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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-03022022-125818

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
Employee voice in cooperatives: organisational determinants and effects on job satisfaction
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Prof. Cavaliere, Vincenzo
correlatore Prof.ssa Bonti, Mariacristina
  • cooperatives
  • employee voice
  • voice
Graduation session start date
Release date
The recent dynamicity of national and global markets has profoundly affected the economic, social, and productive capacity of Italian organisations, undermining their competitiveness and, in some cases, their possibility of survival and identity itself. These continuous changes push organisations towards innovation and seek new, less identifiable and controllable solutions through rational models and analytical schemes. This uncertainty of daily context has strongly highlighted the central role of people for organisations as agents of change and determinants of performance and the improvement of production processes through their participation in decisions. From this perspective, employee voice, in its various forms, plays a vital role in organisational functioning as it concerns the ability of employees to express their views, opinions, concerns, and suggestions and for these to influence decisions at work (CIPD, 2020; Wilkinson, Barry, and Morrison, 2020). Allowing workers to express their voices can bring relevant issues to light. Indeed, it contributes to increased performance (Chamberlin, Newton, and LePine, 2018; Hassel, Helmerich, and von Verschuer, 2018; Mackenzie, Podsakoff, and Podsakoff, 2011) and greater levels of innovation via more creative ideas (Carnevale et al., 2017; Chen and Hou, 2016; Guzman and Espejo, 2019; Song, Wu, and Gu, 2017).
Considering this, the attention of the present research is on a particular kind of organisation known as cooperatives, defined by the European Commission as “an autonomous association of persons united to meet common economic, social, and cultural goals” that attempts at serving “the needs of their members who contribute to their capital.” The intuition driving an attempt to investigate cooperatives relies upon the following reasons. First, organisational scholars have shown interest in the cooperative model as a way to organise the work. They have also recognised that cooperatives can adapt themselves to specific contexts needs, and the capacities they possess allow them to react to the dynamism and challenges of the market (Borzaga, 2018; Cheney et al., 2014). Second, for cooperatives, people’s centrality and voices should represent a consolidated and widespread identity element. Within cooperatives, members’ participation is mandatory and effective because it explicates both the ownership and the management of the cooperative (Fici, 2016), which are carried out by the same people (Guzmán, Santos, and Barroso, 2020; Spear, 2004). As stated by Borgström (2013, p. 50), “members of co-operatives are not firm owners in the traditional orthodox way as there is no marketplace for the members’ stakes.” Different motives foster members’ activities towards the success of the cooperative rather than profit. Scholars suggest that social and psychological processes guide individual behaviours rather than structural factors (Núñez-Nickel and Moyano-Fuentes, 2004). The resulting social system generates senses of ownership and attachment that engage and motivate members to achieve collective goals. It is important to note that the ownership shared among more members is composed of interests with elements of heterogeneity (Giacomini, Chiaf, and Mazzoleni, 2017; Hansmann, 1999); therefore, individuals attribute value to their membership based on the relationships and transactions with the cooperative. The foundation of these exchanges is the mutualistic principle, which takes place under the form of mutual advantages, benefits, better conditions than the market, and obligations for both parties. It is a reciprocity process between members and their organisation. The set of exchange relationships between individuals is naturally framed within Social Exchange Theory, which explains the exchanges between individuals at work as part of the socialisation process (Chernyak-Hai and Rabenu, 2018). From this perspective, voice behaviours support relationships and enhance smooth functioning by representing an effective way of communicating preferences about how to manage a firm (Hansmann, 1999; Hirschmann, 1970).
Based on this, the present research explores the topic of employee voice within cooperative organisations, proposing its potential as a solution that is able to maintain the principle of participation of members when cooperatives are facing current competitive challenges. This research attempts to answer the needs that emerged in the context of cooperatives, which urge to find new forms of expression of the democratic principles of cooperatives as expressed by Legacoop Toscana, the organisation that supported the development of the present research. Legacoop Toscana is a regional and cross-sector division of the National League of Cooperatives and Mutuals and has operated with a focus on the interests of Tuscan cooperatives since 1974. The support of the representative institution is a precious contribution to the present research. In addition to contributing research, the relevance of the employee voice topic and the rationale development of this thesis are critical for cooperatives.
