Should Employers Provide Incentives for Employees to Get Vaccinated?
Ethics When Hiring Disabled Workers

What is the "Speak Up Culture" in the Workplace?

Relationship to the “Cancel Culture”

I was glancing through LinkedIn posts and found one by Tanya Finnie about the Speak Up Culture. Having blogged many times before about the cancel culture, I was intrigued to find out more about the speak up culture and its relationship to cancel culture.

“Speak up culture” refers to a healthy, supportive environment, where team members feel free to share their ideas, opinions and concerns, without fear of retaliation or penalty. Often people associate it with calling out toxic company culture or even an individual member of staff, however it can also refer to people feeling comfortable to express different ideas or business models that have previously gone unexplored. as speak-up culture, which means to provide a safe space for people to speak up and speak out, where they can feel emboldened to point out both challenging areas and opportunities for new disruptions and innovations. 

Rather than waiting for employees to speak up, leaders could take the initiative and start a structured debate within the organization. It is important to give employees an opportunity to speak up and respond appreciatively when they do. 

Finnie asks whether you have ever been a part of an organization that discouraged or even punished its employees from speaking up, pointing out problems or trying to disrupt the status quo in some way? If so, how much disruption and innovation happened in this organization? Probably not much.

Additionally, in a recent academic article in Organization Science, the researchers state, “Voice, or employees’ upward expression of challenging but constructive concerns or ideas on work-related issues, can play a critical role in improving organizational effectiveness. Despite its importance, evidence suggests that many managers are often hesitant to solicit voice from their employees. … Voice is a distinctive behavior that involves escalation of opinions, ideas, or concerns by employees to their managers with the expectation that they would respond by making systemic changes in their teams.” Speak up

So how can leaders encourage their employees to speak up and share their ideas?

In a recent HBR article, the authors describe this problem well: “When employees share novel ideas and bring up concerns or problems, organizations innovate and perform better. Employees are often the first to see issues on the frontlines, so their input can really help managerial decision making. Yet, managers do not always promote employees’ ideas. In fact, they can even actively disregard employee concerns and act in ways that discourage employees from speaking up at all.”

Unfortunately, while the many benefits of speak-up culture are clear, many managers remain hesitant to seek input from their people and are even less likely to really listen when that input is provided. And while disregarding employee input can cause frustration and disengagement of some of your best people (even causing them to leave), actively discouraging employees from speaking up can have even more severe detrimental impacts on the long-term effectiveness of the team and the strategic competitive advantage of the firm. 

Diversity and inclusion are important features of a healthy workplace. As stated in a recent Medium article, “Inclusive leaders create a 'speak-up culture' where members of their teams feel welcome and included, free to share their ideas and opinions, and confident that their ideas are heard and recognized.” Tanya Finnie further argues that “global leaders who supported diversity and inclusion were more likely to foster collaboration and saw a majority of their team members feel free to express their views and opinions. These leaders were found to have several distinct qualities including; asking questions, facilitating constructive arguments, giving actionable feedback, taking advice and implementing feedback, sharing credit for team success and empowering decision making among team members.”

The speak-up culture is related to the cancel culture in that if employees contemplate speaking out, in today’s divisive environment it is crucial to consider whether they might be canceled for their actions. Even though the points they make might help improve the ethical environment in the organization, it won’t matter if that organization is run according to political correctness. Going against the orthodoxy by speaking up can lead to being canceled from the organization, meaning being painted in a negative light for everyone in the organization to see. The “thought police” may be at work and stifle dissent thereby restricting free speech.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 1, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: