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The International Journal of Human Resource
ISSN: 0958-5192 (Print) 1466-4399 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rijh20
Employee voice and engagement: connections and
Chris Rees, Kerstin Alfes & Mark Gatenby
To cite this article: Chris Rees, Kerstin Alfes & Mark Gatenby (2013) Employee voice and
engagement: connections and consequences, The International Journal of Human Resource
Management, 24:14, 2780-2798, DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2013.763843
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2013.763843
Published online: 14 Feb 2013.
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Employee voice and engagement: connections and consequences
*, Kerstin Alfes
and Mark Gatenby
School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK;
Faculty of Social and
Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, The Netherlands;
Southampton Management School,
University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
This paper considers the relationship between employee voice and employee
engagement. Employee perceptions of voice behaviour aimed at improving the
functioning of the work group are found to have both a direct impact and an indirect
impact on levels of employee engagement. Analysis of data from two organisations
conﬁrms that the direct connection between perceptions of voice behaviour and
engagement is mediated by both employee trust in senior management and the
employee–line manager relationship. Key concepts are outlined, and the implications
of the ﬁndings for future research and for the management of engagement are
Keywords: employee perceptions; engagement; line managers; trust; voice
Employee engagement is rapidly becoming central in the senior management lexicon
within an increasing number of organisations, concerned as they are to maintain a
competitive edge in ever more demanding ﬁnancial and market conditions. Reﬂecting the
normative dimension to human resource management (HRM), it has long been argued that
added value derives not merely from competing on price or product quality, but also from
the ability to extract a greater degree of willing employee commitment to corporate
objectives. Hence, what matters is the way in which employees choose to undertake their
jobs and, crucially, the extent of ‘discretionary effort’ they are prepared to expend. In these
terms, raising levels of employee engagement is the latest in a long line of managerial
strategies aimed at releasing employee discretion and aligning employee interests more
closely with managerial goals, predicated on the assumption that this will in turn boost
Initiatives to increase employee engagement are now widespread in both the private
and public sectors in the UK, and it has become a key performance indicator for many
organisations, which quantify engagement levels through annual staff opinion surveys,
looking for improvements that will feed through into performance and customer service.
The concept has been endorsed by the UK’s professional body for human resource
managers, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), and has been the
subject of a central government review conducted within the Department for Business,
Innovation and Skills, which led to the MacLeod Report (MacLeod and Clarke 2009) and
the subsequent establishment of a ‘guru group’ to explore how the report’s
recommendations might best be implemented.
Academic support for the beneﬁts of an engaged workforce appears to be growing.
Employees who are more engaged with their work are said to be more likely to behave in
positive and cooperative ways, to the beneﬁt of both the ﬁrm and themselves (Salanova
q2013 Taylor & Francis
*Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2013
Vol. 24, No. 14, 2780–2798, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2013.763843
and Schaufeli 2008). It is also argued that engaged employees outperform others by
showing heightened interest in their work and being prepared to ‘go the extra mile’ for
their organisation (Bakker and Xanthopoulou 2009; Alfes, Truss, Soane, Rees and
Gatenby 2010; Rich, Lepine and Crawford 2010). The claim has also been made that
engaged employees see their work as more meaningful and fulﬁlling, and appear to
experience increased job satisfaction (Truss et al. 2006; Balain and Sparrow 2009).
Our concern in this paper, however, is not with the potential individual or
organisational beneﬁts that appear to follow from an engaged workforce, but rather with
the antecedents of employee engagement, and in particular with the extent to which
employee voice has an impact upon engagement levels. We discuss the impact of a
broader range of so-called ‘high-performance HR practices’ on employee engagement
elsewhere (Alfes, Truss, Soane, Rees and Gatenby, in press), but our particular concern
here is to assess the impact of employee voice, and we are unaware of other studies that
have done this. This is an important omission, given it is established in the employee voice
literature that employees who perceive themselves to have opportunities to effectively
communicate their concerns to management are likely to elicit more positive attitudes and
demonstrate higher levels of performance (Purcell, Kinnie, Hutchinson, Rayton and Swart
2003; Robinson, Perryman and Hayday 2004). Hence, the central aim of our paper is to
bring together two streams of literature by exploring the relationship between employee
voice and engagement.
Speciﬁcally, we propose that there exist both (1) a direct relationship between
employee voice and engagement, and (2) an indirect relationship between employee voice
and engagement, mediated by the exchange relationships the employee experiences. In
exploring these various connections, our approach is consistent with social exchange
theory (Blau 1964; Emerson 1976), which posits that employees engage in reciprocal
relationships that can develop into trusting, loyal and mutual commitments if certain ‘rules
of exchange’ are followed. It is claimed that employees are motivated within the
employment relationship to demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviours when they
perceive that their employer values them and their contribution (Saks 2006; Kuvaas and
Dysvik 2010). Organisational practices send overt and implicit signals to employees about
the extent to which they are valued and trusted, giving rise to feelings of obligation on the
part of employees, who then reciprocate through demonstrating positive behaviours
(Gould-Williams 2007; Purcell and Hutchinson 2007). In these terms, we can assume that
if employees perceive their work environment to be one in which they can share their
opinions, ideas and concerns, they will in turn be more likely to demonstrate higher levels
The particular exchange relationships we consider are twofold: ﬁrst those with senior
management and second those with the employees’ immediate supervisor or line manager.
