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Subra Tangirala

Research Findings

The “voice bystander effect”: Why employees often see something but say nothing

August 21, 2019

When frontline employees speak up candidly, organizations become more effective. Because such employees are often in direct contact with customers and production processes, they tend to encounter important issues and develop valuable ideas and opinions that can help correct for problems on the horizon. Therefore, when employees freely express their thoughts, organizations benefit by being able to quickly spot errors or mistakes, as well as innovate products and systems.

The problem, however, is that employees frequently fail to speak up or voice their concerns in the workplace. Consequently, problems fail to be escalated in a timely manner to leaders in upper management who can act on them. Often, workplace issues linger for a frustratingly long time, even when everyone on the frontlines knows about them. This becomes evident across a range of domains—from safety concerns with products or equipment to cases of sexual harassment.

Why don’t people speak up about workplace issues that are obvious to everyone around?

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