Interventions promoting employee “speaking-up” within healthcare workplaces: A systematic narrative review of the international literature

Aled Jones*, Joanne Blake, Mary Adams, Daniel Kelly, Russell Mannion, Jill Maben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Healthcare systems worldwide increasingly value the contribution of employee voice in ensuring the quality of patient care. Although employees’ concerns are often dealt with satisfactorily, considerable evidence suggests that some employees may feel unable to speak-up, and even when they do their concerns may be ignored. As a result, in addition to trans-national and national policies, workplace interventions that support employees to speak-up about their concerns have recently increased. Methods: A systematic narrative review, informed by complex systems perspectives addresses the question: “What workplace strategies and/or interventions have been implemented to promote speaking-up by employees”? Results: Thirty-four studies were included in the review. Most studies reported inconclusive results. Researchers explanations for the successful implementation, or otherwise, of speak-up interventions were synthesised into two narrative themes (Braithwaite et al., 2018 (a)) hierarchical, interdisciplinary and cultural relationships and (Francis, 2015 (b)) psychological safety. Conclusions: We strengthen the existing evidence base by providing an in-depth critique of the complex system factors influencing the implementation of speak-up interventions within the healthcare workforce. Although many of the studies were locally unique, there were international similarities in workplace cultures and norms that created contexts inimical to speaking-up interventions. Changing communication behaviours and creating a climate that supports speaking-up is immensely challenging. Interventions can be usurped in practice by complex, emergent and contextual issues, such as pre-existing socio-cultural relationships and workplace hierarchies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-384
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Healthcare policy
  • Healthcare systems
  • Narrative review
  • Patient safety
  • Speaking-up
  • Workplace culture


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