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Informed Employee Voice and Organizational Engagement

Informed Employee Voice and Organizational Engagement

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Published by Kevin Ruck
This paper explores the connection between employee voice and organisational engagement.
This paper explores the connection between employee voice and organisational engagement.

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Published by: Kevin Ruck on Jan 06, 2011
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Exploring the connection between informed employee voice andorganisational engagement
The term “employee voice” has a relatively long history in academic literature, datingback to the 1970s when Hirschman (1970) used it in relation to employees' efforts tochange dissatisfying work situations. This was a focus on declining firms andemployees in terms of exit and voice
According to Wilkinson
et al 
(2004) the word‘voice’ was popularised by Freeman and Medoff (1984) who argued that it madegood sense for both company and workforce to have a ‘voice’ mechanism. Spencer (1986) developed this theme and concluded that giving employees opportunities tovoice their dissatisfaction increased the likelihood that they would stay with theorganisation. However, Spencer (1986, p. 500) also noted that “…On theorganizational level of analysis, future research should consider not only formal voicemechanisms and their quality, but also informal organizational cultures that createand sustain those mechanisms”. This has led to wider thinking about employee voiceand according to Van Dyne
et al 
(2003, p. 1369) the management literature containstwo major conceptualizations. The first approach describes speaking up behaviour such as when employees proactively make suggestions for change. The seconduses the term to describe procedures that enhance justice judgments and facilitateemployee participation in decision making. This implies both informal and formalmechanisms are required, though little attention has been given in the literature to anopen organisational culture that accepts and promotes voice in these ways.Summarising the literature, Van Dyne
et al 
(2003, p. 1370) conclude that the termvoice is used to “represent the intentional expression of work-related ideas,information, and opinions”. Budd
et al 
(2010, p. 305) argue that there is now arenaissance in interest in participation, based on economic (generation of higher levels of performance in the post mass production era), moral/ethic, and pragmaticgrounds.This paper explores different dimensions of voice and argues that voice is dependentupon employees being well informed; employees can only use their voice effectivelyif their ideas and suggestions are based upon a strong understanding of what ishappening in the organisation. This leads on to the concept of 
informed employeevoice
, which in turn, can potentially contribute to higher levels of employeeengagement.
Copyright: Kevin RuckContact: kevin.ruck@pracademy.co.uk
Employee voice is a multi-dimensional construct
According to Van Dyne
et al 
(2003, p. 1370) it is incorrect to think of employee voiceas a single construct and they propose three specific types of voice; ProSocial Voice,Defensive Voice, and Acquiescent Voice (see table 1 below).
Expressing solutions toproblems based oncooperationSuggesting constructiveideas for change tobenefit the organization
Expressing ideas that shiftattention elsewhere basedon fear Proposing ideas that focuson others to protect theself 
Expressing supportiveideas based onresignationAgreeing with the groupdue to low self efficacyto make a differenceTable 1 ProSocial Voice, Defensive Voice, and Acquiescent VoiceThis approach is based on three specific employee motives within the existingmanagement literature on silence and voice: disengaged behaviour based onresignation, self-protective behaviour based on fear, and other oriented behaviour based on cooperation. It is a useful extension of the concept that illustrates some of the underlying reasons that drive the way that employees express their voice. For thepurposes of this paper, informed employee voice is discussed primarily from theconcept of ProSocial voice as this is where organisational wide practices arefocused. This is not to downplay the importance of understanding Defensive andAcquiescent Voice. Indeed, effective employee engagement practices need toensure that fear and resignation are minimised in order to gain maximum benefits for the employee and the organisation.In an alternative approach, Dundon
et al 
(2004, p. 1152) suggest four categories of employee voice; individual dissatisfaction, collective organisation (as a counter to thepower of management), management decision-making, and mutuality (a partnershipfor long term sustainability). This extends the concept to include the idea thatemployees work in partnership with senior managers for the benefit of theorganisation. Liu
et al 
(2009, p. 191) point out that there are three alternativecharacteristics of voice; discretionary (it’s not actually required), challenge oriented,and potentially risky (it may be viewed negatively or damage relationships). The risksinvolved may explain why employees are “usually reluctant to voice their thoughts”
Copyright: Kevin RuckContact: kevin.ruck@pracademy.co.uk
et al,
2010, p.189). These perspectives on voice highlight the complexity of theconcept and the differing reasons why voice is, or is not, used.Wilkinson
et al 
(2004, pp. 6-7) take a broader, multi-dimensional approach toemployee voice, suggesting that is based upon five factors:
communication/exchange of views (an opportunity for employees andmanagers to exchange views about issues)
upward problem-solving
(an opportunity for employees to provide feedbackon specific topics)
collective representation (an opportunity for employee representatives tocommunicate the views of the workforce to managers)
(a feeling on the part of staff that they are able to express their views to managers in an open environment)
a say about issues (the opportunity not just to have a ‘voice’ on issues but anexpectation that these views will be taken into account and may lead tochanges in how decisions are made).This is essentially a communicative process with an emphasis on openness andupward feedback that is taken seriously. In a qualitative study of employee voice,Wilkinson
et al 
(2004, p.7) conclude that voice as communication was by far the mostcommon immediate response to the question asking managers to explain their understanding of the term ‘voice’. For example, the HR Manager at Eiretel is quotedas saying that, “voice is about corporate communications and the strategy isdesigned in such a way that all employees can represent their views to management,rather than it just being the other way around”. However, the importance of informingemployees so that they are able to make an effective contribution is omitted from thisdiscussion. The critical importance of being well informed is supported by academicresearch conducted for the CIPD by Truss (2006, p. 45) that identified the three mainfactors that influence employee engagement as; 1) having opportunities to feed your views upwards, 2) feeling well informed about what is happening in the organization,and 3) thinking that your manager is committed to your organization. The thirdaspect, management commitment to the organization, points to the importance of thequality of the processes rather than the processes themselves.
Copyright: Kevin RuckContact: kevin.ruck@pracademy.co.uk

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