How Employees Win 'Voice' and Influence Decisions - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #391

How Employees Win ‘Voice’ and Influence Decisions

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High levels of engagement and commitment in the workplace could be both a cause and an effect of involving employees in decision-making processes. Research suggests that leaders ‘grant voice’ to followers who combine a need to influence the organization with a need to belong and take part — and that followers work better for leaders when they do.


It is well established, in research, that employees who are allowed to voice their opinions perceive decision-making procedures as more fair and are more likely to display pro-social behaviours and work in the collective interest. Relatively little, however, is known about what influences leaders’ decisions to grant ‘voice’ and act fairly.

The results of the research suggest aspiring leaders and other employees who want to have a say in decision-making and influence organizations need to signal their trustworthiness by demonstrating a need to take part and belong.

Recent empirical research suggests perceptions of follower needs are a significant factor. The research focuses on two needs that previous studies have identified as explaining the importance of procedural fairness to employees — the need for control (stemming partly from a need to combat feelings of powerlessness in the face of authority) and the need to belong or feel ‘socially’ valued. (Some studies present these needs as two separate ‘models’, but they can, essentially, be seen as expressions of the same thing: a need to count.)

The researchers make the basic assumption that, to be successful, leaders must meet followers’ needs without putting their primary task — meeting the wider needs of the organization — at risk. Following on from this, they reason that leaders will be more likely to grant voice to individuals with a strong need for control if they also have a strong need to be part of an organization — i.e. belong to something ‘bigger’ than themselves and to co-operate in the collective interest. (Where a strong desire for control is perceived to co-exist with a high degree of individualism and self-interest leaders might reasonably be assumed to be nervous about granting voice.)

The researchers tested their hypothesis in two studies — a laboratory experiment involving undergraduate business-school students and a multi-source survey involving employees and leaders from a variety of organizations.

It was supported in both. The results showed that leaders granted more voice when interacting with a follower with a perceived high rather than a low control need, and that this was particularly the case when the follower was also perceived to have a high need to belong to the organization.

Combined, the studies provide evidence of a causal link between follower control and belongingness needs and the ‘voice enactment’ of leaders. They also provide further support for the ‘reciprocal’ model of ethical leadership — i.e. one where leaders extend control to employees in return for loyalty or engagement, and where co-operative and ‘good’ leader and follower behaviours are mutually reinforcing.


The results of the research suggest aspiring leaders and other employees who want to have a say in decision-making and influence organizations need to signal their trustworthiness by demonstrating a need to take part and belong.

They also have clear implications for employers, suggesting that the ‘right’ corporate culture creates a virtuous circle of commitment and engagement. More specifically, they suggest that organizations benefit from:

  • Promoting an environment in which people are stimulated to speak up and discuss their needs with their superiors.
  • Providing a workplace that people want to be part of.

The ultimate goal should be an organization in which it is ‘safe’ to grant employees a voice — and achieving it could depend on starting a ‘cycle’ of trust. The more employees perceive the workplace as participative and fair, the more motivated they’ll be to work in the collective interest and the more responsibly they’ll use their ‘voice’ — and the more responsibly they use their ‘voice’ the more trusted they’ll be by superiors. 



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Idea conceived

July 1, 2013

Idea posted

Jun 2014
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