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From the article, When Does Voice Lead to Exit? It Depends on Leadership, analyze the three characteristics that demonstrate readiness to lead change. Conclude which characteristics or

 From the article, When Does Voice Lead to Exit? It Depends on Leadership, analyze the three characteristics that demonstrate readiness to lead change. Conclude which characteristics or behaviors tend to increase employee turnover and/or demonstrate the manager’s inability to properly lead change. 

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® Academy of Management Journal 2013. Vol. 56. No. 2. 525-548. http://dx.doi.org/10.5465/amj.2011.0041


ELIZABETH J. McCLEAN Cornell University

ETHAN R. BURRIS University of Texas-Austin

JAMES R. DETERT Cornell University

We examine the unit-level relationship between employee voice and exit with multi- source data collected over two time periods in 136 restaurants. We find that three managerial characteristics that signal the ability and willingness to engage in change— management team change orientation, manager participation in decision making, and manager access to organizational resources—moderate the unit-level relationship be- tween voice and exit: Employee voice is positively related to turnover when each of these factors is low and negatively related to turnover when each is high. Implications for research on voice, leadership, and turnover are discussed.

When employees experience problems or ob- serve opportunities for improvement at work, do they engage in improvement-oriented voice—that is, speak up in ways that challenge the status quo to someone with the perceived power to act (Detert & Burris, 2007)? Or do they exit their organization in response to these suboptimal situations? Questions such as these about employee voice and exit have been of interest to organizational scholars at least since Hirschman (1970), in his exit-loyalty-voice (ELV) framework, laid the groundwork for exami- nation of these responses to dissatisfaction with some aspect of an organization’s functioning or product line. In the subsequent decades, scholars have attempted to understand why employees speak up or exit by treating these behaviors as discrete, mutually exclusive choices that each in- dividual employee makes because of his or her dissatisfaction (Rusbult, Farrell, Rogers, & Main- ous, 1988; Rusbuh, Zembrodt, & Gunn, 1982). Be- cause voice can lead to examination of underlying causes and cures of employee dissatisfaction, in contrast to exit or silent loyalty, it is seemingly the response most likely to contribute directly to organ- izational learning (Withey & Cooper, 1989). It is therefore not surprising that scholars and practitio- ners alike have become increasingly focused on understanding the antecedents and outcomes of discretionary, improvement-oriented input by em- ployees (Detert & Biu-ris, 2007; Morrison, 2011; Van

Dyne & LePine, 1998). Simultaneously, under- standing of the dynamics underlying employee ttirnover (i.e., exit) continues to develop on the basis of several decades of focused theory and re- search (Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000; Lee & Mitchell, 1994; Maertz & Griffeth, 2004).

As noted first by Barry (1974), by suggesting that voice and exit are directly inversely related, Hirschman may have misspecified the model by combining into one what is actually two distinct choices for employees: (1) choosing voice or silence and, (2) choosing to stay or exit their organization. Taking Barry’s arguments seriously would imply that, in line with Hirschman’s arguments, employ- ees may sometimes speak up and remain in their organization irrespective of how much or how quickly things change. Or, contrary to Hirschman’s model, employees may speak up and subsequently exit the organization because of what happens (or fails to) in response to voice. Yet these possibilities remain largely unexplored in organizational re- search (Btirris, Detert, & Chiabiu’u, 2008; Morrison, 2011), despite the costliness of turnover for organ- izations. Thus, we examine the relationship be,- tween voice and exit to begin to understand the conditions under which employee voice leads to higher or lower rates of exit.

