Interpersonal communication is a vital and integral part of the health and well-being of any organization. As corporate organizations increased in size, formal top-down communication became the main concern of organizational managers. Interpersonal communication in today’s companies, along with organizational communication, has not only become far more complex and varied but more important to the overall functioning and success of the organization. The role of interpersonal communication within the corporate world has become more of a challenge due to the fact that the emphasis has increasingly turned to understanding how new communication technologies and capabilities can help bring about new and more effective organizational forms and processes. The emergence of such technologies as email, cell phones, pagers, and hand held computers have reduced the frequency at which organizations encourage the one-on-one relationship between manager and subordinate. The flow of communication is in more abundance in the form of organizational communication such as corporate emails, newsletters, press releases, and departmental meetings. The rise of technology has given corporations the fast track on communication, while downplaying the importance of face-to-face communication. This creates a problem at the very heart of a company’s success, the interpersonal relationship between a manager and subordinate within an organization.
As a result of the changing landscape within our corporate culture, the manager-subordinate relationship has become less crucial within the organization than the overall communication strategy. The form of communication that has probably been studied most often is the interpersonal conflict within a relationship. This has been the center of many a management tool as well as within personal relationships outside of the workplace. The basic definition of interpersonal conflict can be described as when individuals of different personality types interact with one another (Leonard, 2003). As interpersonal communication is associated with those relationships at a personal level, but so to is it associated with those relationships on a professional level.
Although some researchers define interpersonal communication as involving face-to-face interaction, the interactions mediated by telephone, email, and other technology are also considered part of interpersonal communication as well (Knapp & Daly, 2002). While there is much discussion regarding the various definitions of interpersonal communication, it is clear that through interaction individuals acquire and integrate knowledge about what communication is and what it can be used to accomplish (Edwards & Shepherd, 2004). The following are three types of communication logic that can be applied within the organization: Expressive, Conventional, and Rhetorical (Edwards & Shepherd, 2004). They are defined as follows:
1. Expressive design is based on the expression of thoughts and feelings.
2. Conventional design is based on playing the game cooperatively, according to socially conventional rules and procedures.
3. Rhetorical design is the creation and negotiation of social selves and situations.
These various communication types can be applied to the interpersonal communication structure of the manager-subordinate relationship. Most individuals tend to fall within the Conventional design category, where they are not likely to ‘rock the boat’ within the organization or with their manager. If the individual is not free to communicate, then this breeds an organizational environment where it suppresses the empowerment of the employee within the workplace. It is central to the belief that a workers lack of empowerment to meaningful participation within an organization, results in the weakening of commitment between the worker and the workplace (Haskins, 1996). In times like these, individuals are afraid of losing their jobs, not finding work, or not receiving sufficient wage increases, motivating factors for the employee become paramount (Hubbell & Chory-Assad, 2005). Trust in management and the organization are two examples of motivating factors that encourage individuals to stay in an organization, even if they are fearful of downsizing or not receiving an annual wage increase (Hubbell & Chory-Assad, 2005).
In a study conducted on interpersonal and organizational dialectical tensions, it is assumed that relational partners experience contradictory needs and examines the strategies used to manager the tension (Jameson, 2004). As a result of this study, scholars have noted that organizational members experience inherent contradictions that are similar to the dialectical tensions studied at the interpersonal level (Jameson, 2004). In a study conducted by Jameson (2004), he noted that those individuals that maintained positive working relationships and contribute to a collaborative climate are consistent with politeness strategies. In contrast, Jameson (2004) also discovered that interactions leading to conflict and relational deterioration are preceded by antagonistic communication that emphasizes autonomy over connection in the workplace, resulting in negative long-term affects.
Additional studies relating to workplace interpersonal communication were found to be associated with tolerance and aggression. Over the years, researchers have explored the affects of verbal aggressiveness and its relationship with numerous interpersonal dynamics. This research has demonstrated the damaging affects of verbal aggressiveness on interpersonal relationships, including spousal abuse, physical aggression, marital satisfaction, and subordinate job satisfaction (Rogan & LaFrance, 2003). Most instances of workplace aggression has been found to be more passive in nature, such as talking behind someone’s back, spreading rumors, or giving someone the silent treatment (Coombs & Holladay, 2004). Although these studies have encompassed various aspects of interpersonal communication within the workplace, I could find no study relating specifically to the manager-subordinate relationship.
