An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence: Issues that Employees Don’t Communicate Upward and Why


Address for reprints: Frances J. Milliken, New York University, Stern School of Business, Department of Management and Organizational Behavior, 44 West 4th Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012, USA (


ABSTRACT There is evidence from a variety of sources that employees often do not feel comfortable speaking to their bosses about organizational problems or issues that concern them. The purpose of this study was to shed light on the types of issues that employees are reluctant to raise, and identify why employees sometimes decide to remain silent rather than voice their concerns. We interviewed 40 employees and found that most had been in situations where they were concerned about an issue but did not raise it to a supervisor. Silence spanned a range of organizational issues, with several of our respondents indicating that they did not feel comfortable speaking to those above them about any issues or concerns. The most frequently mentioned reason for remaining silent was the fear of being viewed or labeled negatively, and as a consequence, damaging valued relationships. From our data, we develop a model of how the perceived consequences of voice contribute to silence, and a model of how the social and relational implications of speaking up can take away employees’ ability to have influence within an organizational setting.