We further depart from prior research in the Hirschman tradition, and some of the logic on which it rests, by examining the relationship be-


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tween voice and exit at the unit, rather than indi- vidual, level. We do so for two reasons. First, the very nature of voice as a prosocial behavior in the organizational literature (Organ, Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006) suggests that the improvements stemming from the input of any one employee should have spillovers that affect a broader work environment. That is, voice is a “discretionary ex- pression of change-oriented comments” intended to “to benefit others, such as the organization” (Van Dyne, Ang, & Botero, 2003: 1370-1371; see Detert and Burris [2007] and Morrison and Milliken [2000] for similar definitions). To be prosocial, and thus meet organizational scholars’ definition of voice, an employee’s input about needed improve- ments does not primarily benefit just the one indi- vidual who spe^cs up, but instead has the possibil- ity of bettering the situation for a broader set of employees around the speaker (Grant & Mayer, 2009). Despite the fact that managers form in- groups and out-groups among their subordinates (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Liden, Sparrowe, & Wayne, 1997) and primarily attend to suggestions made bj’ only those in their in-group (Biu-ris, Rod- gers, Mannix, Hendron, & Oldroyd, 2009), the changes that do or do not occur in a unit as a result of voice are not readily allocated only to favored members. Organizational scholars have long recog- nized this collective aspect of voice in noting its potential positive outcomes for a unit (versus only individuals who spoke up); these outcomes include learning (Edmondson, 2003), better error detection (Argyris & Scbön, 1978), innovation (Nemeth, 1997), and change effectiveness (Morrison & Mil- liken, 2000). Likewise, many or all of a unit’s em- ployees—not just those who spoke up—should continue to experience dissatisfaction and associ- ated negative outcomes when voice is ignored or disregarded. Thus, both the nature of employee voice behavior through its focus on collective im- provement, and decades of organizational theory and research indicating that employee attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes in a defined unit are so- cially influenced and interdependent (e.g., Ibarra & Andrews, 1993; Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978), suggest the importance of moving beyond the implied as- sumption in Hirschman’s model that each employ- ee’s satisfaction, voice, and relationship status with an organization can be considered independently and devoid of the larger social context.

Second, voice in itself does not automatically make things better or worse for those who speak up or anyone else. Instead, the potential value of voice

rests on what someone with the power to take action—which usually means “management”—does with the suggestions made. The next steps taken by a manager can result in improvement for many in a unit, in no meaningful change at all, or in a situa- tion actually getting worse in employees’ minds. When managers have the ability and motivation to take action based on the prosocial suggestions of their employees, voice should improve the morale and decrease the rate of exit of employees in a unit or an organization, including both those who spoke up and the many others who did not. Likewise, employees of all types should collectively feel that employees, as a group, have some control over out- comes (Barry & Shapiro, 2000; Greenberg, 2000), be more satisfied with outcomes (Shapiro, 1993), and thus be more likely to remain with their organiza- tion because managers consider employees’ opin- ions and make subsequent changes. Even if changes are not always made as a result of their own or others’ input, employees should be more likely to choose to stay and less likely to be fired in envi- ronments where management demonstrates a gen- eral responsiveness to employee input (Tyler, 1987).

But not all managers are able and motivated to take action on the suggestions made by their em- ployees. The level of responsiveness and subse- quent action taken by management to address is- sues raised by employees varies (Detert & Burris, 2007), maldng the prospect of voice directly influ- encing employee turnover contingent rather than certain. When managers are not able or motivated to address prosocial, improvement-oriented issues raised, the broader set of employees, in addition to the speaker(s), continues to experience the condi- tions that prompted voice by some. This, in turn, should lead more members of tbat unit to conclude that it is futile to speak up (Detert & Trevino, 2010; Morrison & Milliken, 2000), to lose faith that man- agers will make necessary improvements (Milliken, Morrison, & Hewlin, 2003), and, thus, to leave the firm. To regain a sense of perceived control and equity, employees who feel impotent in the face of nonresponsive, nonimproving conditions may be- gin to give less of themselves to their organization, perform less well (Blader & Tyler, 2009), or even engage in deviant behaviors (Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). As a result, managers may take steps to re- move employees who passively or actively under- mine the attainment of the goals of the managers’ units (Giàcalone & Greenberg, 1997; Litsky, Ed- dleston, & Kidder, 2006; PariUa, Hollinger, & Clark, 1988). Thus, voice may increase the level of subse-

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quent turnover in a unit if managers are not responsive.

