Author(s), Title and Publication

Emelifeonwu, J. C., & Valk, R. (2019). Employee voice and silence in multinational corporations in the mobile telecommunications industry in Nigeria. Employee Relations, 41(1), 228-252. doi:10.1108/ER-04-2017-0073


Employee voice is an instrument through which employees can sway the employer’s decision-making process via informal and formal channels for the purpose of cultivating communication, engaging employees and increasing workers’ obligations and performance. Voice can thus be perceived as a mechanism for productive cooperation between capital and labor, which invariably increases the long-term sustainability of a firm and the economic welfare of workers. The authors of the current study focused on employee voice in an unexplored part of the world, Nigeria, and investigated how macro-level contextual factors, specifically the Sub-Saharan African culture and the labor market situation, affect employee voice across organizations in the telecommunication industry in Nigeria. In-depth interviews were conducted in 2012 with 30 employees from two different multinational organizations and an indigenous organization in the mobile telecommunication industry. The research took place in the customer service departments of the three organizations because that is where the core business takes place.

The results revealed that participants perceived culture as the most important factor impacting voice. The influence of culture and ethnic nationalism in the Nigerian work environment came to the fore in the interviews. Ethnic nationalism demands loyalty and comfort of expression among people of the same tribe. In this context, ethnic nationalism in the workplace means that employees will more likely be reserved and cautious when they build relationships with superior officers of a different tribe. This is the situation unless otherwise proven over time that the superior officer is not inclined to tribal sentiments that are ubiquitous in Nigeria. The study also found that a considerable number of employees were reluctant and afraid to speak up to their boss or to management about critical issues of concern at work because of fear of victimization and job loss. The study argued that employees were not actively taking part or were holding back on sharing important ideas, in part because of perceived powerlessness. Additionally, the authors found that power distance between subordinates and supervisors and people from different tribes as well as high unemployment rates resulted in silence. With regard to effective employee voice mechanisms, the study found that in the Nigerian environment, unions are not the best vehicles for employee voice and highlighted the value of culturally adapted non-unionized voice arrangements.

Implications for Practice

Organization should (1) consult with employees and convey sincere receptivity to their input, and nurture a workplace climate that places value on open communication, and (2) organize “Employee Voice Meetings” that offer opportunities for networking and expressing employee voice in order to jointly find solutions for organizational problems and explore ideas for new product and service offerings.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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