UNB Research

UNB researcher looking for participants to understand workplace conflict responses of Black women in Canada

Author: UNB Research

Posted on Jul 6, 2022

Category: Research

Workplace conflicts and negative interactions are a fairly common occurrence for many employees. Many stories shared in the current moment of the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ show some of those most extreme cases, as some individuals are driven to quit the toxic environments in which they find themselves.

Workplace interactions aren’t always so severe that they lead to turnover, but negative ones can nevertheless impact the mental health of employees, as well as the overall culture of the workplace.

Dr. Mercy Oyet is an assistant professor of business at UNB who specializes in organizational behavior and human resource management. Together with her co-investigator, Dr. Theresa Chika-James, an assistant professor of business at MacEwan University, she is leading a current research project which looks at how individual employees speak up and speak out in response to negative workplace interactions, and in particular the specific responses of Black women in Canada.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re exploring in this research?

In this project, we want to examine the work experiences of Black women in Canada.

In particular, we are investigating how and why Black women in Canada respond to experiences of interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace (for example, workplace bullying, incivility, or abusive supervision) by speaking up or out (what we call the remedial voice) about these experiences, and how this is linked to their mental health.

Over the past few years, research has consistently shown that Black women are more likely to be targets of workplace interpersonal mistreatment. Although some research has examined the rate at which Black women experience workplace interpersonal mistreatment, not much is known about how they remedial voice in response to these mistreatments, the implications of using a chosen form of remedial voice, and the effects on their mental well-being.

Furthermore, even less is known about all of this in the Canadian context.

You mentioned the term “remedial voice;” can you explain to us what that is or how people might experience or understand it?

In the Organizational Behaviour domain, “voice” in the workplace involves vocalizing dissatisfaction about a condition at work.

Employee remedial voice, then, involves vocalizing one’s dissatisfaction about experienced workplace interpersonal mistreatment – it’s when you speak up, or speak out, in response to negative interactions with others.

Remedial voice generally has three main forms: voicing by confronting the perpetrator of the mistreatment (called confronting voice); voicing by sharing one’s dissatisfaction about the mistreatment to colleagues (support-seeking voice); or voicing in the form of reporting the experience to organizational representatives (such as supervisors, human resource professionals, union representatives, or organizational mediators) who can facilitate resolution and redress (whistleblowing voice).

You’re looking specifically at the experiences of Black women in Canada; why is that?

As you can imagine, whichever form of remedial voice is used presents implications for the employee. Now, consider the unique experiences of Black women as minorities in the Canadian workplace, and as more likely to be targeted.

This presents implications such as the possibility of fear of retaliation and a sense of helplessness. Yet, the benefits of voicing remain.

We are particularly interested in how the different forms of remedial voice are used and may lead to different outcomes and benefits for Black women in Canada. How do they respond to negative workplace experiences? If they use remedial voice, what is their go-to form of it, if any? What factors determine which form of remedial voice they use? Does this vary with the type and source of the mistreatment experienced? Do other factors such as stereotype threat affect whether or not they remedial voice? Finally, which form of remedial voice is associated with better or worse mental health?

These are some important questions that we are hoping to find answers to in this research project.

What are those benefits?

First of all, remedial voicing about the stressful and emotional experience of interpersonal mistreatment has the potential to result in positive well-being outcomes for the targeted employee. Furthermore, by remedial voicing, employees can provide their organization the opportunity to address the perceived mistreatment.

We hope that this research will help shed light on how best to use remedial voice as a Black woman in Canada to ensure that the mistreatment is addressed; thus resulting in positive mental well-being for them.

What do you anticipate being some of these applied benefits?

This is one area where my co-investigator, Dr. Chika-James' expertise in organizational change is really significant. While we are interested in answering the questions of how and why Black women in Canada remedial voice and the links to their mental health, we also want to look at what this means for organizations. We hope we can identify some specific guidelines that organizations can leverage to facilitate the reduced occurrence of interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace against Black women; and to promote or encourage remedial voicing that ensures their mental health.

Ultimately, we hope that organizations will consider our findings when working to create respectful workplaces.

You’ve completed a pilot study already; what are you looking for in this larger study?

The goal of the pilot study was two-fold. First, we wanted to ensure that our research validated measures were appropriate and would allow us to answer our research questions. Second, we wanted to assess technical issues such as the length of survey, the time required to complete it, and the design of the survey.

We knew that we would encounter some limitations with using the particular platforms we used for the pilot study; in particular, we knew that we might not obtain a high number of participants given our specific target population – Black women 19 and over working and residing in Canada. Nevertheless, the pilot study was quite helpful in terms of facilitating the refinement of the main surveys.

In the next phase of the project (that is, currently), we are moving on to the main studies which involves launching two Canada-wide national surveys, the first of which went live on June 20, 2022. We plan to launch the second survey in eight weeks’ time.

How can interested participants take part in this project?

We invite any interested Black women 19 years and older who are working and residing in Canada to take part in our surveys, which can be accessed by visiting our project website, www.remedialvoiceatwork.ca.

More information

Dr. Mercy Oyet (orcid) | Faculty of Business | Dr. Theresa Chika-James (orcid) (MacEwan University)

Research at UNB | Graduate Studies at UNB | Postdoctoral fellowships