Social exchange theory implies that if employees have trustful relationships with their
senior managers, and believe they are supported by their line manager, they will likely
respond with positive behaviour, and hence their levels of engagement will rise. Whilst
both of these aspects form part of the broader set of social exchange relationships between
employees and employer (Balain and Sparrow 2009), research has also demonstrated that
trustful relationships with senior managers and employee –line manager relationships
differentially relate to individual attitudes and behaviours (Settoon, Bennett and Liden
1996). In light of these differential effects, the present study aims to enhance our
understanding of the social exchange relationships that underpin the voice – engagement
link by exploring the relative contribution of trust in senior management and the
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2781
employee– line management relationship in mediating the way employee voice is
associated with employee engagement.
In doing so, we focus on one particular aspect of employee voice, namely individual
employees’ perceptions of the extent to which they engage in voice behaviour aimed at
improving the functioning of their work group. We do this for two reasons. First, the
importance of effective work groups is well established, and the group is a prominent
aspect of work organisation for many employees (Cohen and Bailey 1997; Ilgen 1999).
Second, previous research has demonstrated that voice is especially important within work
groups (Van Dyne and LePine 1998). As work groups are characterised by high
interdependence, shared responsibilities and common goals and objectives, being able to
share ideas about the functioning of the group is likely to be relevant for individual levels
of engagement. Previous research has largely focused on voice behaviour directed towards
a higher authority. However, as Morrison, Wheeler-Smith and Kamdar (2011) argue, these
ﬁndings might not be generalisable to voice behaviour within work groups. More research
is therefore needed to explore the consequences of voice behaviour within groups for
individual attitudes and behaviour (Morrison et al. 2011; Takeuchi, Chen and Cheung
2012). Hence, the ﬁnal aim of our paper is to extend current knowledge on employee voice
by exploring the outcomes of voice behaviour directed towards the functioning of work
To conﬁrm the structure and contribution of the paper, we ﬁrst examine the association
between employees’ perceptions of voice behaviour directed towards improving the
functioning of their work group and self-reported levels of engagement, and then consider
the mediating effects on this association of both trust in senior management and the
employee– line management relationship. We ﬁnd that both of these relationships mediate
the way in which employee voice is associated with employee engagement, and as such we
more clearly understand both employee voice processes and the dynamics of broader
organisational exchange relationships. In the following section, we outline the key
concepts – engagement, voice, trust in senior management, employee-line manager
relations – in more detail, and advance associated hypotheses. We then introduce the two
case study organisations and provide an outline of the methodology. After presenting the
results, we end with an acknowledgement of the study’s limitations and a brief
consideration of the consequences of the ﬁndings – for managers, for employees and for
broader policy debates.
Key concepts and propositions
Employee engagement is conceived in the extant literature as a foundational variable that
inﬂuences work-related attitudes and behaviours (Christian, Garza and Slaughter 2011).
Deﬁnitions of engagement vary, but, as Macey and Schneider (2008) note, a common
thread is the assumption that ‘pro-social’ employee activity can lead to desirable effects,
with mutual beneﬁts for employees and organisations. Currently, there are several
measures that relate to different conceptual models, and most researchers agree that
engagement is best understood as a multidimensional construct. For example, Schaufeli,
Bakker and Salanova (2006) describe three interrelated dimensions of vigour, dedication
and absorption as creating an internal state of engagement. Dvir, Eden, Avolio and Shamir
prefer ‘activity, initiative and responsibility’ (2002, p. 737). We also see engagement as
multidimensional, and our conceptualisation builds upon the seminal work of Kahn (1990)
and May, Gilson and Harter (2004). Kahn deﬁned engagement as the ‘harnessing of
organisational members’ selves to their work roles’ (1990, p. 694), later adding the
C. Rees et al.2782
concomitant notion of psychological ‘presence’ as the outcome of employees feeling
attentive, connected, integrated and focused in their role performance (Kahn 1992). May
et al. (2004) developed Kahn’s work by deﬁning engagement as a psychological state in
which employees are completely immersed in their work.
We build upon these notions of ‘presence’ and ‘immersion’ in work by deﬁning
engagement as ‘being positively present during the performance of work by willingly
contributing intellectual effort and experiencing both positive emotions and meaningful
connections to others’ (Alfes et al. 2010). Furthermore, we distinguish between three
facets: (1) intellectual engagement – the extent to which individuals are absorbed in their
work and think about ways role performance could be improved; (2) affective engagement
– the extent to which employees feel positive emotional connections to their work
experience; and (3) social engagement – the extent to which employees talk to colleagues
about work-related improvements and change. We discuss the development and
application of this measure in considerable detail elsewhere, using data from two studies to
demonstrate the internal reliability of both the scale and its sub-scales (Soane et al. 2012).
We also draw the important conceptual distinction between the state of engagement and
behaviours that might follow from this state, a view reﬂected in other recent research
(Bakker, Albrecht and Leiter 2011; Parker and Grifﬁn 2011).
Whilst much of the recent literature attempts to demonstrate a link between
engagement and organisational performance (Rich et al. 2010; Christian et al. 2011), our
concern is not with the performance implications of engagement, but rather with the
drivers of engagement, i.e. with the causes rather than the effects, with the antecedents
rather than the outcomes. As Purcell argues, in many ways it is helpful to see employee
engagement itself as an outcome, as ‘something that ﬂows from the practice of good
employment relations’ (2010, p. 8). One well-established constituent of effective
employment relations is employee voice, and we examine the extent to which perceptions
of voice directed towards the work group constitute one of the essential antecedents of
When it ﬁrst emerged, the concept of employee voice tended to be equated ﬁrmly with
trade union membership and collective bargaining, following the pioneering work of
Freeman and Medoff (1984), but it is now more frequently seen as referring to a broad
range of ways in which employees ‘have a say’ about what goes on in their organisation,
whether through formal systems of indirect, collective representation, or through more
direct, individual channels (CIPD 2010). Morrison et al. (2011) refer to voice as the
discretionary verbal communication of ideas, suggestions or opinions with the intent to
improve organisational or unit functioning, a view consistent with several other recent
studies (Burris, Detert and Chiaburu 2008; Greenberg and Edwards 2009; Takeuchi et al.
2012; Tangirala and Ramanujam 2012). Van Dyne and Le Pine similarly deﬁne voice in
terms of employees ‘making innovative suggestions for change and recommending
modiﬁcations to standard procedures even when others disagree’ (1998, p. 109). We
follow this view in seeing voice as referring speciﬁcally to employees’ actual behaviour in
‘speaking up’ with constructive ideas that aim to improve or change the status quo.
Our focus on perceptions of voice is gaining increasing recognition in the literature,
and as Budd, Gollan and Wilkinson (2010) note, research on employee voice has thus
signiﬁcantly broadened, expanding well beyond its earlier industrial relations focus on
collective representation. Batt, Colvin and Keefe (2002), for example, found that the more
effective employees perceived voice mechanisms to be, the more likely they were to
advance their own opinions and ideas. Benson and Brown, summarising recent research in
the area, suggest that ‘it will be the employees’ perceptions of voice, rather than the
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2783
existence or features of a voice mechanism, that will determine whether employees will try
to voice their concerns to management, remain silent and/or exit the organisation’ (2010,
p. 82). Research also suggests that where employees believe they are able to inﬂuence
decisions, and perceive they have opportunities for voice, this has the potential to result in
increased levels of organisational commitment (Korsgaard, Schweiger and Sapienza 1995;
Farndale, Van Ruiten, Kelliher and Hope-Hailey 2011).
So far, no study to our knowledge has directly analysed how employee perceptions of
voice are related to engagement. However, there is other broader literature that conﬁrms
the role of employee involvement and voice mechanisms in encouraging engagement. For
example, when Purcell et al. (2003) found a number of factors to be strongly associated
with high engagement, they were all related to an employee’s involvement in a work-
related practice. Work by the Institute of Employment Studies also points to a ‘sense of
feeling valued and involved’ as a major driver of engagement (Robinson et al. 2004).
Truss et al. (2006) likewise argue that one of the main drivers of engagement is employees
having the opportunity to feed their views upwards. All this would suggest that there is
likely to be a link between employee perceptions of voice and engagement.
As noted above, we are speciﬁcally concerned with voice behaviour that is aimed at
improving issues at the work group level, and other studies have used a similar approach
(LePine and Van Dyne 1998; Morrison et al. 2011). Because groups are characterised by
interdependence, shared responsibility, diffuse expertise and divergent perspectives, their
effectiveness depends not only on members sharing knowledge but also on their
willingness to speak up with suggestions and opinions (Nemeth, Connell, Rogers and
Brown 2001; Detert and Burris 2007; Mesmer-Magnus and DeChurch 2009). The group is
also an appropriate level of study in our two organisations, as a signiﬁcant number of
employees work in either workplace or remote teams, and the measure we use here allows
us to capture this aspect.
Building on this literature, and following Van Dyne and LePine (1998), our focus is on
the extent to which employees perceive that they actively elicit voice behaviour directed
towards improving group functioning and outcomes, and we suggest that these perceptions
are positively related to individual levels of engagement. Our ﬁrst hypothesis is thus:
Hypothesis 1: Perceptions of employee voice will be positively related to employee
Whilst research has generally supported the notion that employee voice behaviour is
associated with positive individual and organisational outcomes, more recently
commentators have sought to explore more closely the mechanisms involved. As
Farndale et al. (2011) explain, exchange relationships at work take various forms, and
employees will distinguish between exchanges with senior managers, with their line
managers and with other members of the organisation. Employees can thus form social
exchange relationships at multiple levels. In this study, we are interested in the potential
mediating effect of two particular exchange relationships: the extent to which an employee
trusts senior management and the relationship an employee has with his or her line
manager. These two constructs were chosen because they exemplify two key aspects of the
broader social exchange relationship between employees and their employer (Settoon et al.
1996; Hofmann and Morgeson 1999; Dulac, Coyle-Shapiro, Henderson and Wayne 2008).
Following Farndale et al. (2011), we argue that as voice allows employees the
opportunity to communicate their opinions, and engenders the belief that their
contributions are valued, it creates a level of respect towards the leaders of the
organisation, and there is thus a direct connection between employee voice and the
C. Rees et al.2784
development of employee trust in senior management. Moreover, where employers
deliver on their commitments, this reinforces employees’ sense of fairness and engenders
greater trust in the organisation. ‘Relational trust’, in turn, fosters reciprocity, and
reinforces the emotional bond. A higher level of trust in the employer will increase the
assurance that they will fulﬁl their obligations in the future (Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt and
Camerer 1998), so that employees are more likely to be engaged with their job.
Although no published studies, to our knowledge, have examined trust in senior
management as a mediator in the relationship between perceived voice behaviour and
employee engagement, research in other domains has proposed that trust in senior
management may be a useful mediator linking a range of workplace phenomena. For
example, Farndale et al. (2011) demonstrated that trust in senior management mediated the
relationship between perceived voice behaviour and organisational commitment. Aryee,
Budhwar and Zhen Xiong (2002) found that organisational trust mediated the relationship
between employees’ justice perceptions and work attitudes such as job satisfaction,
turnover intention and organisational commitment. Similarly, Klendauer and Deller’s
(2009) study revealed that trust in senior management acts as a mediator in the relationship
between perceptions of justice and organisational commitment during corporate mergers.
Following this discussion, we expect that employees who have positive perceptions of
their own voice behaviour will have higher levels of trust in senior management.
Furthermore, we also propose that trust in senior management will be positively related to
employee engagement and therefore be one of the mechanisms explaining the relationship
between perceived voice behaviour and engagement. Thus:
Hypothesis 2a: There will be a positive association between employee voice and trust
in senior management.
Hypothesis 2b: There will be a positive association between trust in senior
management and employee engagement.
Hypothesis 2c: The relationship between voice and engagement will be partially
mediated by trust in senior management.
A second key exchange relationship that employees experience is with their line
manager. It is well established that opportunities for voice can encourage more positive
employee attitudes towards management (Dietz, Wilkinson and Redman 2009), and that
line managers who enable employee participation affect employee attitudes in positive
ways because employees feel recognised and listened to (Korsgaard et al. 1995). These
voice mechanisms enhance the perceived quality and strength of the employee –line
manager relationship. Conversely, as Farndale et al. (2011) explain, if employees do not
feel that they have opportunities to advance their views, or think the views they offer have
little inﬂuence, this is likely to negatively affect their attitudes towards, and relationship
with, their line managers.
More generally, research suggests that managerial processes are a signiﬁcant inﬂuence
on how engaged people feel (Macey and Schneider 2008). For example, the development
and maintenance of engagement follow from perceptions that line managers are
trustworthy and respectful (Kahn 1990; Dvir et al. 2002). Furthermore, Cufaude (2004)
argues that when managers employ a philosophy of ‘servant –leadership’, where their
primary role is supporting and serving those around them, the organisational environment
becomes highly engaged. Purcell (2010) concludes that at the root of employee
disengagement is poor management, where employees are denied the opportunity to
communicate with or receive information from their line managers.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2785
To date, we know of only one study that has analysed the mediating effect of the
employee– line manager relationship on the link between individuals’ perceptions of voice
behaviours and their attitudes. Farndale et al. (2011) demonstrated that the employee–line
manager relationship mediated the link between perceptions of voice behaviour and
organisational commitment. We build upon this study and argue that employees who have
positive perceptions of their own voice behaviour have a better relationship with their line
manager. Furthermore, we also propose that the employee – line manager relationship will
be positively related to employee engagement and therefore mediate the link between
perceptions of voice behaviour and engagement. Hence:
Hypothesis 3a: There will be a positive association between employee voice and the
employee– line manager relationship.
Hypothesis 3b: There will be a positive association between the employee – line
manager relationship and employee engagement.
Hypothesis 3c: The relationship between voice and engagement will be partially
mediated by the employee – line manager relationship.
The paper is based upon quantitative primary data collected from two UK service sector
organisations during 2009. Employees were asked to complete a questionnaire including
independent, mediating and dependent variables as described below. They were informed
about the purpose of the study and its conﬁdentiality, and encouraged to complete the
survey within two weeks. The paper is part of a wider study which also included interviews
with line managers, senior managers and HR representatives (as reported in Alfes et al.
Organisation A is a support services partner providing business solutions for clients across
the local government, transport, education and defence sectors. A total of 2500 employees
from different locations were asked to take part in the survey. From this sample, 1157
questionnaires were returned, with a response rate of 46%. The sample comprised 71.4%
men, the average age of the respondents was 40.98 years (SD ¼12.35) and the average
tenure was 4.02 years (SD ¼4.18). Respondents represented a range of occupational
backgrounds including professionals (49.1%), administration (10.5%), managers or senior
ofﬁcials (14.4%), retail, customer and personal services (2.2%), skilled trades (6.4%),
machine operators (9.6%) and elementary occupations (7.8%).
Organisation B is a recycling and waste management company, a leader of its type in
the UK, and part of a larger global organisation. The sample comprised 2217 employees;
1153 questionnaires were completed, with a response rate of 52%. There were 22.6%
female respondents within this sample. The average age was 41.55 years (SD ¼11.63)
and the average tenure 5.87 years (SD ¼5.61). Again, respondents represented diverse
occupational backgrounds including professionals (11.1%), administration (18.5%),
managers or senior ofﬁcials (16.4%), retail, customer and personal services (4.4%), skilled
trades (4.5%), machine operators (37.9%) and elementary occupations (7.2%).
C. Rees et al.2786
Response options on each measure ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
for the scales are shown in Table 2, and the respective items with their
factor loadings are shown in the Appendix.
As discussed earlier, we measured three sub-scales of engagement. Intellectual
engagement focused on the extent to which people are cognitively involved in their
work. There were three items, e.g. ‘I get completely absorbed in my work’. Affective
engagement measured the extent to which participants are emotionally involved with, and
attached to, their work. There were three items, including ‘I am happy when I do a good
job’. Social engagement was also assessed with three items, and measured the extent to
which employees talk to their colleagues about how to improve their work. Items included:
‘I talk to people at work about how to improve the way I do my job’. Because we were
interested in an overall measure of engagement, the three sub-scales were aggregated to
form an overall measure of engagement.
We measured voice using a six-item scale developed by Van Dyne and LePine (1998). A
sample item was ‘I speak up and encourage others in my group to get involved in issues
that affect the group’.
Trust in senior management
A four-item scale was developed based upon Cook and Wall (1980) to assess the extent to
which individuals perceived their senior managers as trustworthy, fair and leading the
company in a sensible way. A sample item was ‘I trust my senior managers’.
Employee– line manager relationships
The measure for employee – line management relationships was based on the scale
developed by Cook and Wall (1980). The items asked employees about their perceptions
of the relationship with their line manager. A sample item was ‘My line manager treats
employees with respect’.
Because all our variables were collected from a single source only, we had to deal with two
concerns prior to proceeding to hypothesis testing: common method variance and
discriminant validity. To control for the inﬂuence of common method bias, we followed
established recommendations (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Jeong-Yeon and Podsakoff 2003;
Sea-Jin, Witteloostuijn and Eden 2010). We used established scales only, explained the
procedures to our participants and guaranteed anonymity. Furthermore, we separated the
measurements of the independent and dependent variables by placing them in different
sections of the survey. Finally, we used ﬁller items and different instructions to create a
psychological separation between both sets of variables. Moreover, to detect and control
for the inﬂuence of common method bias through statistical remedies, we performed a
series of conﬁrmatory factor analyses (CFA) on the data set. Following established
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2787
recommendations (Hair, Black, Babin, Anderson and Tatham 2005), we calculated ﬁve ﬁt
indices to determine how the model ﬁtted our data:
, goodness of ﬁt index (GFI),
comparative ﬁt index (CFI), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) and
standardised root mean square residual (SRMR). For GFI and CFI, values greater than 0.9
represent a good model ﬁt, and for SRMR and RMSEA, values less than 0.08 indicate a
good model ﬁt (Browne and Cudeck 1993; Hu and Bentler 1998; Kline 2005).
We initially performed a CFA on the full measurement model, including all latent
variables (Anderson and Gerbing 1988; Mulaik and Millsap 2000; Hair et al. 2005).
Overall, the measurement model exhibited good psychometric properties (
df ¼113; GFI ¼0.94; SRMR ¼0.05; RMSEA ¼0.07; CFI ¼0.96), and all
standardised regression coefﬁcients in the measurement model were signiﬁcant at the
0.001 level. To further test for common method variance, we conducted Harman’s single-
factor test, which involves a CFA where all variables were allowed to load onto one
general factor. The model exhibited very poor ﬁt (
¼11,439; df ¼119; GFI ¼0.47;
SRMR ¼0.16; RMSEA ¼0.21; CFI ¼0.54), which provided a good indication that a
single factor did not account for the majority of variance in our data. Nevertheless, as no
single agreed reliable test to detect common method bias exists, results of single-source
data analysis should always be interpreted with caution.
In order to analyse whether all the variables in our study were distinct from each other,
we further performed a series of nested model comparisons. Speciﬁcally, we compared the
full measurement model comprising all latent variables with a range of alternative models.
Three models were created to assess the distinctiveness of voice and engagement, given
their conceptual similarity. In a three-factor model (A), voice and engagement were
combined into a single factor. In three two-factor models, voice, engagement and trust in
senior managers (Model B); voice, engagement and employee – line manager relationship
(Model C); and voice, trust in senior managers and employee–line manager relationship
(Model D) were combined into single factors, respectively. Given the possibility of a halo
effect, we also assessed whether trust in senior managers and employee– line manager
relationship were distinct from each other by combining them into a single factor (three
factors, Model E). Finally, we compared the model ﬁt for the one-factor model (F). Results
difference tests (Table 1) revealed that the model ﬁt of the intended model
with four distinct variables was signiﬁcantly better than all other models (all at p,0.001).
This suggests that all variables were distinct and therefore appropriate for inclusion in the
We included gender, management responsibilities and organisation as control
variables. Gender has been found to be related to engagement, with women more engaged
than men (Truss et al. 2006; Alfes et al. 2010). Respondents were asked whether they were
male or female. Gender was coded 0 for ‘male’ and 1 for ‘female’. Also, previous research
has found that employees with management responsibilities show higher levels of
engagement (Alfes et al. 2010), which could be attributed to differences in job content and
task variety. In our study, we asked participants to indicate whether they had management
responsibilities. Management responsibility was coded 1 for ‘Yes’ and 0 for ‘No’. Finally,
we included organisation as a control variable.
Table 2 presents the Cronbach’s
, the mean and standard deviation for each scale, and
inter-scale correlations for all study variables. The inter-scale correlations show the
expected direction of association and are all signiﬁcant at the p,0.01 level.
C. Rees et al.2788
Table 1. Measurement model comparisons.
(df) GFI SRMR RMSEA CFI
Full measurement model, four factors 1135 (113) 0.938 0.051 0.066 0.958
Model A, three factors
1817 (116) 0.899 0.072 0.084 0.930 682 3
Model B, two factors
7072 (118) 0.619 0.141 0.168 0.715 5937 5
Model C, two factors
8163 (118) 0.592 0.149 0.181 0.670 7028 5
Model D, two factors
10,724 (118) 0.484 0.158 0.208 0.565 9589 5
Model E, three factors
5017 (116) 0.713 0.091 0.143 0.799 3882 3
Model F, one factor
11,439 (119) 0.468 0.158 0.214 0.536 10,304 6
, chi-square discrepancy; df, degrees of freedom;
, difference in chi-square; df
, difference in degrees of freedom. **p,0.001.
Compared to full measurement model, four factors.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2789
We used stepwise ordinary least squares regression analysis to test our hypotheses.
Preliminary analysis indicated that the regression results given below were not affected by
multicollinearity, as the highest VIF value was 1.603. We followed the three-step
procedure described by Baron and Kenny (1986) to test for the mediating effect of trust in
senior management and the employee– line manager relationship on the relationship
between voice and engagement. We ﬁrst examined the association between the
independent and dependent variables.
As shown in Table 3, our results show that voice was signiﬁcantly related to
¼0.511, p,0.01, R
¼0.307). Thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported:
employee voice was positively related to engagement. In the second step, our analysis
revealed a positive relationship between voice and trust in senior management (
¼0.155), and between trust in senior management and engagement
¼0.361, p,0.01, R
¼0.196), which gives support for Hypotheses 2a and 2b.
Moreover, we found a positive signiﬁcant association between voice and the employee –
line manager relationship (
¼0.345, p,0.01, R
¼0.135), and between the
employee– line manager relationship and engagement (
¼0.174). Therefore, Hypotheses 3a and 3b were also conﬁrmed.
In the third step of the mediation procedure, we analysed changes in the effect of voice
when trust in senior management and the employee – line manager relationship were added
to the regression predicting engagement. The results showed that the impact of voice on
engagement was lower, but still signiﬁcant (
¼0.431, p,0.01, DR
trust in senior management was added to the regression equation. Therefore, Hypothesis
2c is supported: the relationship between voice and engagement is partially mediated by
trust in senior management. When the employee – line manager relationship was also
added to the regression, we found a further decrease in the inﬂuence of voice on employee
¼0.414, p,0.01, DR
¼0.09), giving support for Hypothesis 3c: the
employee– line manager relationship partially mediates the relationship between voice
and employee engagement.
Finally, we aimed to compare the mediating effects of trust in senior management and
the employee– line manager relationship. As shown in Table 3, the partial mediating effect
of trust in senior management (
¼0.145) was larger than the partial mediating effect of
the employee – line manager relationship (
¼0.116). Moreover, we conducted additional
tests to check for the robustness of our ﬁndings. Sobel’s test was employed to identify
whether the indirect effect of voice on engagement via the mediating variables employee–
line management relationship and trust in senior management was signiﬁcantly different
from zero. Our analysis revealed that although the indirect effects through trust in senior
¼0.392 £0.145 ¼0.057, Sobel’s test ¼8.701, p,0.01) and
employee– line manager relationship (
¼0.345 £0.190 ¼0.066, Sobel’s test ¼8.074,
Table 2. Alphas, means, standard deviations and correlations for scale variables.
