U.S – In a study led by researchers at Penn State University’s School of Hospitality Management, the impact of organizational leadership styles on employees voicing food safety concerns has been unveiled.

The research, spearheaded by Dr. Heyao “Chandler” Yu, Assistant Professor, and Elizabeth M. King, Early Career Professor of Hospitality Management, sheds light on the motivations driving employees to speak up and the pivotal role leadership plays in shaping these voices.

Conducted through a survey involving 239 food handlers in 66 restaurants across Taiwan, the research asserts the global relevance of its findings.

The key focus was on understanding how leadership styles influence employee food safety advocacy and how specific motivations act as moderators between leadership styles and employees’ willingness to express concerns.

Dr. Yu highlighted the significance of two motivations related to social desirability: “agentic motivation,” empowering individuals with knowledge, and “communal motivation,” stemming from a desire not to be disliked.

Both motivations can be shaped by leadership to guide employees in expressing their concerns either in a “promotive” or “prohibitive” manner. “Promotive voice” reinforces food safety behaviors and is more readily perceived as positive, while “prohibitive voice” involves speaking out about safety concerns, potentially risking personal interpretations.

Creating an environment where employees feel safe to voice concerns about improper food safety practices is vital, according to Dr. Yu.

Ethical leadership, emphasizing fairness and the collective benefit of constructive criticism, plays a pivotal role in fostering such an environment. Managers are urged to cultivate an atmosphere where criticisms are not taken personally but are viewed as contributions to the overall safety of the workplace.

The study emphasizes the importance of strong bonds between managers and employees, as these relationships enhance the impact of ethical leadership on both prohibitive and promotive voices.

Dr. Yu concludes that leaders must prioritize reinforcing food safety, setting exemplary standards, and fostering positive relationships with workers to mitigate the risk of dangerous food safety practices leading to outbreaks or crises.

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