Kate Kenny, Wim Vandekerckhove and Muhammad Irfan
To date, two important strands of research in work and employment - employee voice and whistleblowing studies - have tended to ignore each other despite the fact that both focus on similar phenomena: workers attempting to speak up. As a result, potential insights into how and why people speak up about serious wrongdoing taking place in organizations have not been realized. The authors argue that this represents a missed opportunity. Examining both fields they propose a new theoretical framing that brings together these previously disparate areas. They develop a conceptual model of whistleblowing voice that uniquely encompasses insights from whistleblowing research. The model comprises three interrelated stages, mediating factors and a number of feedback loops. Developing this the authors depict whistleblowing as a process of escalating voice, a framing that gives rise to a number of novel insights into whistleblowing voice in organizations. First, factors external to the organization cannot be overlooked as they have been to date in the voice literature. These include potential impacts on society of the wrongdoing that whistleblowing attempts to highlight; external recipients of whistleblowing voice including regulators and media; and discourses of censorship pertaining to a particular industry sector that can determine a priori whether or not whistleblowing voice is even possible. Their second contribution is to highlight the centrality of recursive feedback loops to the whistleblowing voice process. As they show, the perceived response to a potential whistleblowing action influences the nature of the action itself. Their third contribution is to highlight how a number of conceptual distinctions that have persisted to date in the voice literature must be problematized in order to analyse whistleblowing voice. Overall, the authors argue that their model of whistleblowing as escalating voice enables a more nuanced analytic framing of whistleblowing voice than previously available, and thus adds to extant debates. In the absence of attention to the crucial issues therein, existing conceptual frameworks for understanding whistleblowing voice in organizations remain lacking, while organizations continue to struggle with their responses to ever-changing legislation in this sphere. Meanwhile, opportunities for employees to speak up about wrongdoing remain scarce, representing a serious obstacle to an essential safety valve for society.