Speaking up to higher-ups: How supervisors and skip-level leaders influence employee voice

James R. Detert, Linda K. Trevino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this qualitative research, we enhance understanding of leader influences on employee voice perceptions by examining Iwhich leaders influence these perceptions and why these influences occur. We conducted 89 interviews in a hightech multinational corporation with employees at multiple levels in two manufacturing and two R&D units that differed significantly on "speak up"-related items on a company-wide employee survey. Systematic analysis of the interview data led us to conclude that a broad spectrum of leaders from supervisors to senior managers influences individual employee voice perceptions in both direct and indirect ways. For example, informants referred to "skip-level leaders," those leaders two to five levels above themselves, as reasons to view voice as risky or futile nearly as often as they referred to immediate bosses. We present evidence related to "how" and "why" these patterns of influence occur by reviewing the direct and indirect modes of influence identified and by outlining the managerial functions that provide occasions for skip-level leaders to have direct influences on employee voice perceptions. We also point to differences in the specific echelons of leadership that were most influential across the units studied. We propose that multilevel, multileader influences on voice perceptions result naturally from modern workflows, the essential functions performed by skip-level leaders, and deepseated employee attitudes about authority in hierarchical organizations. We propose further that differences in which levels of skip-level leadership are most critical to employee voice perceptions in different units depend on which leaders have the power to handle strategic contingencies and to resolve key uncertainties within particular work environments. Finally, we delve into the theoretical implications of our findings to offer a set of research propositions that can be tested in future research. Collectively, our findings point to a complex and nuanced picture of multilevel leader influences on employee voice perceptions with important practical implications for management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-270
Number of pages22
JournalOrganization Science
Volume21
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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