Previous studies have mainly considered voice as a behavior with constructive intention for the organization. However, such studies have failed to recognize that voice can be an important means for individuals to achieve their own instrumental goals. Among the few studies that have examined the instrumentality of voice behavior, little attention has been paid to distinguishing between the types of voice behavior motivated by instrumental goals, leading to an incomplete understanding of the instrumental side of the behavior. Hence, this study attempts to broaden our understanding of different voice behaviors as a means of satisfying different instrumental goals in pressure situations.
Specifically, based on conservation of resources theory, we suggest that high work pressure indicates threats, increasing individuals’ motivation to conserve resources and thus leading to more defensive voice. In contrast, when work pressure is low, the environment is likely to be perceived as benign, motivating the expression of constructive voice. Importantly, we highlight the role of leader openness as an important boundary condition. Leader openness signals that voice behavior is encouraged and valued, leading to positive expectations for employees to maintain or acquire resources through such behavior, which further motivates that behavior. In contrast, when leaders turn a blind eye to their employees’ voice, employees perceive that their suggestion behavior cannot help them achieve their instrumental goals, and they thus stay silent about work-related issues. Taken together, we suggest that work pressure leads to more defensive voice and less constructive voice, especially when leader openness is high.
To test our conceptual model, we conducted a one-month time-lagged study among 386 employees from 50 teams at a construction site. We found that although employees’ perceptions of work stress significantly decreased constructive voice, they also increased defensive voice. Ego depletion mediated the effects of work stress on these two types of voice behavior. Moreover, the results showed that group-level leader openness significantly reinforced the negative relationship between work stress and constructive voice, as well as the negative indirect effect of work pressure on constructive voice through ego depletion. However, the moderating effect of leader openness was not observed when testing the direct and indirect effects of work pressure on defensive voice.
This study makes three main contributions to the literature. First, responding to researchers’ recommendations in recent years, the study investigated the mechanisms of different types of voice behaviors. Second, the study drew on conservation of resources theory to explain the effects of work stress on voice behavior, enhancing our understanding of why people engage in certain types of voice behavior in response to work stress. Finally, the study highlights leader openness as an important boundary condition, clarifying when work stress is more likely or less likely to lead to different voice behaviors.