An employee today typically juggles a myriad of duties on the job and at home. For example, many employees are the primary caregivers of young children as well as elders. Fulfilling these roles efficiently can be extremely demanding and conflicting, diminishing job satisfaction and promoting absenteeism. Any organization wanting to retain superior employees would strive to prevent such precarious outcomes. According to Jevon Powell, a management and organizational psychologist, supervisors act as effective mediators as well as “primary implementers of work and family policies.” Supportive supervisors care about employees’ career goals, give credit for work well done, and help employees develop job-relevant skills and competencies. Given the salience of work/family issues in the labor force, employees often identify having a supportive supervisor as a barometer of effective family-friendly workplaces.
Effective supervisor support is associated with increased job satisfaction and job commitment, perceptions of a better fit between the employee and the organization, reduced work/family conflict, and lower turnover (Eisenberger et al., Qiu L, Newman & Thanacoody). A significant link exists between employees’ perceptions of the level of support they receive from their supervisors and their perceptions of the level of support they receive from the organization as a whole (Kottke & Sharafinski, Rhoades et al., Stinglhamber & Vandenberghe, Yoon & Lim). Supervisors are the agents of an organization—responsible for monitoring the performance of subordinates, undertaking periodic assessment of their work, and giving feedback to enhance the value of their work and to reinforce their commitment to their jobs. Therefore, it is natural for employees to interpret their interactions with their supervisors as indicators of an organization’s view of them. Moreover, employees understand that supervisors report their evaluations of subordinates to upper management, further contributing to employees’ association of supervisor supportiveness with perceptions of organizational supportiveness.
Contrasting perceptions in developed and developing countries
At Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work, we were interested in the cross-national dimensions of perceptions of supervisor supportiveness. To explore these, we used the lens of supervisor supportiveness to review findings from the Center’s 2009-2010 Generations of Talent study.
More than 80 percent of employees in our seven-country sample (Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, China, and India) reported having a supportive supervisor. Employees in two of the four developed countries in our sample (Japan and the Netherlands) rated the supportiveness of their supervisors at the lowest end of our scale. In contrast, employees in the other two developed countries (the United Kingdom and the United States) rated the supportiveness of their supervisors at the top of the scale. This reflects a broad divergence of employee perceptions of supervisor supportiveness among these four industrial nations. Notably, employees in China signaled the highest confidence in the degree of support they receive from their supervisors—significantly higher than employees in most of the countries in our sample indicated. Whereas perceptions of the degree of supervisor supportiveness varied significantly across the developed countries in our sample, perceptions in developing countries were generally highly positive.
- Surprisingly, female employees with more supportive supervisors reported a lower level of satisfaction with their work/family balance than did female employees with less supportive supervisors.
- In addition, perceptions of supervisor supportiveness seem to weaken along the career ladder, with early-career employees tending to be the most positive and late-career employees tending to be the least positive.
It would be interesting to study whether these career-stage differences pertain to the maturity and attitudes of employees as they age or if they are indicative of the characteristics and evolution of supervisory relationships over time.
Doctoral Research Assistant
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College