In this article we therefore examine the unit-level relationship between voice and exit among groups of employees who share a work environment and argue that this relationship is contingent on mana- gerial responsiveness to voice. More specifically, we argue that the relationship between unit-level voice and exit depends on three characteristics of managerial responsiveness: whether the managers who receive it (the targets of voice) have access to organizational resources to implement change; whether they are able to participate actively in organizational decision making; and the change orientation of the management team. These pro- posed moderators reflect whether management is able and motivated to respond to employee sugges- tions for improvement in ways that affect subse- quent turnover.

In what follows, we begin by explaining in detail why the proposed unit-level relationship between employee voice and employee turnover is contin- gent on the responsiveness of managers. Then, be- fore testing the three proposed moderating hypoth- eses, we directly examine the premise that employees in general, not just speakers or favored employees, share improvements stemming from managerial responsiveness to voice. We do so through an analysis of 3,388 open-ended sugges- tions for change from employees of a national res- taurant chain wherein coders considered whether managerial responsiveness to a suggestion would ‘ benefit primarily the individual who provided the input or, as argued here, multiple employees in the same unit. Finally, we test our hypotheses using multisource, longitudinal perceptual and objective data from 5,200 employees, 372 managers, and 136 general managers in the same organization.

Our work makes three primary contributions. First, we demonstrate the clear value of attending theoretically and empirically to the inherently prosocial, collective nature of voice and its out- comes in work settings. We extend Hirschman’s (1972) framework by focusing on the social context in which employee voice takes place, arguing that the benefits of successfully addressing employee voice extend beyond the focal individual speaking up; voice can affect the rate of turnover for others in the individual’s unit whose performance or well- being are likewise affected by the issues raised. Second, oiu: study extends scholars’ understanding of the complex relationship between voice and exit by showing how voice can increase or decrease

employee turnover depending on the degree to which managers display characteristics reflecting the motivation and ability to respond. We also demonstrate the importance to theory and practice of considering management behaviors not only as antecedents to voice behavior (Detert & Burris, 2007; Edmondson, 1999) but also as moderators of its effects. Third, our study contributes to the unit- level turnover literatvire by considering how and why improvement-oriented voice, and managerial responsiveness to it, help explain this critical or- ganizational outcome.


Many voice scholars have argued that voice is good for work units and organizations (e.g., Morri- son, 2011). High levels of voice can be indicative of a learning environment in which employees and managers actively engage in activities to continu- ously reduce errors, improve organizational rou- tines, and produce innovations (Argyris & Schön, 1978; Edmondson, 2003; Moscovici & Nemeth, 1974). Employees in strong learning environments should be more likely to stay (i.e., turnover should be lower) because their situation likely improves as a result of the implementation of improvement- oriented ideas and because they likely feel invigo- rated by membership in an innovative environment in which their input is regularly considered (Sha- piro, 1993). Voice scholars have also acknowl- edged, though, that not all such “high-voice” envi- ronments are likely to experience positive outcomes. Continued managerial inability or un- willingness to respond effectively to voice can re- sult in widely shared futility perceptions among employees (Detert & Trevino, 2010; Dutton & Ash- ford, 1993) and a broad climate in which employ- ees feel impotent, not valued, and no longer willing to put forth high levels of effort. In these environ- ments, employees should be more likely to volun- tarily remove themselves from the organization or be forced to exit as a consequence of their deterio- rated attitude and work performance.

We argue that the responsiveness of unit manag- ers will play an important role in determining when voice will lead to less or more exit in a unit. Añer all, employees speak up because they cannot fix problems or pursue opportunities by them- selves, needing instead someone with more formal power to address the issues they have identified (Detert & Burris, 2007). Managerial responsiveness

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can he captured hy two dimensions. First, the ahil- ity to respond to voice may enable or impede man- agers (Armenakis & Bedeian, 1999; Kotter, 1996). Such ability may stem from access to organiza- tional resources necessary to investigate, imple- ment, and institutionalize organizational changes (Damanpour, 1991; Kraatz & Zajac, 2001; Singh, 1986). Without access to resources, managers will be less able to experiment with changes and thus be limited to a focus on efficient execution of current policies and practices (March, 1991). And, hecause most managers are not in a position to unilaterally decide on changes, responsiveness to voice from below also likely hinges on a manager’s influence on decisions made hy more senior leaders (Detert & Trevino, 2010; Glauser, 1984). Second, managers’ overall motivation or orientation toward change may affect how they respond to voice (Beer, 2009). This managerial orientation involves a proactive identification of problems and opportunities and a proclivity to take action to address what has been surfaced (Detert & Burris, 2007; Grant & Ashford, 2008; Saunders, Sheppard, Knight, & Rofli, 1992).

