In This Article Employee Voice

  • Introduction
  • Early History of the Voice Literature
  • Modern History of Voice
  • Voice versus Silence
  • Antecedents to Voice
  • Contextual Factors Influencing Voice
  • Voice Outcomes
  • Future Trends

Management Employee Voice
by
John J. Sumanth, R. David Lebel
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0109

Introduction

In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing global economy, organizations are continually searching for good ideas that will help them gain a competitive advantage. One of the ways firms attempt to gain this valuable insight is by encouraging high levels of employee voice. Defined in the organizational behavior literature as employees’ discretionary communication of ideas, observations, or suggestions for improvement that are intended to positively influence their organization, employee voice (or voice, as it is commonly known) has become an important measure of employee engagement and organizational citizenship. At its heart, voice is about employees trying to affect positive change in their organizations, whether it be improving their personal work situations or minimizing the natural status and power differences that often distinguish labor from management in modern organizational hierarchies. Although the concept of voice has been written about for over 240 years, dating back to the Industrial Revolution and Adam Smith and across a wide variety of academic disciplines (e.g., economics, law, human resource management, industrial relations, organizational behavior), voice research has grown exponentially in just the past thirty to forty years. One reason for this is the many benefits voice has been shown empirically to produce for both individuals and their organizations. Research indicates these benefits include the early identification of problems, enhanced creativity and innovation, enhanced unit and organizational performance, reduced accidents and safer workplaces, improved decision making, greater learning among colleagues, and higher employee job satisfaction. For these reasons and more, encouraging higher levels of employee voice has become a mantra for many leaders seeking to improve their organizations. Yet, despite these numerous benefits of voice, several gaps in the voice literature still remain. Additional research is needed to better understand how these numerous benefits of voice come about and what leaders can do to increase the likelihood that voice will actually have a positive impact. Further, very little research has been conducted looking at the potential downsides or costs of encouraging more voice. To date, much of the voice literature has focused on identifying the many antecedents of voice (as we will describe below), while some emerging work has begun to explore the consequences of voice. Thus, while the voice literature has made tremendous strides in the past few decades, in many ways it is still burgeoning and in need of further refinement and advancement.

General Overviews

In just the past few years, organizational scholars have written several excellent comprehensive reviews of the voice literature in an effort to summarize and advance future discussion and research on the topic. In an effort to bring greater parsimony to this growing body of work, voice scholars have generally used a discipline-specific and segmented approach to this important undertaking. Apart from a few multidisciplinary attempts at organizing and reviewing the literature (see Mowbray, et al. 2015 and Wilkinson, et al. 2014, both cited under Multidisciplinary), most reviews on the topic have been written specific to the academic discipline in which voice is operationalized, whether it be human resource management, industrial and labor relations or organizational behavior. Within the organizational behavior literature, Morrison 2011 and Morrison 2014 (both cited under Organizational Behavior) are two extensive reviews on employee voice. The first highlights the motives for voice and the individual and situational factors that increase voice behavior. The more recent review focuses on these topics as well, while also devoting considerable time to describing new research on the outcomes of voice. Most recently, Bashshur and Oc 2015 (cited under Organizational Behavior) provides a general review explaining the various implications of voice across different levels of analysis (i.e., individual, group, and organization), while discussing potential boundary conditions and mediating mechanisms that may influence the effect voice has on important proximal and distal outcomes.

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