Topic: Upward Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication
Burris, E. R. (2012). The risks and rewards of speaking up: Managerial responses to employee voice. Academy of Management Journal, 55(4), 851-875.

This article examined how restaurant managers respond to employee voice with three studies. Employee voice includes 1) challenging voice, which is intended to alter or modify accepted policies or practices, and 2) supportive voice, which is intended to support or defend existing policies or practices.

Study 1 tested whether managers’ responses differ according to the two types of voice. The data were collected from 281 store managers and their supervisors in 281 restaurants by measuring employees’ voice type (i.e., challenging voice and supportive voice) and their performance evaluation. Results showed that managers rated employees engaging in supportive voice more positively, whereas employees engaging in challenging voice were more frequently rated as poorer performers.

Study 2 compared managers’ evaluations of employees who engage in challenging voice and those engaging in supportive voice. In an experiment, 45 MBA students, executive MBA students, and working professionals acted as managers, read materials representing employee’s challenging or supportive voice, and evaluated the employee’s performance and loyalty, the threat they felt from the employee voice, and the extent to which they might adopt the employee’s idea(s). Employees engaging in challenging voice were rated as less loyal and more threatening than those engaging in supportive voice. These employees were also rated as poorer performers, and their ideas were less likely to be accepted by managers.

In the third study, 51 teams of four undergraduates participated in an experiment. Each team member was assigned to one of four roles on a management team: chief of operations, retail manager, central warehouse manager, or trucking operations manager. Team members worked together to make decisions about the supply strategy for the new music department in a small bookstore chain. The experiment measured team members’ voice type, performance rating, loyalty, perceived threat by the leader, and whether their suggestions might be endorsed by the leader. Engaging in a challenging voice was found to be more frequently associated with lower endorsement and lower performance evaluations.

Implications for Practice
An organization may want to encourage creativeness and innovation by training managers to respond to challenging voice positively and treat it as an opportunity, as well as rewarding both the employees who provide suggestions and the managers who act upon the suggestions.

Location of Article
The 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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