This doctoral thesis contains four papers. The first paper (section 5 of the thesis) retraces the main stages of the evolution of employee voice research in management literature. To this end, the review focuses on three management domains (Industrial Relations, IR; Organisational Behaviour, OB; and Human Resource Management, HRM). This paper’s discussion allows us to observe that despite an increasing number of contributions regarding this theme, the literature suffers from the fact that each management stream of research has developed in silos, resulting in fragmented voice knowledge (Kaufman, 2015; Kwon and Farndale, 2020; Wilkinson et al., 2020).
Although previous authors have attempted to integrate different streams of literature (e.g. Mowbray, Wilkinson, and Tse, 2015; Wilkinson et al., 2020), the adoption of a holistic approach for studying employee voice is still needed in order to identify more overarching and effective ways by which to benefit from employee input to cooperatives. Accordingly, the second paper presents a conceptual piece of work (see section 6) that proposes a framework for investigating employee voice and organisational features. By integrating contributions from different fields of the management literature, this work offers a conceptual model that provides an extensive overview of the organisational factors that have implications for employee voice with a particular focus on the context of cooperatives. For such organisations, employee voice represents a chance to regenerate their principles, providing a new way to foster the participation of individuals (Cornforth, 1995; Langmead, 2016). Grounding on Social Exchange Theory (Blau, 1964), this article aims at addressing the following research question: ‘How can cooperatives redefine their organisational systems to prioritise employee voice within the structures and processes that guide all organisational activities?’ The model makes it possible to assess the link of multiple organisational factors, such as structural and cultural elements, leadership, and HRM approaches, with employee voice behaviours; further, it highlights the implications that the expression of employee voice has for cooperatives.
The following paper (section 7) presents an empirical study. It starts by acknowledging that, especially in cooperatives, organisational phenomena exist through socially interdependent relationships and processes (Brower, Schoorman, and Tan, 2000; Uhl-Bien, 2011). Consequently, in addition to verbal interactions, the communication system also encompasses non-verbal exchanges to coordinate all parties involved in the cooperative system as effectively as possible. All these exchanges build on the unique attachment of the individual towards the organisation, such as loyalty (Barnard, 1938; Hirschman, 1970) and involve several relationships that are part of the socialisation process (Barnard, 1938; Chernyak-Hai and Rabenu, 2018; McMahon and Carr, 1999), including employee voice behaviours. The basic premise argues individuals develop opinions about their organisation to support its improvement (Carnevale et al., 2017; Chamberlin, Newton, and Lepine, 2017). In addition, they might develop adverse opinions about work-related issues and express them through more or less destructive voice behaviours (Gorden, 1988; Kassing, 2002). Accordingly, this first empirical study addresses the following research question: ‘How does individual loyalty affect employee voice behaviours?’
The purpose of this study is thus to explore how employee loyalty affects employees’ challenging voice behaviours, more precisely their constructive and destructive voice, focusing on the indirect effects of two important organisational elements, such as leadership and social coordination processes. A sample of 301 members of 19 worker cooperatives from Italy is empirically analysed to test the hypotheses. The results illuminate the relationship between employee loyalty and voice (Hirschman, 1970) by considering different challenging voice orientations. Moreover, by providing additional evidence about the central role of the relationship between employees and leadership in influencing employees’ behaviours, this study provides a valuable addition to the literature on employee voice as it shows coordination of work activities as a relevant relational mechanism that allows employee voice expression through social interaction and cooperation. Finally, the findings enrich the literature on cooperative organisations by providing evidence of the importance of social relationships and interaction regarding leadership aspects and the coordination of daily activities for facilitating individuals’ challenging voice behaviours.
Grounding on the Two-Factor Theory of motivation (Herzberg, 1968), the four paper (see section 8) presents an empirical study that attempts to enrich the understanding of the effect of constructive and destructive voice on individual outcomes. Although previous studies have shown that employee voice impacts performance outcomes depending on the types investigated (Huang et al., 2018; Song et al., 2019), few studies have explored the consequences of different voice orientations. Grounding on the above consideration, the research question that guides this study is ‘What is the underlying motivational process that explains the relationships between the two forms of employee voice and overall job satisfaction?’ To do this, the study tested the relationship between voice (i.e., promotive and prohibitive) and job satisfaction and focused on the mediating role of transactional, transformational leadership and a specific approach for HRM. This is one of the first studies to adopt the voice model proposed by Maynes and Podsakoff (2014) to investigate the effect of employee voice on individual outcomes and explore the underlying meaning of this relationship. In addition, the results of the empirical analysis involving 301 workers from 19 Italian worker cooperatives provide implications to people-oriented organisations such as cooperatives and contribute to the literature on Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of motivation.