Your Boss Probably Can’t Hear You When You Speak

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The FINANCIAL — If you just started a job, are working part-time, or are not white, there is a good chance your boss is not really hearing anything you say. That’s the takeaway of a study published last week in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which analyzed how much supervisors at 89 credit union offices rewarded employees for speaking up, according to McCombs School of Business.

The authors, five professors at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business found that bosses were less likely to value or even notice the suggestions of people who were wallflowers at work, new to the job, or racial minorities.

Who gets listened to? Office socialites—those seen as the go-to people for advice among colleagues—were heard more often and considered more valuable contributors by their supervisors, the study found. They got more credit from bosses than people in other groups who spoke up the same amount.

“It’s not like their voices are all muffled on the phone. But [supervisors] are waving them off. It’s more of a ‘talk to the hand’ situation,” says David Harrison, a professor at McCombs and one of the paper’s authors. The things that lower-status employees or racial minorities say “will still tickle [supervisors’] ear drums, but they are just not paying attention, and they aren’t going to process it as being truly useful input.”

Harrison and his co-authors asked hundreds of underlings at credit unions to rate how often they spoke to their superiors about problems or ideas and then quizzed the bosses about how much they noticed or cared about those employees’ contributions. When white people, or people who were on the job for over a year spoke up, their input was rated a half a point more valuable than nonwhites or new hires. In fact, just being a white person counted as much, to bosses, as having a ton of job experience. “Being white gives you as much legitimacy as being a veteran,” says Harrison.

Bosses at the credit unions valued talkative women over men, partly because, the authors say, these offices were overwhelmingly female, and being a majority in the workplace makes it more likely you’ll be heard.

Being a loudmouth proved a smart career strategy. The authors asked the same bosses to rate their employees performance a year after rating their gabbiness and found that verbose workers earned higher marks. The bump was much higher for certain employees, though: A full-time white woman with company experience and a penchant for piping up would receive a 10 percent higher performance rating than a just-hired black man who works part-time and speaks his mind. 


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