Rationale for this Research
Despite the studies done previously relating to the workplace, questions remain. How does the manager-subordinate interpersonal relationship affect job satisfaction and productivity? I could not find very specific research in relation to the questions I set out to answer in this study. Most other research studies focused on conflict or aggression in the workplace as opposed to specific manager-subordinate relationships. These types of studies are important as well in the affect of job satisfaction and productivity, but this is just one aspect of the interpersonal relationship between manager and subordinate. Other studies focused on the motivational factors within the workplace and how organizational trust can fuel that motivation, along with managerial confidence. In light of the information presented here, the following questions remain:
RQ1: Does the interpersonal relationship between manager and subordinate affect the job satisfaction of the subordinate?
RQ2: Does the interpersonal relationship between manager and subordinate affect the productivity of the subordinate?
Methods and Procedures
The method I used to study the manager-subordinate relationship within an organization fall under a Likert-type written survey, and a face-to-face interview with two employees of a company headquartered in a major northeast metropolitan city. The company consists of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, but for the purpose of this study, I have surveyed 25 employees within the organization with 20 of them actually responding to the survey. The survey consists of various questions relating to manager-subordinate relationships, such as friendship, respect, frequency of communication, and level of communication shared between them. In a more thorough research study, this would take an inordinate amount of time and effort to compile information on various major companies around the nation. For the purpose of this study, I have constructed a listing of 20 questions that I have asked employees to answer in an effort to gain my research information. The respondents consisted of 9 females and 11 males; this included three male managers and two female managers.
This survey questionnaire was distributed to an organization that is representative of the populous in terms of age, race, sex, and social class. The company I chose provides a good representation of the various ethnicities within the world for there are over 20 countries represented. The group varies in age from 25 to 65 years in some cases. The majority are between the ages of 30 and 50 years. The financial diversity ranges from those with a salary of high 20’s to those making six figure salaries.
The qualitative survey of face-to-face interviews were conducted by questioning employees individually to try to obtain the most honest and untainted answers possible. I set up a meeting with two of the employees from this company and questioned them privately about their relationship with their manager. One is a 55-year-old male assistant vice-president. He has been with the company for five years. The other is a 43-year-old female programmer and has been with the company for four years. I went into more depth about their relationship with their manager. I found out how their relationship with their manager affects their job satisfaction and how they perceived that it affected their productivity. I also asked if they were happy in their job and would consider leaving or staying based on the relationship they have with their manager.
Once all the data was returned to me regarding the written questionnaire I constructed a table, which details the data specifically based on the criteria within the survey. The quantitative data culminating from the written survey gives an idea of how strongly the respondents feel about their relationship with their manager.
In terms of the actual results of the questionnaire survey, out of 25 people asked to participate, 20 of those responded to the survey. The frequency of category responses came in the form of ‘Agree’ and ‘Neutral’ and there was a surprising amount of ‘Disagree’ answers. Most respondents agreed that their manager was able to handle conflict situations well. Most respondents were either ‘Strongly Agree’ or ‘Agree’ as to whether their relationship with their manager affects job satisfaction. I was surprised that so many respondents were non-committal on this question (30 percent). Most respondents thought that they were valued, appreciated, and respected by their manager (nearly 65 percent). A little more than half of the respondents thought their manager was one of the best they have ever worked with (55 percent). I was asked several times, if I was going to give this information to our Human Resources department and/or management, despite fully disclosing the reason for the survey and how the information would be used. It was quite clear that several of these employees clearly despised their manager and others did not. These types of questions from respondents were not a surprise given the fact that many employees are somewhat intimidated with company culture.
Although these survey questions did not answer the research questions that I put forth previously with any conciseness, this did confirm the importance of the manager-subordinate relationship within the workplace. The interviews I conducted with the male assistant vice-president and the female programmer were more conclusive.
