ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (7): 1149-1162.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.01149

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

When will employees report their errors? A perspective from secret revealing framework

ZHANG Kaili1, YIN Kui2(), TANG Ningyu3,4   

  1. 1 School of Business, East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai 200237, China
    2 School of Economics and Management, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing 100083, China
    3 Antai College of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai 200030, China
    4 School of Management, Hainan University, Haikou 570228, China
  • Received:2020-06-30 Online:2021-07-15 Published:2021-05-24
  • Contact: YIN Kui


Errors are not rare in organizations. However, prior studies have mostly focused on error management to highlight the important role of organizations to deal with errors, while overlooking the importance of error detection. Since error detection works as the initial and key step for error management, it is important to investigate how errors are detected in organizations. It has been well acknowledged that external error monitoring and individuals’ proactive error reporting work as two main ways for error detection. External error monitoring is shown by colleagues and system error detection. Colleagues can detect errors by supervising others’ tasks, while systems can monitor errors when data fail to reach or exceed the thresholds. However, colleagues may fail to detect errors when they lack the knowledge about others’ work goals and work schedules, and system monitoring is not designed to monitor every work flow, which leads to some equally important errors go undetected. Hence, individuals’ proactive error reporting behavior become rather important. Focusing on employees’ proactive error reporting behavior, this study tries to show the factors that contributing to employees’ error reporting behavior in organizations.

Errors are defined as individuals’ unintentional deviance behavior, which is potentially avoidable. After error commission, individuals tend to hide rather than report errors. Following the above, we treat errors as individuals’ workplace secrets and apply secret revealing framework to build our model. In secret revealing framework, the visibility and severity of secrets would lead to individuals’ emotional (i.e., anxiety) and cognitive stress (i.e., rumination), which then lead them to take secret revealing behavior. In this line, we propose that error characteristics as shown by error visibility and error severity to have positive relationships with employees’ anxiety and rumination. In particular, error visibility describes how easily the errors can be noticed by colleagues, while error severity shows the extent to which the errors can have impact on organizational performance. High error visibility or high error severity can lead to employees’ high anxiety and rumination, which then led to employees’ error reporting behavior. Hence, anxiety and rumination mediate the positive relationships between error characteristics and error reporting behavior. Moreover, we further propose that felt obligation to report, which refers to the evaluations about whether the self should report errors after error commission, can also impact employees’ reactions towards their errors. Specifically, when errors have high visibility or severity, employees will generate high obligation to report to ultimately enhance error reporting behavior.

Furthermore, whether will employees take error reporting behavior is also influenced by the context. In secret revealing framework, individual characteristics, the relationship with the partner, and environment can exert important influence on the relationships between secret characteristics and individuals’ secret revealing behavior. In consideration of the error management literature, we come to propose that employees’ personal characteristic - conscientiousness, leadership behavior - leader tolerance, and team climate - team psychological safety moderate the relationships between error characteristics and employees’ anxiety, rumination, and felt obligation to report as well as the indirect relationships between error characteristics and error reporting behavior. In short, applying the secret revealing framework, this study builds an overall framework to show how error characteristics may impact employees’ rumination, anxiety, and felt obligation to report to influence their error reporting behavior; moreover, it shows how individual differences, leadership behavior, and team climate may impact the above relationships to exert influence on employees’ error reporting in organizations.

Key words: error reporting, secret revealing, error severity, error visibility, multilevel framework

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