Feeling obligated yet hesitant to speak up: Investigating the curvilinear relationship between LMX and employee promotive voice

Joel B. Carnevale, Lei Huang, Mary Uhl-Bien, Stanley Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Recent LMX research suggests that due to boundary conditions, the benefits of high-quality LMX relationships may not be as straightforward as previously thought. In the voice domain, meta-analytic evidence further shows that there is substantial variation in the effect sizes reported for the relationship between LMX and voice behaviour. To develop a more thorough understanding of the nature of the LMX–voice relationship, in the present study we draw from LMX theory and the voice literature to theorize and test the curvilinear indirect effect of LMX on employee promotive voice via employees’ felt obligation for constructive change (FOCC). We suggest that this curvilinear effect is contingent on employees’ perceptions of co-worker voice behaviours and leader solicitation of voice. Survey data collected from 256 employees and their supervising manager working at a large Chinese Internet finance company largely support our predictions. Our findings show that at low-to-moderately high levels, LMX is positively associated with promotive voice via FOCC. However, this positive relationship turns negative at very high level of LMX. Results also show a negative relationship between LMX and FOCC (and a negative indirect effect of LMX on promotive voice via FOCC) in the presence of higher levels of co-worker voice or lower levels of leader solicitation of voice. Contributions to the LMX and voice literatures are discussed. Limitations and future directions are also discussed. Practitioner points: High-quality LMX relationship is not always beneficial to organizations as it may discourage employees from speaking up with new ideas or suggestions at very high levels of LMX. When co-workers voice, employees are less likely to speak up with new ideas or suggestions as they feel their obligation to improve the organization may already be fulfilled by others. Leader solicitation can effectively encourage employee voice in high LMX relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-529
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • coworker voice
  • felt obligation
  • leader solicitation of voice
  • leader-member exchange
  • promotive voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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