We examine below three specific factors that sig- nal managers’ ability and motivation to respond to voice and therefore affect the likelihood of subse- quent turnover in a unit. We begin hy examining managers’ perceived access to the organizational resources needed to respond to employee input as a factor influencing the unit-level voice-exit relation- ship. Next, we examine managers’ level of partici- pation in higher-level decision making as a reflec- tion of their ability to enact change in their own units. Finally, we examine the change orientation of the management team that must address em- ployee voice. Figure 1 summarizes our theoreti- cal model.

Unit Manager Access to Organizational Resources

Organizational resources, such as those used for training and development programs, marketing, or new process implementation, are necessary for im- provement and adaptation in organizations (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990; Kraatz & Zajac, 2001; Nohria & Gulati, 1996). These resources, however, are often unequally distributed throughout an organization (Pfeffer, 1981), and accessing them is at least par- tially a function of manager proactivity and skill (Graen, Cashman, Ginsburgh, & Schiemann, 1977; Molm, 1990). Managers who are able to acquire resources will be more capable of making changes (Levinthal & March, 1993; March, 1991) because they will have the necessary capital, whether hu- man or financial, to devote to improvement activi- ties (Kraatz & Zajac, 2001). Without the slack cre- ated hy additional resources, managers axe less able to experiment with changes and are confined to a focus on efficient execution of current policies and practices (March, 1991).

The extent to which managers garner access to resources should affect the voice-exit relationship hecause resources give managers the ability to act on or at least seriously consider employees’ input. When a unit manager can access resources from elsewhere in her or his organization, the support that the manager gets in the form of these resources trickles down to lower-level employees (Erdogan & Enders, 2007), who are thus likely to view hoth their manager and the organization she/he embod- ies as supportive and responsive (Eisenberger et al., 2010). For example, if employees speak up about an issue that is detrimental to their work unit (such as insufficiently trained new hires performing

FIGURE 1 Theoretical Model

Manager Access to

Organizational Resources

Manager Participation in

Decision Making

Employee Voice (unit level)

Management Team Change Orientation

Employee Turnover (unit level)

2013 McClean, Burris, and Detert 529

poorly], managers need resources to invest in more or better training programs and to keep their units appropriately staffed diu-ing the training. When a unit’s manager can obtain the necessary resources and properly train new hires, others in the unit who were negatively affected by the performance of new hires—not just the one or few who spoke up— should feel better about the unit. Specifically, be- cause the manager was able to obtain resources to respond to voice, employees should feel that the organization’s agents care about tbeir well-being and experience a heightened sense of organiza- tional support (Shanock & Eisenberger, 2006]. The decision to stay in the organization is one way employees who benefit from managerial respon- siveness can demonstrate reciprocity for organiza- tional support (Erdogan & Enders, 2007; Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002].

Conversely, where managers lack access to re- sources needed to address upward input, employ- ees will grow increasingly frustrated by the lack of responsiveness and feel that an organization is less supportive (Shanock & Eisenberger, 2006]. Because managers are seen as embodiments of an organiza- tion’s values (Eisenberger et al., 2010], managerial inability to respond to employees’ voice because of lack of resources is likely to be experienced by employees as organizational disinterest in them and their ideas for improvement (Rhoades & Eisen- berger, 2002]. When employees reach the conclu- sion that they are not being supported by their organization, they are more likely to quit (Allen, Shore, & Griffeth, 2003]. Or they may withdraw from the organization in more indirect ways (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002]. As is well known from equity theory, when employees perceive an imbalance between what they give and what they receive, they often attempt to restore equity by en- gaging in counterproductive work behaviors, being absent, or underperforming (Adams, 1965]. In this way, employees’ legitimate frustration about work conditions cind lack of satisfying managerial re- sponse can lead to inappropriate responses that ultimately get employees fired (Giacalone & Green- berg, 1997; Litsky et al., 2006; Pariila et al., 1988]. For example, employees who do not get promised raises or necessary support through additional hir- ing or training because a manager lacks access to resources may end up being terminated for the shirking, stealing, or other unacceptable behavior that they resort to.

