ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (2): 252-264.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.00252

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Ethical Leadership and Employee Voice: Examining a Moderated-Mediation Model

LIANG Jian   

  1. Antai College of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200052, China
  • Received:2013-01-12 Published:2014-02-25 Online:2014-02-25
  • Contact: LIANG Jian


Employee voice received more and more research attention recent years. Among this line of research, ethical leadership was proposed to be a key variable to motivate employee voice. The purpose of the present study is to examine the relationship between ethical leadership and employee voice. Drawing on the characteristics of employee voice and relevant theories about ethical leadership (i.e., social learning theory, Bandura, 1977; social exchange theory, Blau, 1964), we propose two psychological mediators to clarify the underlying mechanisms of ethical leadership on employee voice: psychological safety and felt obligations. Furthermore, we propose power distance orientation as a boundary variable to understand its interplay with ethical leadership on psychological mediators. Power distance orientation is expected to influence individuals’ sensitivity to the ethical signal of leadership. It helps to illustrate different psychological processes that better explain the mediating model of ethical leadership. A two-phase survey data were collected from 239 Chinese retailing employees. I administered two versions of surveys at two different time points. In the first survey, the focal employee was asked to provide information about ethical leadership, felt obligations, psychological safety, and power distance orientation. Six weeks later, the immediate manager was asked to assess the focal employee’s voice behavior. All the scales were well-established in the literature. The standard translation and back-translation procedures were employed to translate the English items into Chinese by the researcher. Structural equation modeling technique was employed to test the hypotheses about mediation and moderation, while bootstrap analysis procedures were used to test the moderated-mediation relationships among the study variables. Consistent with predictions, the results showed that both psychological safety and felt obligations mediated the influence of ethical leadership on voice behavior. Meanwhile, the results suggest that power distance orientation not only positively moderated the relationship between ethical leadership and two mediators (i.e., psychological safety and felt obligations): the relationship between ethical leadership and two psychological mediators was much stronger for high power distance employees than for the ones with low power distance orientation. Since both significant mediation and moderation relationships existed, I further examined the possibility of a mediated moderation relationship. The results suggest that two indirect relationships (i.e., ethical leadership-felt obligations-promotive voice and ethical leadership-psychological safety-prohibitive voice) were positively moderated by power distance orientation. Collectively, this research extends our understanding of the leadership-voice relationship and specifies how ethical leaders facilitate employee voice. Our study showed that ethical conducts from the power-holders would be important for motivating employee constructive voice, because the ethical type of leadership actively create two necessary conditions for voice behavior: felt obligations and psychological safety. Therefore, the full integration of ethical standards into leadership is not only preferable, but also necessary for long-term organizational innovation and survival. In addition, managers should play a critical role in advancing moral principles, setting moral examples and emphasizing moral persuasion in the Chinese context, where there is likely to be a much heavier concentration of individuals with a high power distance orientation than other places with low power distance tradition (i.e., the U.S.). Otherwise, employees’ unrest may be easily fuelled by suspicious of abuse of power and official corruption in the management side during the period of restructuring.

Key words: ethical leadership, employee voice, psychological safety, felt obligations, power distance orientation