Speaking up, safely: Effects of employee voice on the quality of employees’ informal social relationships

Birgit Pauksztat

Contact: birgit.pauksztat@fek.uu.se

Employee voice, or speaking up, is the discretionary communication of ideas or concerns in order to improve organizational functioning. As the first step towards addressing and resolving problems and improving less-than-optimal situations, employee voice can be beneficial for both employees and organizations. However, voice is also perceived as a highly risky activity, which may damage the speakers’ relationships with other members of their organization. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, to examine the effects of employee voice on the quality of employees’ informal social relations (here: friendship; negative ties) with other members of their organization. And second, to explore the effectiveness of employees’ strategies for containing the perceived riskiness of voice. The focus is on the effects of two types of voice networks: making suggestions, and pointing out problems. In addition, a third communication network, i.e. “discussing problems” with others in order to vent or get their views about a problem, is considered. Data came from three waves of employee surveys in several small and medium-size organizations in Finland, and were analysed using stochastic actor-oriented modeling, as implemented in RSiena. Preliminary findings suggest that overall the effects of voice might be less negative than expected: making suggestions and pointing out problems tended to increase the likelihood of friendship ties, and had no effect on negative ties. Discussing problems increased the likelihood of friendship ties, and reduced the likelihood of negative ties. Moreover, discussing problems was highly correlated with employee voice, suggesting that the positive effect of voice on friendship may be due to the close associations between employee voice and discussing problems. Taken together, the findings highlight the beneficial role of “discussing problems” in relation to employee voice. In contrast to previous studies, which suggested that “discussing problems” may be an undesirable form of gossiping that hinders efficient problem solving, the present study suggests that discussing problems with others may be an important way of reducing the riskiness of voice.

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