Mean SD 1 2 3
1. Employee voice 0.90 3.57 0.63
2. Trust in senior management 0.91 3.26 0.86 0.38**
3. Employee–line manager
0.93 3.57 0.90 0.35** 0.58**
4. Employee engagement 0.84 3.67 0.55 0.55** 0.39** 0.38**
Note: n¼2310. **p,0.01 (two-tailed).
C. Rees et al.2790
Table 3. Multiple regression results.
H1 H2a H2b H3a H3b H2c H3c
Trust in senior
bb b b b bbb
Gender 0.122** 0.077** 0.064** 0.084** 0.082** 0.082** 0.064** 0.058**
Management responsibilities 0.212** 0.074** 20.021 0.182** 20.005 0.184** 0.077** 0.077**
Organisation 20.093** 20.064** 0.047*2.100** 20.057** 20.066** 20.074** 20.065**
Employee voice 0.511** 0.392** 0.345** 0.431** 0.414**
Trust in senior management 0.361** 0.205** 0.145**
0.068 0.307 0.155 0.196 0.135 0.174 0.343 0.352
0.239 0.128 0.106 0.036 0.009
0.066 0.306 0.154 0.194 0.133 0.173 0.342 0.350
F47.462** 217.461** 90.241** 119.360** 76.711** 103.788** 204.893** 177.281**
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2791
p,0.01) were signiﬁcantly smaller than the direct effects (
¼0.414, p,0.01), Sobel’s test was signiﬁcant, and therefore gave further support to
Hypotheses 2c and 3c.
With respect to the control variables, they explained 7% of the variance in the
independent variable employee engagement. As suggested above, both gender (
p,0.01) and management responsibilities (
¼0.212, p,0.01) were a signiﬁcant and
strong predictor of engagement. Our results therefore indicate that women are more
engaged than men, and that employees with management responsibilities demonstrate
higher levels of engagement than non-managers. Moreover, we found that the organisation
had a signiﬁcant, but admittedly small, effect on engagement (
with employees in Organisation A showing slightly higher levels of engagement than
those in Organisation B.
Our data reveal positive relationships throughout: between voice and engagement, voice
and trust in senior management, trust in senior management and engagement, voice and
the employee– line manager relationship, and the employee – line manager relationship
and engagement. Moreover, the relationship between voice and engagement is partially
mediated by both trust in senior management and, to a lesser extent, the employee – line
manager relationship. The results have several theoretical and practical implications.
In terms of theoretical implications, our ﬁndings add to our understanding of employee
voice processes within organisations, and speciﬁcally voice behaviour directed towards
improving work group functioning. The data show that employees who perceive
themselves as speaking up with opinions and suggestions are more likely to be engaged
with their work. Moreover, the results show that trust in management and, to a lesser
extent, the employee – line management relationship are important in achieving this
outcome. In terms of management implications, our study highlights the value of a greater
focus on facilitating employee voice to enhance employee engagement. Employees build
reciprocal relationships with both senior and line managers, wherein their perceptions of
opportunities for voice encourage them to respond with heightened engagement.
Engagement is likely to be higher in organisations with high-quality social exchange
relationships. Trust in senior managers and strong employee–line manager relationships
thus constitute two key aspects of the social exchange relationship required for
engagement to ﬂourish.
Despite these robust conclusions, however, the paper has limitations, both
methodologically and conceptually. First, we collected data within two organisations
only. Future research could be extended to a wider range of organisations, for example
exploring sector effects in more detail, or comparing union and non-union settings.
Second, we relied upon individuals’ self-reports on all variables. Although common
method bias did not cause a problem in our data set, we encourage future researchers to
collect data from multiple sources. Third, we collected data in each organisation at one
point in time. Longitudinal or experimental research designs to substantiate the causality
of our hypotheses are therefore welcomed. Because of the cross-sectional design of the
study, it was not possible to measure the development of reciprocal exchange relationships
over time, and so causality cannot be unequivocally determined. It is quite possible, for
example, that employees would be afforded the opportunity to articulate voice in situations
where they have better relationships with line managers, and hence causality might
operate in either or both directions. Fourth, we examined voice behaviours directed
C. Rees et al.2792
towards improving the functioning of the group as an antecedent of engagement, and yet
the data collected did not allow us to assess which team individuals belong to. Future
research could therefore examine these relationships using multilevel research designs.
Voice behaviours may be mutually reinforcing within employee teams, and exert a unique
inﬂuence on how team members see their line manager and their organisation as well as
their extent of engagement with their jobs.
