Reluctant to speak? The impact of supervisor narcissism on employee prohibitive voice

Zhi-Hui Ding (Zhongnan University of Economics and Law), Hua-Cheng Li (Yantze University), Lei Quan (Zhongnan University of Economics and Law), and Hua-Qiang Wang (Yantze University), 2018, 46(10), 1713–1726.

Fortunately, I have not experienced a narcissistic supervisor. And although I am au fait with employee voice, I was not familiar with the two types of voice: promotive and prohibitive. The research model that these authors constructed to examine the relationship between supervisor narcissism and employee prohibitive voice, with the mediating role of employee voice efficacy and the moderating role of supervisor–subordinate guanxi, has produced an informative and helpful study. 

Although it could be considered that a direct challenge to organizational status quo (prohibitive voice) would be more courageous than an expression of new ideas to improve work practices (promotive voice), I found it surprising that in a Western setting in another study, managers believed that prohibitive voice is more likely to have a positive effect on organizational success.    In line with the emphasis on harmonious relationships in China, it was unsurprising, in this study, that supervisor–subordinate guanxi, a personal relationship built on mutual trust and benefit, negatively moderated the relationship between supervisor narcissism and employee voice efficacy, such that the relationship was weaker when supervisor–subordinate guanxi was higher.

At a time when discussions of bullying in the workplace in New Zealand have become widespread, and an inquiry into bullying at New Zealand Parliament is being undertaken, the timely results of this study show the wisdom of paying attention to leadership style and positive leadership traits. Voice efficacy gives employees a sense of ownership when they feel that their voice will achieve positive results. Unfortunately, this outcome is not guaranteed. An example of workplace bullying has recently been reported as previously occurring in an Auckland, New Zealand, newsroom. The supervisor was not dealt with and the employee who used prohibitive voice was dismissed.

Although this study was undertaken in China, I believe that the authors provide lessons and suggestions that are generalizable across workplaces in different countries and cultures.

Katharine Samuel | Copyeditor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal