“Everyone else does it like that”: A social influence perspective on employees’ decisions to voice
Existing scholarship on employee voice behaviour has highlighted the role of social norms in influencing the decision to speak up. However, most of this work has focused on examining general perceptions of organizational norms, including voice and ethical climates. These studies fail to account for the different motivations and reasons as to why individuals consult others at work before speaking up. It also does not account for the specific mechanisms that can either strengthen or weaken the effect of norms on voice behaviour. This thesis aims to address these gaps through a programmatic series of three studies that clarify (1) how others influence an individual’s voice decision, (2) how specific normative mechanisms influence employee decisions to engage in voice and (3) whether norms influence the use of different voice channels to raise different types of issues.
Study 1 is a qualitative study with the primary objective of understanding the role of others in employees’ decisions to exercise voice. A total of 17 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with public sector employees. The findings from the pilot study confirmed scholarly arguments that employees tend to consult with their co-workers before they speak up. The findings also highlighted that before voicing up, employees consider their co-workers’ voicing behaviours in similar situations (that is, descriptive norms) and the extent to which speaking up would be approved or disapproved of by their co-workers and supervisors (that is, injunctive norms). Results from Study 1 informed the development of the theoretical model tested in Study 2 and Study 3.
Drawing from the theory of normative social behaviour (TNSB) (Rimal & Real, 2003; 2005), Study 2 aimed to further examine the relationships between descriptive and injunctive norms about speaking up and account for specific mechanisms that moderate these relationships. We tested our hypotheses using data gathered from 273 full-time employees via an online survey. The findings confirm that descriptive norms about speaking up are positively related to intentions to engage in both promotive and prohibitive voice. Furthermore, results showed that injunctive norms (co-workers’ approval of promotive voice), past promotive voice behaviour and trust in co-workers moderated the relationship between descriptive norms and intentions to engage in promotive voice. Similarly, injunctive norms (co-workers’ approval of prohibitive voice) and past prohibitive voice behaviour moderated the relationship between descriptive norms and intentions to engage in prohibitive voice.
Study 3 extended both Studies 1 and 2 by examining the role of norms on the use of voice channels (for example, private vs. public channels for speaking up). Data was collected from 318 employees, again using an online survey. Results demonstrated that norms associated with raising an issue through a particular channel influenced individuals’ intentions to use specific channels to raise specific issues.
This thesis makes two key contributions to the literature on employee voice. First, in examining descriptive and injunctive norms separately rather than together as has been the general practice in previous voice research (see, for example, Whiting et al., 2012; Avey et al., 2012), this thesis extends the existing voice literature by examining the influence of descriptive and injunctive voice norms on voice behaviour separately. In doing so, this thesis highlights the significant role co-workers play in influencing an individual’s decision to voice from a norms perspective where co-workers contribute to the development of different norms for different voice behaviours. Furthermore, looking at the effect of norms specific to an issue raised through a particular channel, this thesis makes a second contribution to the literature by demonstrating that to encourage the use of a particular voice mechanism, the organizational designers of said mechanism, most frequently managers, ought to consider collective perceptions/norms surrounding the use of that channel.