Supervisor-Subordinate Relationship

Cornell Study Shows Changing Relationship of Supervisors and Employees

Cornell Center For Hospitality Research

Fairness is the beginning of a solid relationship between supervisors and employees, but other factors soon become more important, according to a new study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR). The analysis tracks the relative effect on the supervisor-employee relationship from three factors: employees' job performance, fairness perceptions, and perceptions of the relationship itself. The study, "The Changing Relationship between Supervisors and Subordinates: How Managing This Relationship Evolves over Time," by Michael Sturman and Sanghee Park, is available from CHR at no charge. Sturman is the Kenneth and Marjorie Blanchard Professor of Human Resources at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and Park is on the faculty of the department of human resource management at Rutgers University.

Sturman and Park apply a sophisticated computer analysis to a series of existing studies to portray the interconnection of the three factors to portray how the relationship between a supervisor and employees evolves. "Other studies have touched on these elements in the supervisory relationship, but this is the first study to consider these variables together and to analyze them over time," said Sturman. "Not surprisingly, fairness perceptions play a crucial role in the first year of a relationship with a supervisor. The interesting thing is that fairness fades rather quickly after that."

Instead, the effects of both job performance and the quality of the supervisor-subordinate relationship strengthen over time. However, Sturman and Park also found that establishing fairness seems to be important in improving an employee's perception of the supervisor, since changes in fairness perceptions have a strong immediate effect on perceptions of the relationship. On the other hand, negative changes in job performance ratings can be detrimental to the relationship.

"In the end, we see that once the basic fairness of a relationship has been established, performance management has the greatest weight in ensuring a continued strong supervisor-employee relationship," Sturman concluded. 



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