It is also important to acknowledge that our study used an indirect measure of voice,
exploring perceived voice behaviour rather than examining actual voice mechanisms. In
other words, we have considered perceptions of voice, not the reality of voice. Other
aspects of voice are of course in play within organisations, and future research could
explore the actuality of workplace voice mechanisms in more detail. Lawler and Worley
(2006) suggest that voice will only impact on engagement if employees are given power,
making decisions important to their performance and to the quality of their working lives,
and this power can range from a relatively low level of inﬂuence, as in providing input into
decisions made by others, to having ﬁnal authority and accountability for decisions and
their outcomes. Purcell et al. (2003) likewise suggest that engagement is only meaningful
if there is a genuine sharing of responsibility between management and employees over
issues of substance. Further work could be done to look at different types of voice
mechanism, at different levels, and examine how these link to varying levels of
engagement and decision-making power. Determining which types of voice mechanism
are the most likely to encourage voice behaviour, and in which organisational contexts,
would be a signiﬁcant advance.
Aside from the role of voice in inﬂuencing employee engagement, we further found
that the organisation had a signiﬁcant, albeit admittedly small, effect on engagement
outcomes. The issue of organisational context is one that future qualitative research could
usefully explore. Different organisational settings will present a variety of diverse
challenges for managers in their attempts to improve engagement levels. The focus of this
paper has been on individual-level self-report data, and so we have not explored these
contextual issues. Clearly, more in-depth case studies could reveal far more about the
nuances of engagement within varying organisational contexts.
Although beyond the scope of this particular study, and hence not part of our data, we
feel there are also more fundamental issues to acknowledge regarding the nature of
engagement, and its implications for employees, which remain important. We have taken
engagement to be a generally positive and benign construct, but its worthy rhetoric can
mask a reality where employees work harder and expend more effort, for example in
unpaid overtime, for little or no reward. As reported by the Labour Research Department
(2009), there are fears that engagement can drive work intensiﬁcation, with employers
coming to expect employees to ‘go the extra mile’ as a matter of course, overtime
becoming normalised, and only over-performance being rewarded, thus leaving behind
those who just routinely ‘do a good job’. These concerns echo the long-standing critique of
HRM more generally, encapsulated in the notion of ‘willing slaves’ (Scott 1994).
Moreover, engagement does not, indeed cannot, eradicate the inherent tension between
control and commitment at the heart of the employment relationship (Hyman 1987), and,
like all similar management initiatives, it thus necessarily represents a form of what
Delbridge (2007) calls ‘conﬂicted collaboration’.
This leads us to reﬂect, ﬁnally, on employee engagement in the current economic
context, in which rising levels of work effort, job strain and occupational stress comprise a
challenging backdrop for employers attempting to boost engagement levels. We would
echo the sentiments of David Coats of The Work Foundation, who, in praising the recent
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2793
MacLeod review as ‘a welcome intervention in the national conversation about work’,
nevertheless cautioned that engagement ‘cannot be a panacea for all the problems found in
British workplaces. Work intensiﬁcation, widespread perceptions of unfair treatment,
widening income gaps and poor relationships between employers and employees are
beyond the reach of even the best engagement strategy’ (Work Foundation 2009).
The study reported in this paper has empirically demonstrated the links between
employee voice behaviour directed towards the group and engagement, showing that the
relationship between both variables is mediated by trust in senior management and to a
lesser extent by the employee – line manager relationship. However, in light of our
reﬂections above, we would suggest that such micro-level quantitative ﬁndings need to be
considered both within varying organisational contexts and within a speciﬁc macro-level
political economy. Employee voice should be encouraged and enabled, but engagement
initiatives must be based upon genuine reciprocal trust rather than used to mask work
intensiﬁcation, and policy debates should focus on how best to develop those managerial
skills necessary to cultivate discretionary effort for the positive beneﬁt of both
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The International Journal of Human Resource Management 2797
Appendix: Overview of scale items and exploratory factor analysis results
I develop and make recommendations concerning
issues that affect my work group
I speak up and encourage others in my group
to get involved in issues that affect the group
I communicate my opinions about work issues
to others in my group even if my opinion is
different and others in the group disagree with me
I keep well informed about issues where
my opinion might be useful to my work group
I get involved in issues that affect the quality
of work life here in my group
I speak up in my group with ideas for new
projects or changes in procedures
I trust my senior managers 0.81 0.34
Senior managers are fair in their treatment of me 0.78 0.31
Senior managers listen to my ideas and suggestions 0.77
Senior managers have a clear vision for the organisation 0.72
I trust my line manager 0.85
I think my line manager is fair in his/her treatment of me 0.86
My line manager treats employees with respect 0.86
Line managers make employees feel valued 0.37 0.77
I am happy when I do a good job 0.68
I feel positive about my job 0.36 0.67
I am energised by my work 0.39 0.68
I get completely absorbed in my work 0.62
I think about how to improve the way
I do my job when I am not at work
I focus hard on doing my job well 0.67
I talk to people at work about how
to improve the way I do my job
I talk to people at work about how
to develop my skills and knowledge
I talk to people at work about how
to improve the way the team or department works
C. Rees et al.2798