Do you have a voice at work? Do you know when to speak up or say nothing? These are some of the aspects of employee voice and are issues we all face daily at work.

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In recent years, many organisational disasters such as the Space shuttle Challenger, Enron, United Airlines 173, Bundaberg’s ‘Dr Death’ case and Rana Plaza (the Bangladesh garments factory), could have been averted if there had been effective voice channels. In other words, the organisation had information regarding problems, but did not access it or did not act based on the information.

The newly released book: Handbook of Research on Employee Voice (2nd edition), co-edited by WOW Director Professor Adrian Wilkinson, together with Jimmy Donaghey (Unisa), Tony Dundon (Limerick & Manchester) and Richard Freeman (Harvard) presents up-to-date analysis from various academic streams and disciplines that illuminate our understanding of employee voice from a range of different perspectives. This wide-ranging Handbook demonstrates that research on employee voice has gone beyond union and non-union voices to build a wider and deeper knowledge base.

Professor Adrian Wilkinson

Exploring the previously under-represented paradigm of the organisational behaviour approach, new chapters take account of a broader conceptualisation of employee voice. Written by expert contributors, including WOW academics Professor Michael Barry, Dr Paula Mowbray, Professor Keith Townsend and adjuncts Associate Professor Ariel Avgar (Cornell) and Professor Bruce Kaufman (Georgia State), this Handbook explores the meaning and impact of employee voice for various stakeholders and considers the ways in which these actors engage with voice processes such as collective bargaining, individual processes, mutual gains, task-based voice and grievance procedures.

They develop a broad and inclusive definition of employee voice as:

 ‘the ways and means through which employees attempt to have a say, formally and/or informally, collectively and/or individually, potentially to influence organizational affairs relating to issues that affect their work, their interests, and the interests of managers and owners’.

Utilising the above definition helps unpack the meaning of employee voice. The spotlight must also focus on management in terms of what management seek from voice; how management facilitate and respond to worker voice; and the effects of worker voice on organisational decision-making. 

In terms of pursuing the interests of workers, diminishing union density in advanced economies has shifted the form of voice in most organisations and countries from collective and unionised channels of representation to direct and individualised mechanisms, some of which exist alongside unions as a dual method while others are exclusively non-union. The union-only form of voice has all but disappeared in countries where unions once dominated the space of representing worker concerns. In a world in which voice mechanisms go beyond the traditional union mechanism or in which union voice is understood as having a significantly different meaning, as in China there is need for more fine-grained analysis of how the different mechanisms actually function as well as looking for how those not provided with voice opportunities – e.g. those in precarious and insure jobs or employees on the margins of the labour market – can make themselves heard.

These dynamics create at least two voice gaps. The first is what is evident in much of the employment and industrial relations field – namely a gap between how much voice workers indicated they ‘ought to have’ on a variety of workplace issues and how much influence they ‘actually have’. The second voice gap is between what people ‘want to speak-up about’ and what they are ‘allowed to speak’ about. The first is a gap between ‘voice opportunity and influence’, and the second is a gap between ‘silence and voice opportunity’. It is in this context of changing work processes that this book is set.

Photo credit: Employment Hero

The operation of systems of voice and evaluation inevitably differs according to the power resources held by the respective actors within a firm, the size of the organisation, and the constraints of particular legislative frameworks within a specific country or across international borders. Small firms where family relations and close personal links exist between management and workers often override employment regulations and policies in determining channels of voice and their success or failure.

In some contexts, remaining silent can carry as much or more of a message than speaking out. This is the ‘thunder in silence’ in the Chinese sage Lao-tzu’s philosophy about how to voice discontent. But while ‘getting-back’ or protesting against employer actions by actively not offering ideas may carry the message of discontent, it does not offer the mechanism for finding solutions, which are covered in several chapters in the Handbook. The role of the internet and its potential to ‘democratise’ voice is central to future of work debates, with new chapters tackling these (and other issues). For example, concerns about new technologies, including robotics and digital platforms, are reconfiguring work and management relationships with attendant implications for regulation, governance and voice. The internet as a source for activism has been highlighted as having the potential to create solidarities but may also generate both counter mobilisation and reduce activity to ‘clicktivism’.   Voice arrangements across organisational boundaries and international borders are increasingly more complex and uneven, with calls for improved corporate governance given the power asymmetries in new sectors of employment activity, such as the gig-economy and globalised supply chain networks.

 ‘This comprehensive Handbook will enable the reader to engage with the debates surrounding employee voice and help to extend our overall understanding of what goes on in workplaces at the heart of modern economies’ says Professor Wilkinson.

This second edition of the Handbook of Research on Employee Voice will be a vital resource for academics and students researching human resource management, organisational behaviour and employment relations, while its forward-thinking approach will also appeal to policy-makers, employers and union officials.

Critical Acclaims

This book has been critically acclaimed by national and international leaders in the field of employee voice.

‘Employee voice is a major concern in the modern workplace. The Handbook of Research on Employee Voice includes chapters from a stellar set of authors who are at the center of debates about how best to achieve voice in the changing world of work. The wide breadth of topics covered in the Handbook make it a most valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding the evolving research on employee voice’.

– Alexander J.S. Colvin, Cornell University, US

‘This superb collection of chapters on employee voice represents the cutting edge of research in this area. The authors are leading international authorities in the field and the insights they share will be valuable to scholars, practitioners and students alike’.

– Andrew R. Timming, The University of Western Australia

‘This book provides an intelligent and thoughtful account of employee voice and employee silence from a range of different academic perspectives. It stretches from historical accounts to thoughts for the future, all supported by an impressive number of empirically robust and theoretically rich accounts of current practice. It is an outstanding and timely work and is sure to be a must-read for anyone studying or conducting research in the area’.

– Irena Grugulis, University of Leeds, UK