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In the workplace, voice is justice

Published: 5/12/2017

Speaking up is as important as listening in.

HOMER Meeting
20 April 2017

Speaking up is as important as listening in. 

In the HOMER Meeting on 20 April 2017, we learnt about organizational justice, power and how employee voice is vital to achieving a fair and just workplace. 


A/P Michael Ramsay Bashshur from Singapore Management University, emphasized the importance of employees’ voice for organizational justice.

Organizational justice, or the extent to which employees perceive workplace procedures, interactions and outcomes to be fair (Greenberg, 1987) has been found to produce positive outcomes such as trust, performance and employer satisfaction in organizations. Be that as it may, this ideal may not be common practice, as pointed out by our first speaker, Associate Professor Michael Ramsay Bashshur from Singapore Management University. 

This is because executing management decisions in a fair manner is not easy. A/Prof Bashshur elaborates, "Organizational justice is a costly affair. It requires time and resources. For example, a manager wishes to promote a staff. He can't just randomly decide on whom it ought to be. He needs to consider a multitude of factors before making that decision and it needs to be seen as a fair process."

He presented the two case studies which measured the impact on employee satisfaction, turnover rate and absenteeism in the context of procedural justice. In instances where employees were given adequate explanation for management decisions, they were also given time and avenues to direct their queries. In allowing for transparency in the process, staff perceived that their concerns were justly heard. This perception of fairness resulted in lower turnover rates, lower absenteeism and higher staff morale. 

On the flip side, in the context of negative justice where employees were not offered an explanation and did not have channels to voice their concerns, the study found that there was a higher rate of absenteeism and turnover. More detrimentally, employee voice diminished, echoing a form of learnt helplessness. With less employee voice, managers behaved increasingly unjust and abused their authority to skew things in their favour which in the long term, led to the death of organizations. 

According to A/Prof Bashshur, in order for organizations to be sites of fairness in all three forms of justice – procedural, interactive and organizational – it is important for employees to speak up. More so, however, is the need for employees to have the psychological safety to speak up, in knowing that they would not be penalized for doing so. 

"Voice is important in creating a fair process, and in supporting the perception of fairness. Give voice to employees, and encourage them to be candid about their feedback.”

Yet, voice is not a one-way street. “The recipient also needs to be open in receiving that feedback". 

Because, if the leader is perceived to be non-responsive, employees become frustrated and gradually, when they find that voicing does not change anything, they will stop speaking up, ultimately, resulting in counterproductive work behaviours such as workplace deviance, absenteeism and workplace aggression (Greenberg, 1990).

Building on that concept of voice, Dr Mary Lee, Senior Research Analyst of HOMER, shared on her team’s initial analysis of observations and interviews conducted with members of some multidisciplinary team meetings held at a subacute ward in TTSH. 

Dr Mary Lee from HOMER, shared how theory and discourse analysis could be used for studying interactions between parties in a multidisicplinary setting.

According to initial findings, self-censorship appeared to be a barrier to employee voice. "Whether members of the multidisciplinary team meetings de-privatize their thoughts or not depends on seniority and hierarchy," she said.

In her study, she used discourse analysis to study interactions between parties in a multidisicplinary setting. 

"Discourse analysis is a useful methodology and we should consider using it to perceive things we can no longer 'see' and have taken for granted", she said.

Dr Lee hopes that her sharing inspires the audience with ideas on how discourse analysis could be used for their own investigations of communication processes in their workplaces. 

She adds: "Theory is important, and discourse analysis is useful. Discourse analysis helps us surface ideological dilemmas found in taken-for-granted notions such as patient-centredness." 

For the health of patients, teams and organizations alike, it is crucial to ensure that there is a space to give voice and to receive voice.

"Creating fair processes, though time-consuming, is well worth the effort in the long run as it results in better outcomes for individuals, groups and organizations," said A/Prof Bashshur.

Held as a lunchtime seminar at TTSH Theatrette that also reaches out to a 'live' simulcast in IMH, this instalment of HOMER Meeting hosted a 93 member-strong audience, across disciplines like human resource, nursing, allied health. 

A/Prof Bashshur challenges positional leaders to regularly ask themselves:

  • What ARE you doing?
  • Do you receive critical voice?
    • If not, why not?
    • If so, what do you do with it?

He also urges powerholders in organisations to try this:

  • Ask your subordinates to begin a meeting by telling you one or two things that you're doing wrong or badly
  • Act on it!
    • Change
    • Explain​


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