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Employee work experience, locomotion, and voice behavior.

Employee voice behavior refers to the discretionary expression of their thoughts, suggestions, and concerns to managers to improve the status quo (Detert & Burris, 2007). Transmission of such grass-roots information (i.e., the employees' thoughts, suggestions, and concerns) can identify potential opportunities, spark creativity, increase managerial efficiency, and improve organizational performance (Kaufman, 2015; Morrison, 2011). Given the importance of employee voice, considerable research attention has been devoted to this area in the past decade (see reviews by Morrison, 2011; Mowbray, Wilkinson, & Tse, 2015; Ng & Feldman, 2012) with a particular focus on identifying the environmental and personal factors, such as psychological safety, leader openness, and proactive personality (see review by Ng & Feldman, 2012) that motivate or facilitate employees to exhibit voice behavior.

Employee locomotion constitutes the aspect of individual self-regulation concerned with the psychological and physical "movement from state to state, including commitment of psychological resource to initiate and maintain such movement" (Kruglanski et al., 2000, p. 793). In the present study, we examined the individual and joint influence on voice behavior of employee work experience and their locomotion. Our aim was to contribute to the literature in two ways. First, despite prior evidence (e.g., Detert & Burris, 2007; Miceli, Near, & Dworkin, 2008; Tangirala & Ramanujam, 2008b) of the relationship between work experience and voice behavior, overt investigation of this relationship and its boundary conditions is lacking. To address this, we examined the explicit impact of work experience on voice behavior. Employee locomotion was proposed as the boundary condition in this impact. The logic behind this proposal is that although employees may hold information that is critical for an organization, they may not necessarily engage in voice behavior because they do not have the personality of a doer. Second, in most previous studies the researchers have conceptualized voice as a one-dimensional construct when exploring its determinants (for a review see Mowbray et al., 2015). However, increasingly organizational scholars have realized the necessity of distinguishing forms of voice from the theoretical and empirical standpoints (Morrison, 2011). For instance, Liang, Farh, and Farh (2012) put forward the concepts of prohibitive voice and promotive voice. Prohibitive voice was defined as the expression of concerns regarding operations, procedures, and incidents that may cause damage to the work team or organization, and promotive voice was defined as the expression of suggestions or other information to help the work team or organization identify opportunities or improve functioning. Unfortunately, there is still little known about the psychological processes underpinning the two forms of voice. In the current study we sought to shed some light on these processes.

Theoretical Background and Hypotheses

We proposed that work experience would increase the tendency of an employee to express voice, as providing high quality information requires a wealth of knowledge and experience of the job and the organization. Furthermore, we proposed that locomotion, as a contingent element, would reinforce the effect of work experience on voice behavior (Chiaburu, Marinova, & Van Dyne, 2008). In line with this reasoning, we proposed that, in conjunction with work experience, locomotion would increase employee voice behavior.

Work Experience and Voice Behavior

Voice behavior involves conveying change-oriented information or knowledge for a work team or organization (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998). To possess high-quality information, employees must have a thorough understanding of the interpersonal environment, work procedures, rules and regulations, and other dynamics of their work unit. Work experience enriches employees' understanding of these aspects of their job (Tesluk & Jacobs, 1998). In addition, work experience frees employees from basic and trivial aspects of work and enables them to see the big picture. For employees with little work experience, attentive concentration is required to accomplish the work tasks and to acclimatize (Louis, 1980), whereas veterans are proficient in their job and, consequently, are more cognitively available (Quinones, Ford, & Teachout, 1995). Having this cognitive availability allows veterans to observe the work, cooperation, and even the conflicts of colleagues. Thus, veterans are more likely to hold information and knowledge that has the potential to help the work team or organization to prevent mistakes, and to learn and improve. Specifically, we hypothesized the following:

Hypothesis 1a: Work experience will be positively related to prohibitive voice behavior.

Hypothesis 1b: Work experience will be positively related to promotive voice behavior.

In addition, we predicted that the impact of work experience would vary considerably according to whether voice was promotive or prohibitive. Voicing improvement-oriented information is challenging (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998). Employees may offend, embarrass, or intimidate managers by doing so. Although voice behavior in general is challenging, the level of risk may differ according to the form of voice behavior. For example, in terms of managers being challenged, prohibitive voice--namely, expressing concerns or pointing out problems--is more risky than promotive voice (Liang et al., 2012) because managers are more likely to see prohibitive voice as a threat or accusation, as they may feel responsible for the concerns and problems that are being voiced. Given this risk, veterans may be cautious about expressing prohibitive voice. That is, despite possessing information about a potential problem or concern, the veteran may choose not to give voice to this information. By contrast, the threat underlying promotive voice is relatively implicit and subtle, because the aim of promotive voice is improvement, rather than identifying problems or concerns. Therefore, we hypothesized the following:

Hypothesis 1c: The relationship between work experience and promotive voice behavior will be stronger than that between work experience and prohibitive voice behavior.

Locomotion and Voice Behavior

As already described, it is possible that even if an employee holds useful information, he or she may not engage in voice behavior because of the psychological barriers of fear, anxiety, and worry that are aligned with challenging authority (Morrison & Milliken, 2000). The presence of environmental and personal factors, such as organizational identification, psychological safety, leader trust, and obligation to change, can help to remove or overcome such barriers (Morrison & Milliken, 2003). However, these relatively stable individual differences, have received little attention in previous research.

In this study, we investigated the behavioral tendencies of locomotion (Kruglanski et al., 2000). High locomotors are quick in pace and their life philosophy is to just do it. Thus, once they have ideas, they tend to take action to put them into practice. Low locomotors are slower in pace and are apt to consider each idea for longer before acting on it. In this process, the risk of performing voice behavior may become salient, and low locomotors may therefore refrain from voicing information that is critical of the organization.

Furthermore, high locomotion will be particularly useful for helping an employee overcome the psychological barriers to the expression of promotive voice behavior. Managers are more likely to perceive the motives underlying promotive voice behavior as loyal and prosocial, whereas it is easy to consider those underlying prohibitive voice behavior as threatening (Burris, 2012). Therefore, there is a low risk that promotive voice behaviors will challenge managers, and employees high in locomotion are, thus, likely to engage in these behaviors. On the contrary, prohibitive voice behavior may be too risky, even for high locomotors, making them reluctant to express prohibitive voice. We thus hypothesized the following:

Hypothesis 2a: High locomotion will be positively related to prohibitive voice behavior.

Hypothesis 2b: High locomotion will be positively related to promotive voice behavior.

Hypothesis 2c: High locomotion will be more strongly related to promotive voice behavior than to prohibitive voice behavior.

Interactive Effect of Work Experience and Locomotion on Voice Behavior

We proposed that locomotion would enhance the effect of work experience on voice behavior. As described, it has been found that veterans are more likely than are newcomers to hold information that has the potential to improve work procedures, optimize organizational operation, save resources, or increase the quality of services. If they are simultaneously high in locomotion they are most likely to have the type of personality to wish to make things happen and, therefore, they are most likely to express such information (Parker, Bindl, & Strauss, 2010), expecting it to bring constructive changes. On the contrary, if they are low in locomotion, they may fail to speak up because of low power for action. As a result, in terms of voice behavior, veterans low in locomotion are no more valuable to the organization than newcomers are. We therefore hypothesized that:

Hypothesis 3a: High locomotion will strengthen the positive relationship between work experience and prohibitive voice behavior.

Hypothesis 3b: High locomotion will strengthen the positive relation between work experience and promotive voice behavior.

Consistent with our previous argument, we proposed that, for veterans, high locomotion would be more likely to remove the psychological barriers to promotive voice behaviors than the psychological barriers to prohibitive voice behaviors. We therefore hypothesized the following:

Hypothesis 3c: The moderating effect of high locomotion on the relationship between work experience and promotive voice will be stronger than that on the relationship between work experience and prohibitive voice.


Sample and Procedure

Students in the program for a Master of Business Administration degree at a university in eastern China helped distribute a digital survey to employees in a variety of companies in eastern China. Participants were employees (n = 170 subordinates; 75.3% men, 24.7% women) and their immediate supervisors (n = 46 leaders; 66.5% men, 33.5%, women). After signing a consent form, subordinates completed a survey containing items designed to assess their work experience and locomotion, and leaders completed a survey consisting of items designed to evaluate the promotive and prohibitive voice behavior of each of their subordinates. All respondents emailed their completed survey forms directly to the research team. The research ethics of the study were approved and supervised by the research committee of the City University of Hong Kong, where the first author received his doctoral degree.

Participants were employees of information technology, energy, telecommunications, and consulting companies. Of the 170 subordinates, for 22.90% their highest educational qualification was a high school diploma or below, 70% had a bachelor's degree, and 7.10% had a postgraduate qualification. The average organizational tenure of subordinates was 2.57 years, and the average age was 29.47 years (range, 20-55 years). Of the 46 leaders, for 24.80% their highest educational qualification was a high school diploma or below, 65.30% had a bachelor's degree, and 9.90% had a postgraduate qualification. The average organizational tenure of leaders was 6.88 years, and the average age was 33.59 years (range, 25-50 years). The average leadership tenure was 3.95 years.


All scales were presented in Chinese. Internal consistency estimates (alphas) were acceptable (see Table 1).

Employee voice behavior. Employee voice behavior was rated by the immediate supervisor using the 10-item scale developed by Liang and colleagues (2012). There are five items designed to assess prohibitive voice behavior and five items for promotive voice behavior. An example of an item for prohibitive voice behavior is "This employee voices opinions on things that might affect efficiency in the work unit, even if that would embarrass others" and an example of an item for promotive voice behavior is "This employee raises suggestions to improve the team's working procedure." Each item is rated on a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).

Employee locomotion. Employees assessed their own level of locomotion using the 12-item scale developed by Kruglanski and coauthors (2000). This scale was originally developed in English, and the English scales were translated into Chinese first. These Chinese scales then were translated back into English by a bilingual expert. After that, the two versions of the English scales were compared to verify the accuracy of the translation. Two example items are "I am a doer" and "I am a go-getter." Each item is rated on a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).

Employee work experience. Work experience was evaluated by organizational tenure.

Demographic variables. All participants reported their age (in years), organizational tenure (in years), sex (male, female), and highest academic qualification.

Data Analysis

Each leader rated each of the employees under their supervision (average, 4; range, 2-6); therefore, the data were nested by the leader. Because of the multilevel nature of the data, hierarchical linear modeling (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002) was used to rule out the influence of group-level variables and to test the hypothesized relationships among the individual-level variables of work experience, locomotion, promotive voice behavior, and prohibitive voice behavior.


The mean and standard deviation of each variable for the 170 subordinates and the correlations between the variables are presented in Table 1.

Hypotheses Testing

The results of hypotheses testing are shown in Table 2. The age, sex, and education level of the subordinates were entered at level one as control variables (M1). Work experience was marginally related to prohibitive voice behavior (M2) and promotive voice behavior (M6). Therefore Hypotheses 1a and 1b were not supported. The result of a z test indicated that the two coefficients were not significantly different (z = - 0.31, ns), thus, Hypothesis 1c was also not supported.

Locomotion was not significantly associated with prohibitive voice behavior (M3), therefore Hypothesis 2a was not supported. However, locomotion was positively related to promotive voice behavior (M7), supporting Hypothesis 2b. The result of a z test indicated that the association between locomotion and promotive voice behavior was stronger than that between locomotion and prohibitive voice behavior (z = 12.71, p < .001), supporting Hypothesis 2c.

To test Hypotheses 3a and 3b, work experience x locomotion was entered at level 1. The interactive effects of work experience and locomotion were significant on both prohibitive voice behavior (M4) and promotive voice behavior (M8).

Simple slopes analyses (Bauer & Curran, 2005) were performed to explore the interactive patterns. The plots are presented in Figure 1 (work experience x locomotion-prohibitive voice behavior) and Figure 2 (work experience x locomotion-promotive voice behavior). When employee locomotion was high (one standard deviation above the mean), work experience was positively related to prohibitive voice behavior ([beta] = .13, t = 3.18,p < .01), whereas when employee locomotion was low (one standard deviation below the mean), there was no association between work experience and prohibitive voice behavior ([beta] = -.05, t = -1.14, ns). Similarly, when employee locomotion was high, work experience was positively related to promotive voice behavior ([beta] = .14, t = 3.44, p < .01), and when employee locomotion was low, there was no association between work experience and promotive voice behavior ([beta] = -.04, t = -1.10, ns). Hypotheses 3a and 3b were therefore supported.

In Hypothesis 3c we predicted a moderating effect of locomotion on the relationship between work experience and promotive voice behavior would be stronger than this effect on the relationship between work experience and prohibitive voice behavior. The result of a z test revealed that the moderating effect was not significantly different for the two types of voice behavior (z = -0.31, ns). Hypothesis 3c was, therefore, not supported.


We examined the joint effect of work experience and locomotion on employee voice behavior, and found that: (a) high locomotion enhanced employee promotive voice behavior but not employee prohibitive voice behavior, and (b) having more work experience increased voice behavior (both prohibitive and promotive voice) only in employees with high locomotion.

Theoretical and Practical Implications

These findings further the understanding of employee voice behavior in two ways. First, although researchers had previously investigated the antecedents of voice behavior, they had primarily viewed voice behavior as a one-dimensional construct. Liang and colleagues (2012) distinguished between promotive and prohibitive voice behaviors and proposed that these two behaviors had different underlying mechanisms. In a longitudinal study, they found that psychological safety was the most powerful predictor of prohibitive voice behavior, and that obligation to change was more strongly associated with promotive voice behavior than it was with prohibitive voice behavior. We have extended these findings by showing that among our study respondents there was an association between their level of locomotion and their promotive voice behavior, but not between their level of locomotion and prohibitive voice behavior. Furthermore, we found that work experience and locomotion interactively affected performance of promotive and prohibitive voice behaviors. Compared to newcomers, veterans felt high efficacy and perceived that there was a relatively low risk of damaging their image by speaking up (Morrison, 2011). Supporting this, in Western samples researchers have found that work experience is positively related to voice behavior (Detert & Burris, 2007; Tangirala & Ramanujam, 2008a). However, in the present study conducted in a Chinese context, we did not find this positive relationship. Instead the level of significance was marginal, suggesting the existence of moderating factors, and locomotion was identified as a boundary condition. Specifically, in our study the association between our Chinese respondents' work experience and voice behavior only held for high locomotors. In addition, the combination of length of work experience and level of locomotion influenced both their prohibitive and promotive voice behaviors, without significant distinction in valence and strength, implying that this influence might be general for any voice behavior.

The practical implications of our findings are that: (a) employees high in locomotion are a critical asset for an organization in terms of expressing improvement-oriented ideas and suggestions (promotive voice), but not in terms of voicing concerns (prohibitive voice), and (b) veterans high in locomotion performed both promotive and prohibitive voice behaviors, and thus were especially valuable. Based on our findings, we recommend that in the Chinese context managers should turn to veterans who are high in locomotion for the expression of voice. This notion is consistent with the idea that veterans are a valuable asset in terms of voice (Morrison, 2011).


One limitation of this study is that the promotive and prohibitive voice behaviors of the employees were assessed by their immediate supervisor. These supervisor-reported data might be biased by the quality of the subordinate-supervisor relationship. Supervisors might overestimate the voice behavior of those employees who belong to an in-group. We hope that our findings can be replicated in future studies by controlling leader-member exchange or using an objective measure to assess employee voice behavior. Another limitation of this study is the sample. Our respondents were employees of Chinese companies only, and this may constrain the generalizability of the findings. More studies in different cultural contexts are required to test and validate our conclusions.


Fangjun Li, Aimei Li, and Yu Zhu, Management School, Jinan University.

This research was supported by grants from the Natural Science Foundation Program of Guangdong Province (408277493017), the General Youth Foundation Program of the Ministry of Education of Humanities and Social Science (15YJC630197), the Soft Science Program of Guangdong Province (2014A070703021), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71271101, 71571087,

71602075, 71602076).

Fangjun Li and Aimei Li made equal contributions to this paper and should be considered co-first authors.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yu Zhu, Management School, Jinan University, 601 Huangpu Avenue West, Guangzhou 510632, People's Republic of China. Email:


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Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Between Study

                       M        SD      1       2        3

1. Age                 29.47    7.68    -
2. Sex                 -        0.47    -.08    -
3. Education           -        0.65    -.12    -.21**   -
4. Work experience     5.82     5.30    .68**   -.01     -.30**
5. Locomotion          4.26     0.49    -.08    -.04     .10
6. Prohibitive voice   3.72     0.97    -.16*   .04      -.01
7. Promotive voice     4.15     0.91    -.15    -.09     .17*

                       4        5       6        7

1. Age
2. Sex
3. Education
4. Work experience     -
5. Locomotion          -.15*    .72
6. Prohibitive voice   -.08     .03     .91
7. Promotive voice     -.11     .17*    .68**     .94

Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01; n = 170; Internal consistency estimates
(alphas) are listed on the diagonal in bold.

Table 2. Results of Hierarchical Linear Analyses

Variable                     Prohibitive voice
                      M1        M2         M3         M4

Age                  -.01    -.02 (+)      -.01     .02 (+)
                    (.01)     (.01)      (.01)      (.01)
Sex                  .20       .22        .20        .26 (+)
                    (.15)     (.15)      (.15)      (.15) (+)
Education            -.16      -.15      -.24 (+)    -.21
                    (.12)     (.12)      (.12)      (.12)
Work experience                .05 (+)               .04 (+)
                              (.03)                 (.02)
Locomotion                                .19        .18
                                         (.15)      (.13)
Work experience x                                    .18*
locomotion                                          (.07)
Deviance            443.10    432.99     438.15     429.77

Variable                     Promotive voice
                      M5        M6         M7         M8

Age                  -.01    -.02 (+)     -.01      -.02*
                    (.01)     (.01)      (.01)      (.01)
Sex                  -.06      -.01       -.02       .07
                    (.15)     (.14)      (.15)      (.14)
Education            .04       .06        -.04       .02
                    (.12)     (.11)      (.11)      (.11)
Work experience                .05 (+)               .05*
                              (.03)                 (.02)
Locomotion                                .37*       .41*
                                         (.14)      (.13)
Work experience x                                   .18**
locomotion                                          (.06)
Deviance            433.11    423.99     422.64     415.36

Note. Values are unstandardized coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses; employees (n = 170), supervisors (n = 46); (+) p < .10,
* p < .05, ** p < .01.
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Author:Li, Fangjun; Li, Aimei; Zhu, Yu
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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