Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Legitimacy to Employee Voice: Role of Process Intervention

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Legitimacy to Employee Voice: Role of Process Intervention

Article excerpt


The concept of employee voice was first introduced by Hirschman in his book "Exit, Voice and Loyalty" in 1970. Attempts have since been made by researchers to identify organizational and individual factors that encourage employees to express their voice to their managers. Employee voice has been recognized as an important source of organizational adaptation to challenges of change. Thus the need for creating an organizational climate in which employees are encouraged to speak the truth becomes imperative (Collins, 2001). Conversely, lack of employee voice "can exact a high psychological price on individuals, generating feelings of humiliation, pernicious anger, resentment, and the like that, if unexpressed, contaminate every interaction, shut down creativity, and undermine productivity" (Perlow & Williams, 2003).

Historically, trade unions have been seen as the major institutional form that acted as powerful channel for employees to voice their grievances and dissatisfaction relating to conditions of employment and treatment at workplace. Expression of employee voice through the unions enabled employees to air their concerns and protected them from being penalized. During the past two decades or so, it has been increasingly realized that employees voice through unions has its own limitations and needs to be broad based to include direct voice mechanisms within a variety of non-union settings (McCabe & Lewin, 1992; McLoughlin & Gourlay, 1994; Terry, 1999; Benson, 2000; Gollan, 2003, 2006; Butler, 2005; Dietz et al., 2005; Dundon, et al., 2005; Machin & Wood, 2005; Taras & Kaufman, 2006; Bryson & Freeman, 2007; Dundon & Gollan, 2007).

With increased emphasis on employee participation organizations have instituted formal mechanisms such as suggestion schemes, grievance redressal system, quality circles and even open door policies. Many of these mechanisms often are not able to achieve the desired objectives if the management does not have the will to take appropriate action. In the UK Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (WIRS), it has been observed that the nature of voice channels has changed considerably in the 80s and 90s (Michie & Sheehan, 1999). There has been more of direct non-union voice mechanisms such as joint consultation, management employee meetings, project teams and self management teams serving as collective form of employee voice. These notions challenge the view that trade unions are the only source of collective voice and that other voice mechanisms may be more appropriate at different levels of the organization (McCabe & Lewin, 1992; Benson & Brown, 2010).

Over the years, the scope of employee voice has expanded to include efforts by the employees to improve working conditions. Rusbult, et. al (1988) have defined voice as "actively and constructively trying to improve conditions through discussing problems with a supervisor or co-workers, taking action to solve problems, suggesting solutions, seeking help from an outside agency like a union, or whistle blowing". It has been further observed that employee voice can act as "promotive behavior that emphasizes expression of constructive challenge intended to improve rather than criticize" (Gordon, Infante, & Graham, 1988). In the same spirit, Detert's & Burris '(2007) have conceptualized voice as "verbal behavior that is improvement oriented and directed to a specific target that holds power inside the organization."

Employee Participation as a Voice Mechanism

It was during the 60s and 70s that trade unions in India emerged as a powerful force in maintaining and improving the terms and conditions of employment of their members in private and public sector undertakings.

To achieve this aim, the unions were able to mobilize resources at the local, national and international level and seek active support of political parties and the government. …

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