When employees see something amiss, you want them to be able to speak up. GM’s safety scandal last year is a good reminder why; the Challenger and Columbia explosions are classic case studies. People often avoid raising difficult issues, so the struggle to encourage this behavior has become a perennial management problem.
The latest addition to the corpus of research on this suggests why: Speaking up can wear us out. A new paper, forthcoming later this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, studies the effects of different kinds of speech on employees. In “A Suggestion to Improve a Day Keeps Your Depletion Away,” authors Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin and Russell E. Johnson found that expressing concern and criticism (what’s called prohibitive voice) was more mentally taxing than suggesting ideas for improvement (promotive voice), and this mental fatigue led to increased reluctance to speak up again, later. Conversely, speaking up with ideas seemingly reduced employees’ fatigue.