Featured Topic: Voice Behavior

Voice behavior, defined by Van Dyne, Cummings, and McLean Parks (1995) as “proactively challenging the status quo and making constructive suggestions” (p. 266), is becoming more prominent in organizational, behavioral, and personality research.

Innovation is reliant on employees taking the initiative in suggesting new methods of identifying and approaching opportunities, and handling problems. Voice behavior is one way in which employees can share their ideas with supervisors (speaking up) and coworkers (speaking out; see Liu & Liao, 2013); however, it can be an intimidating prospect, especially for people who have recently joined the organization, because it may be perceived that the employee is criticizing well-established practices.

As such, certain conditions must be met to create a positive work environment that encourages employees to engage in voice behavior. Transformational leadership, which entails establishing a system of common goals among employees, actively engaging with employees by promoting collaboration, and encouraging identification with an organizational vision (Ruggieri & Abbate, 2013), is one variable that appears to facilitate the development of such an environment (Liu & Liao, 2013; Wang, Qian, Ou, Huang, Xu, & Xia, 2016). While voice behavior does require active effort on the part of the employee, it is clear that leaders or supervisors also have a role to play in setting up the conditions that promote this behavior.

In addition to organization-related and behavioral factors, voice behavior has been linked to one of our main areas of publication: personality psychology. Xie, Chu, Zhang, and Huang (2014) reported that voice self-efficacy mediates and perceived delegation of tasks moderates the effect of proactive personality on voice behavior. Further, Liu, Liao, Liao, and Wei (2014) examined some of the components of the Big Five model of personality, observing that voice behavior was positively influenced by extraversion and conscientiousness, and negatively influenced by neuroticism.

One common thread linking the above variables to voice behavior is trust (see, e.g., Kim, Kang, Kim, & You, 2014; Wang et al., 2016). Essentially, the perception by employees that they are able to trust supervisors or employers is associated with the use of voice behavior, whereas a lack of trust induces unwillingness to speak up. Intentionally holding back information (i.e., employee silence, which is the opposite to engaging in voice behavior; Huang & Huang, 2016) can have particularly negative consequences in some contexts, such as nurses’ unwillingness to report near misses regarding medical errors (Kim et al., 2014). In contrast, having a positive relationship with one’s supervisor (in the case of Kim et al., through establishing strong leader–member exchange) increases the occurrence of voice behavior.

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Van Dyne, L., Cummings, L. L., & McLean Parks, J. (1995). Extra-role behaviors: In pursuit of construct and definitional clarity (a bridge over muddied waters). In B. M. Staw & L. L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior: An annual series of analytical essays and critical reviews (pp. 215–285). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.