Voice in Organizations

Voice refers to the expression of challenging but constructive work-related suggestions, ideas, and opinions. Research on voice in organizations explores why people speak up or remain silent about their ideas and the benefits to individuals and organizations when people choose to speak up.

My work expands knowledge on voice by focusing on a number of questions:

First, I explore why managers are often reluctant to seek employees' voice and/or react negatively when such voice is communicated. For example, in one paper, I showed how managers' lack of personal control (that is, their perception that they lack freedom and influence to affect their environment) leads them to seek less voice from employees. In another example, I explore how when employees voice in public (vs. private), managers are more likely to see such voice as a threat and provide less support to ideas voiced. In one last example, I explore why managers with high self-efficacy, or confidence in their ability, might be less likely to seek employees’ feedback.

Second, I explore factors that make it more or less likely for employees to speak up about specific topics. In one published paper, I shows that men are less likely to speak up about gender-parity initiatives, because of their poor psychological standing, or perceptions of their legitimacy to speak up about an issue.

Finally, I explore how distributions of voice in team settings affect teams’ performance. For instance, when most of the voice in the team is concentrated in one individual, this can have adverse effect for the team. However, my research suggests that this adverse effect depends on the personality of the central member. More reflective members can help teams, while more dominant members can end up harming internal team processes.

Selected Voice Research

With Subrahmaniam Tangirala and Katy Connealy Weber

Attempts to improve gender parity in the workplace are more effective when organizations mobilize their entire workforce, including men, to participate by contributing ideas, volunteering, or serving as champions in gender-parity initiatives. Frequently, however, men avoid participating in such initiatives. Importantly, even men who show positive attitudes toward such initiatives often hesitate to participate. This paper explains one reason for such hesitation and suggests ways organizations can address this challenge. Four studies indicate that men often believe they have a lower psychological standing with respect to gender-parity initiatives, that is, they believe they don’t have the legitimacy to participate. Quite simply, they think, “It’s not my place.” In our studies, we show that low psychological standing explains men’s poor participation even when accounting for possible sexist or discriminatory attitudes toward gender parity. Recognizing this phenomenon, organizations can increase men’s participation in gender-parity initiatives by specifically inducing psychological standing, for instance, by stating how men’s participation is critical to the initiatives and the organization itself. These overt actions can give men the psychological standing—and permission—to participate and enhance their involvement.

With Ruchi SinhaSubrahmaniam Tangirala, and Nikhil Awasty

When employees candidly speak up at work with their ideas, concerns, or opinions, their teams can become better at detecting and responding to problems and opportunities in the environment. Not surprisingly, strategies for encouraging employees’ voice have, of late, become a frequent topic for discussion for leaders. Yet, although leaders can create abundant opportunities for employees to speak up, not all employees equally use those opportunities. Rather, often, one or two individuals in the team can usurp a disproportionate amount of “air time” while the others silently standby. Unequal airtime for employees can prevent the surfacing of diverse viewpoints, which are crucial for teams trying to make sense of their complex environment. It can make teams excessively reliant on a mere sub-set of employees and become collectively less intelligent. Yet, is that always the case? In this paper, we investigated how the “distribution” of voice amongst employees can impact team effectiveness. We found that teams in which employees had unequal speaking times suffered adverse outcomes only when employees who tend to speak more than their teammates also were driven by a need for social dominance, characterized by excessive assertiveness or attention seeking.  In contrast, when employee who speak up more than their teammates were driven by a reflective mentality, characterized by self-discipline and deliberativeness, the teams escape the worst and perform as well as teams that have egalitarian speaking patterns..

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