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Can we talk? Why employees fail to report negative events to their managers

Alex J. Scrimpshire (Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Marcia L. Lensges (Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Brian D. Webster (Management, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA)
Durand H. Crosby (Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 15 September 2021

Issue publication date: 14 October 2021




The purpose of this research is to understand why and under what conditions employees are likely to partake in a particular type of silence, known as the Hierarchical MUM Effect (HME). This phenomenon occurs when subordinates are reluctant to share bad news with their supervisors, which can lead to deleterious outcomes in organizations due to a lack of communication. The authors also seek to find which conditions minimize HME.


The authors surveyed employees in a large healthcare organization across three weeks. The authors analyzed their results using the SPSS PROCESS macro.


The authors’ findings suggest one way to minimize a lack of upward communication is to empower employees, via a high-quality LMX relationship, and move away from a bottom-line mentality focus. Employees who are empowered show lower instances of withholding information via HME. A low bottom-line mentality enhanced this relationship.


The authors expand understanding of antecedents to a particular type of silence, the HME, defined as purposefully withholding information from a supervisor or sharing information in a way that silences the dirty details of a situation (i.e. equivocating). Although a wealth of research examines the deleterious consequences of a high BLM, the authors highlight the positive work outcomes associated with a low BLM.



Scrimpshire, A.J., Lensges, M.L., Webster, B.D. and Crosby, D.H. (2021), "Can we talk? Why employees fail to report negative events to their managers", Career Development International, Vol. 26 No. 6, pp. 749-765.



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