The 55-year-old male assistant vice-president was asked to disclose the personal and professional relationship between him and his manager. He was asked if he felt appreciated by his manager and he responded with a resounding “No”. He said that his boss never once in the four years at the company told him he was doing a good job. When asked if he thought this absence of affirmation by his manager interfered with his productivity, he said that it did. He thought that if he felt he was more appreciated by his manager and that he was recognized for doing the job that he does, he would be motivated to do more for the company. He admitted that he does not put forth extra effort in carrying out his responsibilities if he can help it in any way. He essentially produces the minimum requirement. When asked if he was happy in his current position at the company, he said he was not. He thought that he should have been promoted a long time ago and did not receive the recognition for this to happen. When asked to describe the relationship he has with his manager, he said that it was strictly professional with very little personal conversation. He did not feel he could trust his manager, nor did the manager communicate to him on a frequent basis. His only one-on-one meeting with the manager occurred once a year at review time. He does not feel his manager respects him or his opinion either. He was asked if he had another job opportunity in a seemingly more rewarding environment, would he quit this job and he said that he would. He admitted that his age was the only thing stopping him from looking actively for another job. He said that if he felt more appreciated and less ignored by his manager, then he would certainly be happier in his current position. He understands that his manager is very busy, but felt that more time should be spent talking and communicating with the people that work for the manager.
The 43-year-old programmer had a slightly different slant on her purpose in the workplace and the relationship she has with her manager. She considered her relationship with her manager more professional than personal. She thought that he has too many meetings where time is wasted instead of being productive. She did say that he very rarely gave a compliment and was somewhat insulting at times. She said that she did not like him as a manager or as a person because of his disorganized and strict way of managing people. She said that time he called her into the office from her vacation day and had her correct the problem that occurred with the client. She was in the middle of downtown Boston, shopping on her day off. She wishes that her manager were more easy-going and more concerned for the people that work for him. She said that his conflict negotiation skills are not very good, and he is usually the cause of the conflict. She said that she has had many disagreements with him, but he was always right. She does feel that her productivity would be more inspired if she had a manager who actually treated his subordinates like more than a factory worker. She views her position in the company as just a means to an end. She said that she is not happy in her position and a big part of that has to do with her manager or how he treats her. She is originally from Russia, so she said that he is the type of manager they had in her home country. She said that his type of management was not liked there as well, but it was fully accepted. She said that a manager should take the time to know his workers and appreciate them.
In answering RQ1, whether the interpersonal relationship between manager and subordinate affect the job satisfaction of the subordinate, the quantitative survey suggests that this is true. Exactly 75 percent of those surveyed, declared that their relationship with their manager affects their happiness at work. The qualitative survey of those interviewed also expressed that their relationship with their manager affects their satisfaction at work.
In answering RQ2, whether interpersonal relationship between manager and subordinate affects the productivity of the subordinate, the qualitative survey of those interviewed expressed concurred that productivity is affected by the relationship they have with their manager. If the relationship were more enjoyable, then more effort would be put into completing responsibilities. The quantitative survey concluded that more than half of the respondents (55 percent) thought that their relationship with their manager affected their productivity.
My findings concur with the opinion that manager-subordinate relationships affect both job satisfaction and productivity in the workplace. The employees questioned in the quantitative survey, although more than half of the respondents answered favorably, there was still a good portion of the responses that were not so variable. The qualitative responses proved to be quite telling and without a doubt supported the research questions presented.
he limitations of my study would be that numerous employees would not want to participate in the survey due to fear of reprisal. The anonymity of the participants is paramount when conducting the surveys. If the employees do answer questions, they may not want to answer them truthfully. In terms of the research, I discovered on the topic, the scope of these studies might have been too broad or too narrow in their context. Other obstacles in this study are that I did not use a wider spectrum of respondents and present questions that are more detailed on the written survey.
My suggestions for future research on the topic would include a more in depth study on what specific types of interpersonal situations that would inhibit the subordinate from performing his/her duties. The other side of this would be to conduct research as to how the subordinate-manager relationship affects productivity and job satisfaction, where the manager is affected by the relationship, not the subordinate. A more detailed study on the interpersonal interactions of group members within the organization would be of interest as well.
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