Speaking Your Mind At Work Can Help You Detach And Rest At The End Of The Day, Shows New Research

Professor Zahra Heydarifard investigates how speaking up at work can encourage a well-rested night and thriving performance. But speaking up needs to be done in the right way.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | Tue Jul 11 2023 11:23:26 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology explores the short-term effects of speaking up at work, shedding light on the delicate balance between finding your voice at work while protecting your sanity and quality of sleep.

I recently spoke to professor Zahra Heydarifard at the University of Texas to understand how effectively voicing our ideas and opinions and work can lead to a better night's sleep. Here's a summary of our conversation.

What was your motivation behind investigating the interplay of speaking up at the workplace and insomnia? How did you study it?

Despite a large body of literature emphasizing the significance of recovery and well-being in work-related behaviors, only a limited number of studies have explored the consequences of engaging in this crucial behavior for employee voicers.

Furthermore, very few studies have investigated the relationship between voicing and sleep, which is the most natural and fundamental element of the recovery experience. Given that voicing can have both positive and negative outcomes for individuals in the long run, our objective was to examine the short-term effects of voicing on the recovery experience of employees.

To study this phenomenon, we conducted a two-week research project involving more than 100 full-time employees. Our study involved collecting data from the participants twice a day, capturing their recovery experience in the morning and their workplace experience in the evening.

This research design allowed us to gain insights into the recovery experiences of individual participants and how they relate to their workplace interactions.

What percentage of the population suffers from insomnia due to work-related stressors?

Despite the widespread prevalence of insomnia in our modern era, with approximately 1 in 5 individuals experiencing occasional insomnia (Morin & Jarrin, 2022), there is a notable research gap regarding the extent to which work-related stressors contribute to this issue.

Can you give a brief description of 'promotive' and 'prohibitive' voices and what impact they have on the voicer?

Voice behavior in the workplace refers to employees sharing their thoughts and ideas. This behavior can be classified into two main categories: promotive voice and prohibitive voice.

  • Promotive voice entails suggestions and ideas aimed at improving the current state of affairs
  • Prohibitive voice involves raising alarms, offering critiques, or expressing concerns to protect the existing status quo

These terms are commonly used in organizational studies to differentiate between these two types of voice behaviors.

Can you explain what you mean by the 'costly behavior' factors you focused on in your research that impacted employee performance?

Costly behaviors at work are a double-edged sword, providing significant benefits for both individuals and organizations, but also carrying substantial costs. However, the costs of these behaviors are often overlooked due to their perceived benefits.

Neglecting to acknowledge these costs not only fails to address them effectively but also diminishes the likelihood of sustaining these behaviors in the long term, resulting in negative consequences for an individual's performance.

What is the same-day effect of voice on insomnia? What role do 'affective states' and 'psychological detachment' play?

Depending on its content, voice behavior can either contribute to or hinder the occurrence of insomnia symptoms at night.

Specifically, the expression of a promotive voice has the potential to reduce insomnia symptoms by generating positive emotions associated with making meaningful contributions at work. This positive mood facilitates the creation of psychological distance from work during off-work hours, which is crucial for achieving a relaxed state conducive to a good night's sleep.

Conversely, the expression of prohibitive voice, which focuses on highlighting problems and shortcomings, can have the opposite effect. Voicers engaging in prohibitive voice tend to experience negative moods, which hinder their ability to disengage from work-related thoughts during off-work hours.

As a result, work-related concerns encroach upon their sleep time, diminishing the likelihood of experiencing high sleep quality.

You mention that "insomnia has a significant impact on the next day's voice due to psychological depletion." Can you expand on that?

Sleep serves as a natural recovery process, creating an opportunity to replenish depleted psychological resources resulting from daily tasks and activities. During this restorative period, the absence of demands allows for the restoration of these resources.

However, when this natural recovery process is disrupted, individuals begin the day with diminished psychological resources.

To effectively manage these limited resources, the brain prioritizes essential tasks, such as fulfilling role obligations, while allocating fewer resources for engaging in discretionary behaviors like promotive voice. As a result, individuals are less likely to express promotive voice following a night of poor sleep.

However, our findings did not reveal any associations between poor sleep and prohibitive voice. In other words, it appears that the expression of prohibitive voice is not solely dependent on the quality of sleep during the night.

How do you suggest organizations use the findings of this study to improve employee well-being and productivity?

Organizations greatly rely on the voice of their employees as it contributes to creativity, competitiveness, and long-term survival. Our research findings shed light on the often unnoticed outcomes of voice for employees, providing organizations with valuable insights.

Armed with this knowledge, organizations can take a more mindful approach when designing systems that minimize the costs of voice while maximizing its benefits.

Specifically, we recommend organizations that provide training for managers to positively respond to all types of voice they receive. While not all voices may be equally valuable or applicable, a positive reception, particularly regarding prohibitive voice, helps reduce subsequent negative feelings and poor sleep among employees.

Another strategy to mitigate the risks associated with voice is to establish an anonymous reporting system. This not only allows organizations to leverage employee voice effectively but also alleviates concerns about potential consequences and outcomes.

Furthermore, organizations can actively contribute to improving employee well-being during off-work hours. This can be accomplished by offering amenities such as gym access, meditation or sleep apps, organizing social gatherings, and more.

Recognizing that managing employees' health and well-being outside of work may not always be feasible, organizations can assist employees in replenishing their psychological resources in the morning, even after experiencing poor sleep. For instance:

  • Organizations can offer flexible work hours to allow employees to get extra sleep before starting their day
  • Implement hybrid work conditions to reduce commuting time and increase opportunities for rest
  • Organize morning recess activities
  • Facilitate breakfast gatherings
  • Provide designated spaces for relaxation or even napping if necessary

Do you have any words of wisdom or recommendations for managers or employees who may be struggling with insomnia or workplace behaviors that may be affecting their sleep?

I want to emphasize the important role that psychological detachment plays in improving sleep health and in breaking the association of workplace events and sleep health.

Psychological detachment is a recovery exercise with a significant impact on well-being. Psychological detachment helps individuals to get psychological distance from work and anything related to work. This psychological distance allows the brain to smooth down at the time of sleep and get into a relaxed mood faster and easier.

However, I should note that practicing psychological detachment is not easy specifically when negative emotions are high. But with practice and being conscious about it, individuals can be masters of that and enjoy its benefits.

Did you find any gender differences or other demographic differences?

In our study, we examined several individual differences variables, including gender. However, the most compelling difference we discovered was associated with the level of 'psychological safety.'

Interestingly, we observed that employees who were either high or low in psychological safety benefited from engaging in promotive voice. However, it was specifically employees who lacked psychological safety in the workplace who reported experiencing negative emotions and subsequent insomnia.

This finding is particularly noteworthy as it highlights the significance of cultivating a psychologically safe work environment, not only for the work-related experience but also for the recovery and well-being of employees outside of the workplace.

It underscores the importance of creating a supportive and inclusive atmosphere that fosters psychological safety, which in turn has a positive impact on employee recovery and overall well-being.

How does your research connect with, and add on to, other research showing a link between speaking up at the workplace and insomnia?

Our research represents the first investigation into the connection between positive workplace behaviors and sleep health.

Previous studies have established that engaging in negative workplace behaviors, such as counterproductive actions, can have detrimental effects on sleep health. These findings are both intriguing and intuitive. However, our study delves deeper into the potential impact of positive workplace behaviors—behaviors that organizations encourage their employees to exhibit—on sleep.

In our research, we sought to uncover the potential effects of positive workplace behaviors on sleep, recognizing that the impact may not always be uniformly positive. While prior research consistently demonstrated the negative impact of certain behaviors on sleep health, our findings revealed that the effects of positive behaviors are not always uniformly beneficial.

Can you discuss any limitations of the study and suggest your plans for future research on voice and insomnia?

This study possesses several limitations that should be acknowledged.

Firstly, there are numerous individual and organizational variables that may influence the relationship between voice and insomnia. Factors such as how voice is perceived by recipients, the voicer's prior experience with sharing ideas, and the recovery and well-being status of managers could all be intriguing factors worth exploring. Examining these variables has the potential to significantly enhance our understanding of the topic.

Additionally, it would be valuable to expand the examination of the off-work outcomes of voice for voicers. While our study primarily focused on sleep due to its significant influence on daily behaviors and performance, it is important to recognize that voice can impact other aspects of a voicer's personal life. For instance, voice may influence family relationships, social interactions, and other areas. Therefore, we encourage future research to delve into these domains.

Finally, in this study, our primary focus was on the effect of voice as a positive yet risky workplace behavior. However, employees engage in various other discretionary positive behaviors, such as helping behavior or initiative-taking, that can have both positive and negative consequences on sleep. Investigating the impact of these behaviors on sleep can greatly contribute to a deeper understanding of how the workplace influences employees' sleep health.