Taken together, these arguments suggest that when employees speak up and managers do not

have access to resources to address their ideas and concerns, employees will develop attitudes and en- gage in behaviors that lead to increased voluntary and involuntary exit.

Hypothesis 1. A unit manager’s access to or- ganizational resources moderates the unit- level relationship between employee voice and exit: The relationship between voice and exit is negative when the manager’s access to organ- izational resources is high and positive when the manager’s access to organizational re- sources is low.

Unit Manager Participation in Decision Making

The structure of most organizations of even mod- est size is such that most managers are subordinate to other managers—that is, most bosses also have bosses. Thus, most middle managers serve as “link- ing pins” between organizational levels, working to synchronize operating activities at one level with broader strategic imperatives at higher levels (Lik- ert, 1967]. From a top-down perspective, this link- ing role may be seen as managers at one level im- plementing the decisions made at higher levels. However, middle- and lower-level managers often have their fingers on the pulse of their organization in such a way that effective linking also means they participate in decision making by helping higher- level leaders understand what is needed to success- fully implement strategic directives and which di- rectives do not fit the reality faced by lower-level employees (Dutton & Jackson, 1987; Nonaka, 1988].

Managers who influence the decision-making process of senior-level managers have the ability to advocate for issues that employees raise. Having input from their ranks considered in higher-level decision making should increase employees’ sense of procedural justice (Avery & Quiñones, 2002; Thi- baut & Walker, 1975] because it reaffirms that their proximal manager and those higher in their organ- ization value employees and their ideas (Lind & Tyler, 1988]. For example, if some employees speak up with ideas for improving customer service rou- tines that repeatedly lead to customer complaints, participation in higher-level decision making in- creases the likelihood that a local manager can make the changes needed to address employees’ input. Because employees discuss among them- selves how their managers respond to their input and recognize that they are collectively affected by any changes that result (Leung & Li, 1990; Nau-

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maim & Bennett, 2000), they often develop a shared sense of procedural justice (Colquitt, Noe, & Jack- son, 2002). Thus, when a manager is able to suc- cessfully advocate for rank-and-file ideas for im- provement to higher-level leaders, a greater number of employees within the manager’s unit should feel that decisions made in their work environment are just and should thus be more likely to stay in the organization (Masterson, Lewis, Goldman, & I’ay- lor, 2000; Simons & Roberson, 2003).

In contrast, if managers have limited ability to make changes in their own units because they are unable to influence higher-level decision making, employees will be less likely to feel that the organ- ization considers problems and ideas of people at their level (Thibaut & Walker, 1975). In this case, employees will .view the organization as less fair and will be more likely to exit (Masterson et al., 2000). For example, if their manager is unable to influence higher-level leaders to make improve- ments to a particular food preparation process that is cumbersome, wasteful, and potentially danger- ous, a restaurant’s employees are more likely to feel disgruntled and disappointed and to subsequently leave the organization. When managers cannot par- ticipate in and influence decision making, some employees (whether they spoke up about an issue or not) may also respond to the perceived unfair- ness of their situation, and the feelings this evokes, by taking action directly against the organization (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998). Counterproductive work behaviors (Fox, Spector, & Miles, 2001), un- derperformance (Bagozzi, 2003), and absenteeism (Hausknecht, Hiller, & Vance, 2008) are all poten- tial responses to the frustration and negative emo- tions employees experience when they feel they are being treated unfairly or they are unable to control their own environment. When employees engage in these types of behaviors, they are more likely to get fired (Giacalone & Greenberg, 1997; Litsky et al., 2006; Parilla et al., 1988). Therefore, when employ- ees speak up to the manager of a unit who does not participate in higher-level decision making, em- ployees in that unit will collectively be more likely to leave the organization either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Hypothesis 2. A unit manager’s participation in decision making moderates the unit-level relationship between employee voice and exit: The relationship between voice and exit is neg- ative when the manager’s participation in de- cision making is high and positive when the

manager’s participation in decision making is low.

