Employee Relations

Mental Detachment from Work and Speaking Up to Supervisors

Speaking up refers to employee willingness to voice to supervisors when they believe something isn’t right in the workplace or could be improved. By speaking up on such issues, employees can alert their supervisors to potentially serious problems within or involving the organization. However, some employees are more likely to speak up than others. One factor that influences employees voicing their concerns is mental detachment.

Mental Attachment to Work

Before mental detachment is described, first mental attachment will be defined. Mental attachment is when an employee feels particularly attached and identified with the organization. While related to having better relationships with one’s supervisors, feelings of attachment to one’s workplace do not automatically lead to a greater frequency of speaking up about workplace issues. This is because many people like their workplaces for some of the same reasons that make the workplace ineffective. That is, some people are attached to their work because a faulty status quo actually works in their favor.

Mental Detachment from Work

On the other hand, having a negative view of a supervisor’s leadership abilities or feeling that one’s supervisor is abusive results in employees having a greater desire to quit their jobs, also known as mental detachment. Employees essentially stop caring about what happens at the organization, which contributes to their not voicing about potential improvements or problems.

Implications for Practice

Here are a few suggestions for how to prevent mental detachment from occurring with your employees while also promoting speaking up to supervisors.
  • Encourage feedback on what is and is not working from employees. Outlets for feedback may include a suggestion box, a hotline-type system, and an “open door” policy where individuals can feel free to communicate with their supervisors.
  • Take steps to improve the quality of relationships between employees and their supervisors.
  • Enact procedures to reduce and eliminate supervisors’ abuse of employees.
  • Be proactive in encouraging and rewarding employees for challengingineffectiveness in your organization’s status quo.
Managers and supervisors don’t always know what is effective in their workplaces, so they must rely on feedback from subordinates who are often much closer to the potential issues. Creating conditions that encourage employees to speak up and not detach mentally from work can facilitate this important feedback process.

Interpretation by:

Donnie Johnson

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Burris, E.R., Detert, J.R., & Chiaburu, D.S. (2008). Quitting before leaving: The mediating effects of psychological attachment and detachment on voice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 912-922.