact overall.

From a holistic perspective – Nothing transpires by chance or outside the Universal Energy forces. Every action has a reaction or consequence. The individual, ‘reaps what she/he has sown,’ a.k.a. What goes around comes around – Karma.

Therefore, employee silence has many effects, not only on the silent employee, but on other employees, teams and work groups as well. Indifferent employees, often products of being ignored as a child, are products of management ignoring them, which precipitates feeling unimportant and insignificant. They tend to feel like cogs in a wheel. Thus, they develop the attitude ‘to get along, go along.’ (Joinson, 1048)4

As a result of a cog in the wheel perception, employees sometimes develop depression, and other health issues. More often than not, they use, smoking, alcohol, over eating, street drugs, and/or OTC or prescription drugs as a way to ‘cope.’ Self-prescribed and pharmaceutical drugs are in effective and sometimes make matters worse. It is safe to say, it doesn’t solve the issue.

Furthermore, employee silence affects the personal well being of employees, increasing “work stress,” and causes some employees to “feel guilty,” where they often experience psychological distress, and have trouble seeing the possibility of change.”5

The communication skill of Speaking UP effectively – which takes focus, finesse and faith – is invaluable in many different contexts, situations and across all professions and including levels. It’s often easiest and less risky to practice and master Speaking UP firstly in one’s personal life. Still, since practice leads to mastery and an increase in career and relationship success and satisfaction, there’s nothing stopping ‘you’ from immediately applying this skill across both professional and personal contexts.

To learn how to improve your Speaking UP skills, you are welcome to grab our complimentary “10 Speak UP Faux Pas” by emailing dn-mm@energeticevolution.comTo inquire about hiring Monique MacKinnon and Dorothy M. Neddermeyer to present about How To Persuasively Speak UP To Higher Ups and/or deliver their Speak UP training series to your company, visit

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Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD
As a strategic and innovative author, speaker and trainer, Dr Dorothy works with business clients, to instill an internal foundation of empowerment and upgrade their people skills (communication, problem solving, decision making, negotiation etc), performance and results in, and quality of life.

1Schein, E. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey Bass, San Francisco.

2Jason A. Colquitt; Greenberg, Jerald (2005). Handbook of organizational justice. Hillsdale, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-4203-9.

3Pentilla, Chris. “Get Talking.” Entrepreneur Nov. 2003: 25-25.

4Joinson, Carla. “Recreating the Indifferent Employee.” HRM Magazine Aug. 1996: 76–81.

5 Clemmer, Jim (2008). Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. Ecw Press. ISBN 0-9782221-7-2.