Management Team Change Orientation

Despite popular deification of single leaders, strategic interpretation and decisions to make im- provements are usually not made exclusively by just one person (Burgelman & Sayles, 1986; Chan- dler, 1962; Drucker, 1974; Mintzberg, 1973). In- stead, management teams, often comprised of lead- ers and their direct reports, share collective responsibility for interpreting strategic issues and creating change. Specifically, management teams will be effective at creating change and signaling to employees that they are willing to make changes to the extent that members work well together to spot issues, make improvement plans, and commit col- lectively to implementing decisions (Chandler, 1962; Hackman, 1987; March & Simon, 1958; Yukl, 2002).

When employees speak up and a management team is more change oriented, employees will view their managers as willing to experiment and as not overly committed to the status quo (Hambrick, Geletkanycz, & Fredrickson, 1993; Kanter, 1983). Given that one of the roles of those in charge is to direct and control change in aii organization (Mint- zberg, 1973) and that such an orientation fits most people’s “implicit leader theory” (Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Sch)ais & Meindl, 2005), employees likely expect “good” managers to be motivated to identify and work together to address opportiuiities to improve their organization (Porter & Steers, 1973). When this occurs, employees will feel that their organization (through its management team) has met its obligations to respond to their ideas for improvement (Morrison & Robinson, 1997). For ex- ample, if a group of workers is having trouble serv- ing customers quickly enough, the management team comprised of shift supervisors and the general manager will need to work together in a coordi- nated fashion to identify the underlying issues, make an improvement plan, and successfully im- plement it. If management teams can routinely do these things, employees should, as a group, be more likely to feel that managers have fulfilled their ob- ligations to address employees’ concerns (Ho, 2005), and thus be more likely to stay.

But not all managers are equally open-minded about or committed to change (Hambrick et al., 1993). When employees speak up and their local management team is less change oriented, em-

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ployee expectations about good management will be unmet (Mintzberg, 1973; Porter & Steers, 1973). Because local managers are seen as embodiments of their larger organization (Eisenberger et al., 2010; Levinson, 1965), employees will likely also con- clude to some extent that that the organization as a whole is not responsive to employees’ needs or ideas for improvement. Such beliefs can lead to employees’ conclusion that their implicit or psy- chological contract with the organization is being breached (Robinson, 1996; Rousseau & McLean Parks, 1993). Employees may respond to this un- satisfactory state by quitting (Rousseau, 1995) or by expressing their frustration and disappointment through organizational deviance (Bordia, Restubog, & Tang, 2008; Kidwell & Bennett, 1993). Counter- productive work behaviors, such as theft or sabo- tage, often stem from unaddressed dissatisfying work conditions (Robinson & Bennett, 1997) and from employees’ perception that the organization has failed to live up to obligations and expectations (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994). Alternatively, em- ployees may engage in less severe, yet still disrup- tive, behaviors such as slapping work (Hausknecht et al., 2008) or withholding effort (Kidwell & Ben- nett, 1993; Turnley, Bolino, Lester, & Bloodgood, 2003) in response to a lethargic management re- sponse. Regardless of the specific means, most em- ployee responses to their frustration and disap- pointment are likely to be undesirable from management’s perspective and thus increase em- ployees’ likelihood of being fired (Giacalone & Greenberg, 1997; Litsky et al., 2006; PariUa et al., 1988). Taken together, the above arguments suggest that employee voice targeted to less change- oriented management teams will lead to a higher incidence of overall exit by those management teams’ employees.

Hypothesis 3. A unit management team’s change orientation moderates the unit-level re- lationship between employee voice and exit: The

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