Perceived Support Profiles in the Workplace: A Longitudinal Perspective

In this post, authors Gaëtane Caesens, Alexandre J. S. Morin, Nicolas Gillet, Florence Stinglhamber reflect on their recent research article, “Perceived Support Profiles in the Workplace: A Longitudinal Perspective,” published in Group & Organization Management, which examines how employee’s perceptions of three sources of support in the workplace (i.e., organization, supervisor, and colleagues) combine within specific profiles and the nature of the relations between these profiles and indicators of employees’ psychological health (i.e., stress, sleep problems, psychosomatic strains, and depression).

What motivated you to pursue this research?
We all know how important it is to be supported at work, whether by one’s organization or by more proximal sources such as one’s supervisor or colleagues. Past research has shown the positive effects of perceived support from the organization (POS), supervisor (PSS) and colleagues (PCS) but looking at them in isolation from each other. In reality, however, we are subjected to these different potential sources of support at the same time, in a joint manner in the workplace. It was therefore unknown whether support from different sources go hand in hand (i.e., creating a global support climate), whether each source of perceived support rather emerges independently from one another (i.e., acting as specific sources of influence), or whether a combination of both views exists. Examining the combined effects of POS, PSS, and PCS through a person-centered approach allowed us to answer this important question. Our research allows to investigate whether one source of support can compensate for the absence of another in predicting employee psychological health (i.e., depression, stress, psychosomatic strains, and sleep problems). For example, is it enough to be supported by your supervisor to feel good or is it absolutely necessary that PSS be part of a more general supportive organizational context?

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?
Our research revealed two surprising findings. On the one hand, the results indicated that employees perceiving the highest levels of support from all sources (i.e., organization, supervisor, and colleagues) did not report higher levels of psychological health than their colleagues exposed to lower levels of the three sources of social support. Feeling moderately or being well-supported is actually better in terms of psychological health (i.e., less depression, stress, psychosomatic strains and sleep problems) than being highly supported. This finding might result from the greater proportion of women who felt highly supported and to the fact that working women tend to display higher levels of psychological health difficulties than their male counterparts.

On the other hand, the findings (excluding the demographic controls) showed that employees who feel supported by their supervisor but not by the other two sources (organization and co-workers) are in poorer psychological health (i.e., higher levels of depression, stress, psychosomatic strains and sleep problems) than their counterparts who do not feel supported by any source. Feeling supported by your supervisor is not enough to compensate for a lack of a more general supportive climate at work.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
We strongly believe that our research sheds new light on the literature on workplace support. Although sex seems to play a role in this association, our findings still suggest that extremely high levels of support from all sources (a strong climate of support) might be detrimental. Therefore, our results show, for the first time, that the “more support, better results” perspective may not be correct. More research should be conducted to better understand the potential negative side of excessive levels of support at work in order to achieve a more nuanced perspective on this literature.

Our results also suggest that being only supported by one’s supervisor can be harmful for employees when this level of PSS is not accompanied by matching levels of POS and PCS. In a context where we sometimes question whether the organization is an entity that still makes sense to employees, our results thus show that low POS can really be harmful so that the organization matters in terms of psychological health.

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Gaëtane Caesens, Alexandre J. S. Morin, Nicolas Gillet and Florence Stinglhamber

Gaëtane Caesens (pictured) is a professor at Université Catholique de Louvain. Alexandre J. S. Morin is a Psychology Professor at Concordia University, Canada. Nicolas Gillet is associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Tours (France) and junior member of the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF). Florence Stinglhamber is a professor at Université Catholique de Louvain.

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