Brain power

The role our peers play in encouraging employee voice

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Ordinarily, when we think of employee voice, we think of the ability and confidence of employees to speak up in a way that would improve the organization.  Often this interaction is viewed through the lens of the relationship between the employee and their manager.

New research1 from the University of Notre Dame suggests this view fails to capture the true essence of employee voice and especially in diminishing the important role our peers play in encouraging us to speak up.  Indeed, those who publicly endorsed a contribution from a peer were found to enhance not only their peer’s status but their own too.

Speaking up

In one study, volunteers were asked to read a transcript in which employees in a sales team had a meeting about declining sales at their insurance firm.  Two members of the team offered ideas, with a third then contributing their own idea after ignoring those from their peers.

This scenario was then manipulated in a number of ways.  For instance, in one, the first member amplified the idea of the second, whereas in another they aired a new idea.  Sometimes they just stayed quiet instead.

The results suggest that both the first and the second member were rated much higher in status during the amplification condition than in the other two scenarios.

Benefits of supporting others

In a second study, participants were asked to listen to a transcript that was similar to the first but with gender and status of the employees a factor.  In this scenario, it was varied as to whether the first and second members were either a high-status male or a low-status female.

“We found that regardless of gender composition, amplifying was more beneficial than any of the other behaviors,” the researchers say. “Furthermore, amplification increased the status of both the amplifier and the person being boosted. That was great news for us, that amplification helps even people with low status, whether they are amplifying or being amplified.”

A third experiment then explored whether employees with low status could be encouraged to amplify within their respective teams by training.  The researchers gathered data from employees at a non-profit educational organization, with a particular focus on 22 employees who the director believed didn’t have the level of influence they should have.

Each of the 22 individuals was given training in amplification, before being monitored for a couple of weeks.  The training seemed to work, as their status significantly improved in that timeframe, whereas employees not offered the training stayed the same.

“We were thrilled to see that amplification could be beneficial in a real organization,” the researchers explain. “We’d seen consistent results in laboratory experiments, which was obviously encouraging. But we were especially excited to see that people can use amplification to make an impact in the real world.”

The value of amplification for both the recipient and the person doing the amplification is certainly interesting, as it highlights the importance of employees being supportive of one another.

“The very first time we examined amplification, I was observing the amplifier as they amplified other group members, and I was surprised at how much of a leadership role the amplifier took on, simply by boosting other people,” the researchers conclude. “Amplifying others requires no new ideas nor complicated decision making, and proves to be a very low-risk, easy strategy that can be used by anyone to help themselves and others.”

Article source: The Role Our Peers Play In Encouraging Employee Voice.

Reference:

  1. Bain, K., Kreps, T. A., Meikle, N. L., & Tenney, E. R. (2021). Amplifying Voice in Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, DOI: 10.5465/amj.2018.0621

Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and Work.com, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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