Author(s), Title and Publication
Mao, C. M., & DeAndrea, D. C. (2018). How anonymity and visibility affordances influence employees’ decisions about voicing workplace concerns. Management Communication Quarterly, 1-29. doi: 10.1177/0893318918813202
Establishing proper communication channels so employees can voice suggestions may simultaneously curb organizational malpractices and increase employees’ organizational commitment and job satisfaction. The willingness of employees to communicate ideas encourages organizational learning because suggestions from employees help organizations better survive and prosper. When employees plan to critique their organization (prohibitive voice), they prefer certain communication channels over others. The authors of the current study conducted two experiments to investigate how employees’ perceptions regarding the anonymity and visibility affordances of an online voicing platform affect their perceptions of safety and efficacy, and, thus, their prohibitive voicing intentions via the platform. Whereas anonymity refers to the degree to which a communicator perceives the message source as unknown or unspecified, visibility refers to the perceived scope of message receivers of an employee’s voice through a particular communication medium. Safety refers to the evaluation of whether it would be safe to communicate, and efficacy refers to whether employees believe their suggestions will have the intended effect and bring expected change to the organization. The authors first conducted the study with a sample of 300 college students. To strengthen the external validity of the results, they later conducted a direct replication with a more diverse general population of 260 participants.
The results indicated that the degree to which a voicing platform is perceived to afford users anonymity and make their complaints visible influences users’ perceptions about the safety and efficacy of using voicing platforms and their intention to make a prohibitive voice. Whether or not the voicing platform required participants to verify their identities affected how anonymous they would feel when using the platform. Participants in the no verification condition viewed the online platform to be much more anonymous, believed the platform to be safer and more effective, and in turn, were more likely to use the platform. In terms of the visibility manipulation, whether participants’ concerns were only visible to a small or large group of people affected visibility perceptions as intended. Participants in the low-visibility condition believed that the platform was safer and more effective for voicing concerns, and had stronger intentions to use the platform. Although the authors expected that greater visibility would make the platform more effective, the results in both studies indicated that anonymity perceptions positively affected perceptions of efficacy, and visibility perceptions negatively affected perceptions of efficacy.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) consider how employees might evaluate the anonymity and visibility of possible voicing channels, and (2) consider the degree to which there is a mismatch between management’s perceptions about voicing channels and their employees’ perceptions about available voicing channels.
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