Supervisors who Characterize their Organization can Increase Employee Commitment

Topic: Job Attitudes, Turnover, Leadership, Organizational Commitment
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2010)
Article: Leader-member exchange and affective organizational commitment: The contribution of supervisor’s organizational embodiment
Authors:  R. Eisenberger, F. Stinglhamber, T. Becker, G. Karagonlar, P. Neves, G. Gonzalez-Morales, and M. Steiger-Mueller
Reviewed By: Bobby Bullock

You’d think as the quality of relationships between supervisors and their employees improve, the subordinate’s affective commitment to the organization would also improve, right??  Well, it seems that a positive relationship does exist, but that the strength of this relationship varies greatly.  Eisenberger, Stinglhamber, Becker, Karagonlar, Neves, Gonzalez-Morales, and Steiger-Mueller (2010) found evidence that helps explain the reason for this variation through the moderating effect of a new concept termed supervisor’s organizational embodiment, or SOE.  

SOE is defined as the extent to which an employee feels that their supervisor represents and shares characteristics with the larger organization.  Therefore, when SOE is high, a compliment or criticism given to an employee is perceived as a compliment or criticism from the organization itself.  When SOE is low, leaders are viewed as acting apart from the organization.  This important distinction was found to have a moderating effect on the positive relationship between leader-member exchange and employee affective commitment.

Leader-member exchange (LMX) describes the quality of relationships that continually develop between supervisors and employees.  Employees that positively stand out are often considered to be in the leader’s “in-group” (or quality LMX).  This indicates strong socioemotional bonds between supervisors and subordinates (which benefits both parties through trust, loyalty, performance, and resources).  Numerous studies have shown that an outcome of quality LMX is employee affective commitment to the organization. 

In other words, when employees have strong positive relationships with their supervisors, they often form an emotional attachment to the organization- one that improves performance and reduces turnover.  This happens because their socioemotional needs of approval and support have been met. 

However, Eisenberger et al. (2010) found that when supervisors were seen as unrepresentative of the organization (low SOE), high quality LMX lead to LESS affective commitment than when SOE was high.  Therefore, highly representative supervisors should have a greater effect on the commitment of “in-group” employees than supervisors that are not seen as representative of the organization.  To reap the benefits of commitment and in/extra-role performance that SOE helps motivate, organizations can:

  • Encourage supervisors to learn more about LMX and do what they can to expand their “in-group” of trusted employees
  • Increase SOE by having leaders communicate favorable attitudes about the organization to their emlployees
  • Strengthen supervisors’ identification with the organization through emphasizing a common social in-group identity (especially right after promotion or selection)
  • Inform leaders that are particularly aligned with the organization of the importance of the quality of their relationships with employees (it can ultimately influence the degree of commitment that employees will display for the organization itself)
  • Be warned that when strong supervisor relationships (high LMX) with low SOE are formed, employees may become affectively committed to a supervisor at the expense of organizational commitment

Eisenberger, R., Stinglhamber, F., Becker, T., Karagonlar, G., Neves, P., Gonzalez-Morales, G., & Steiger-Mueller, M. (2010). Leader-member exchange and affective organizational commitment: The contribution of supervisor’s organizational embodiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1085-1103.