Supported Supervisors Are More Supportive, but Why? A Multilevel Study of Mechanisms and Outcomes

Abstract

This study examines organizational support theory as it extends to supervisor support by (1) testing two explanations for the relationship between supervisors’ perceived organizational support and their supportive supervision and (2) examining perceived supervisor support in relation to subordinate performance and commitment. Multisource survey data from a correctional facility, with a matched sample of 51 supervisors and 283 subordinates, were collected. Multilevel structural equation modeling was used for analysis. Supervisors were more supportive when they felt supportive treatment was preferred by the organization and less supportive when they felt obligated to help the organization. Perceived supervisor support was associated with subordinate performance and commitment at the subordinate level (i.e., among employees reporting to the same supervisor) but not at the supervisor level (i.e., across supervisor-follower groups). Employees who feel supported by their supervisor perform better and are more committed to their employer. To encourage supervisor support, organizations should both model support to supervisors and communicate the expectation for supervisor support. Supervisors who feel obligated to reciprocate to a supportive organization may be less inclined to support their subordinates. This study examines the prevailing, yet untested, mechanism (felt obligation) used to explain the relationship between supervisor’s perceptions of organizational support and their supportive supervision, as well as an alternative explanation based on social information processing. The study provides a nuanced multilevel analysis of perceived supervisor support as related to subordinate outcomes and extends previous models by including subordinate withdrawal and commitment.

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Frear, K.A., Donsbach, J., Theilgard, N. et al. Supported Supervisors Are More Supportive, but Why? A Multilevel Study of Mechanisms and Outcomes. J Bus Psychol 33, 55–69 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-016-9485-2

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Keywords

  • Organizational support
  • Supervisor support
  • Multilevel structural equation modeling
  • Leadership