WHAT WILL THE BOSS THINK? THE IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS OF SUPPORTIVE

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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
2015, 68, 463–498
WHAT WILL THE BOSS THINK? THE IMPRESSION
MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS OF SUPPORTIVE
RELATIONSHIPS WITH STAR AND PROJECT PEERS
DAVID M. LONG
College of William and Mary
MICHAEL D. BAER
University of Georgia
JASON A. COLQUITT
University of Georgia
RYAN OUTLAW
University of Georgia
RASHPAL K. DHENSA-KAHLON
Aston University
Although impression management scholars have identified a number of
tactics for influencing supervisor evaluations, most of those tactics represent supervisor-targeted behaviors. This study examines the degree
to which employees form supportive relationships with peers for impression management purposes. In so doing, we explore this intriguing
question: Will employees gain more from forming supportive relationships with “stars” (i.e., top performers who are “on the fast track” in
the organization) or “projects” (i.e., “works in progress” who need help
and refinement to perform well)? We examined this question in 2 field
studies. Study 1 included 4 sources and 2 time periods; Study 2 included
2 sources and 3 time periods. The results showed that supportive relationships with both stars and projects seemed to represent impression
management opportunities, insofar as they predicted supervisor positive
affect and perceptions of employee promotability. Impression management motives only predicted supportive relationships with stars, however, not projects. Relationships with projects were driven by prosocial
motives not concerns about managing images. We discuss the practical
and theoretical implications of our results for the managing of impressions and peer relationships.
How one is perceived by others is a prevalent concern for most individuals (Gardner & Martinko, 1988; Leary, 1995; Leary & Kowalski, 1990).
This contention is particularly true in organizational life given that the
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to David M. Long, Mason
School of Business, College of William and Mary, 3074 Miller Hall, Williamsburg, VA
23187; [email protected]
⃝
C 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
doi: 10.1111/peps.12091
463
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
“others” include supervisors who control job assignments, rewards, and
promotions. It is therefore not surprising that employees attempt to control
supervisor perceptions. Research on impression management is devoted
to understanding the tactics employees use to shape those perceptions (for
reviews, see Bolino, Kacmar, Turnley, & Gilstrap, 2008; DuBrin, 2011;
Rosenfeld, Giacalone, & Riordan, 1995). For the most part, scholars have
focused on tactics that occur within the employee–supervisor relationship, such as giving compliments, pointing out their own achievements,
or ensuring that bosses see how hard they are working (Bolino et al., 2008;
Ferris et al., 2002; Higgins, Judge, & Ferris, 2003; Rosenfeld et al., 1995).
Although those tactics are certainly an important piece of the impression management puzzle, supervisor perceptions may also be shaped
by actions and events occurring in other work relationships. For example, research suggests that being perceived as having a prominent friend
within the organization can increase supervisor perceptions of employee
performance (Kilduff & Krackhardt, 1994). As another example, studies
have shown that being connected to well-regarded others can have positive effects on how employees are viewed (Andrews & Kacmar, 2001;
Cialdini, 1989; Richardson & Cialdini, 1981). Such results hint at the impression management implications of employee relationships with peers.
Of course, it must be noted that employees have relationships with a
number of different peers—peers who vary in how valued they are and
how well-regarded they seem to be. Impression management scholars
have argued that “what we do is often less important than whom we do
it with” (Cialdini & Richardson, 1980, p. 194). If so, to what degree do
employees view relationships with different kinds of peers as impression
management opportunities?
Our research builds and tests theory about the impression management
implications of employee relationships with peers. Although relationships
are multifaceted, we build our theory around the concept of supportive
relationships, which we define as relationships where support and assistance are provided to others. Unlike other types of relationships that
may develop through more formal organizational channels (e.g., teambased interdependencies), supportive relationships are discretionary on
the part of employees. They therefore represent a potential impression
management tactic (Bolino, 1999). Moreover, these types of relationships
may be especially relevant to employees’ images, as scholars have noted
that providing support to a coworker can bring praise and recognition
to employees (Allen, Poteet, & Burroughs, 1997; Allen & Rush, 1998;
Baumeister, 1982; Bolino, 1999; Bolino, Varela, Bande, & Turnley, 2006).
In particular, our theorizing argues that supportive relationships
with peers can positively influence two different supervisor evaluations.
One of those evaluations is positive affect, which reflects supervisors’
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
465
enthusiasm, excitement, and positive sentiments toward employees
(Frijda, 1994; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). The other is perceived
promotability, which captures supervisor evaluations of employee advancement potential (Harris, Kacmar, & Carlson, 2006; Thacker & Wayne,
1995). Ultimately, these two evaluations are the bottom-line gauge of the
effectiveness of employee impression management (Bozeman & Kacmar,
1997; Ferris & Judge, 1991; Gardner & Martinko, 1988). If employees
are well liked and viewed as promotable, then it is likely that they have
managed impressions effectively.
Our research examines supportive relationships with two distinct types
of peers. One type is a star, defined here as a top performer who seems
to be “on the fast track” in the organization and is expected to make a
clear contribution to the firm. Star employees make significant contributions to the performance of the organization yet are often stretched to
their capacity in order to capitalize on their talents (Oldroyd & Morris,
2012). The other type is a project, defined here as someone who seems to
be a “work in progress” who needs help and refinement to become a top
performer. Our use of that term is consistent with talent evaluations in the
world of sports, where projects are described as individuals with “high
ceilings, only their elevators are still on the ground floor or lower levels”
(Wasserman, 2014). Our use is also consistent with one of the broader
meanings of the project term—an undertaking requiring concerted effort
(The American Heritage Dictionary). Relative to stars, supportive relationships with projects represent a more uncertain risk–reward equation.
Supporting projects may reveal a true “diamond in the rough” but may
also represent an inefficient use of limited time and effort.
Our theorizing highlights a potential irony in the use of supportive
relationships with peers as an impression management tool. On the one
hand, employees should be more likely to view the support of stars as an
effective impression management tactic, given the benefits of connecting
with well-regarded others (Allen, 2004; Cialdini, 1989). On the other
hand, there are reasons to expect the support of projects to be just as
predictive of positive affect on the part of the supervisor. To the degree
that this is so, supporting projects may be as valuable a road to perceived
promotability as supporting stars. Indeed, finding similar outcomes for
supporting stars and projects would have important implications for peers
and supervisors. If employees who support projects avoid “missing out”
on impression management opportunities, the peers who need support the
most will be more likely to receive it. This more extensive network of
support should benefit supervisors, who may need help in developing and
supporting projects. We examined these issues in two field studies with
different recruitment approaches, different methods for identifying stars
and projects, and different operationalizations of supportive relationships.
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Impression Management Motives and Supportive Relationships
Most employees are aware of the impact that their supervisors’ perceptions have on outcomes such as job assignments, rewards, and promotions
(Feldman & Klich, 1991; Gardner & Martinko, 1988; Rosenfeld et al.,
1995). It is that awareness that leads to an interest in making a favorable
impression on supervisors (Bolino, 1999; Bolino et al., 2008; Kim, Van
Dyne, Kamdar, & Johnson, 2013; Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Rioux &
Penner, 2001; Roberts, 2005). This interest is represented by employee
impression management motives—desires to adapt behavior to project
a good image (Leary, 1995; Yun, Takeuchi, & Liu, 2007). Leary and
Kowalski (1990) suggested that such desires represent the first of a twostep impression management process. The second step is for employees
to construct their desired image through impression-forming behaviors.
Although those impression-forming behaviors can center on tactics
like self-promotion or ingratiation (Bolino et al., 2008; Ferris et al., 2002;
Higgins et al., 2003; Rosenfeld et al., 1995), scholars have argued that
employees believe offering encouragement, feedback, and support to their
coworkers can be beneficial to their image (Allen et al., 1997; Newby &
Heide, 1992; Noe, Greenberger, & Wang, 2002) and that such behaviors
can result in rewards from supervisors (e.g., Allen, Lentz, & Day, 2006).
Indeed, employees could be drawn to supportive relationships with peers
as an impression management approach because it is more subtle than
tactics like self-promotion or ingratiation—both of which can risk negative labels such as “egotist” or “bootlicker” (DuBrin, 2011; Gardner &
Martinko, 1998; Ham & Vonk, 2011; Jones, 1990; Jones & Pittman, 1982;
Leary, 1995). In our first study, we operationalize supportive relationships
as psychosocial support—the provision of respect, encouragement, confirmation, and feedback (Kram, 1985; Kram & Isabella, 1985).
A key question in our study is whether employee impression management motives will predict both supportive relationships with stars and
supportive relationships with projects, or whether they will instead only
predict the former. According to impression management theory, employees should assume that supervisors will think highly of them for establishing relationships with well-regarded others (Cialdini, 1989, 2001;
Leary, 1995; Schlenker, 1980). In support of such theorizing, research
has shown that employees are more inclined to help others who are influential in the organization (Bowler & Brass, 2006). Other work suggests that perceptions of popularity and skill increase for those who are
connected to high-status others (Dijkstra, Cillessen, Lindenberg, & Veenstra, 2010; Kilduff & Krackhardt, 1994). Indeed, impression management
theory suggests that building supportive relationships with stars can provide employees with the opportunity to “bask in the reflected glory” of
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
467
well-regarded others (Cialdini & de Nicholas, 1989; Cialdini & Richardson, 1980; Crandall, Silvia, N’Gbala, Tsang, & Dawson, 2007).
In contrast, the instrumentality of supportive relationships with
projects may be less clear to employees. Although projects have the potential to perform well in the organization, they do not possess the same
level of talent and skill as their star counterparts. As such, employees may
view projects as not offering the same opportunity to bask in the reflected
glory of a well-regarded other (Cialdini & Richardson, 1980). Indeed,
impression management scholars have suggested that employees might
downplay or avoid relationships with certain peers to avoid having supervisors associate them with less-regarded others (Andrews & Kacmar,
2001; Cialdini, 1989; Kulik, Bainbridge, & Cregan, 2008; Leary, 1995).
Moreover, it is not clear that supportive relationships with projects would
“pay off” down the line, in terms of high-quality reciprocative exchanges
of resources between colleagues. Research suggests that such exchanges
can have an important impact on job attitudes (Sherony & Green, 2002).
Hypothesis 1: Impression management motives are positively related
to supportive relationships with stars.
Supportive Relationships and Supervisor Evaluations
Regardless of whether (and why) employees may engage in supportive relationships with stars and projects, the next question becomes how
those relationships can shape supervisor evaluations of them. In general, impression management behaviors have been shown to affect how
supervisors feel toward—and think about—the employees who perform
them (Bolino et al., 2008; Gardner & Martinko, 1988; Rosenfeld et al.,
1995). Do those findings extend to a context where the behaviors are
peer directed, rather than supervisor directed? Our study examines that
question by examining two different evaluations: positive affect and perceived promotability.
Positive Affect
Perhaps the central outcome of employee impression management
efforts is positive affect on the part of supervisors (Bolino et al., 2006;
Cialdini, 1989; Crandall et al., 2007; Ferris & Judge, 1991; Ferris, Judge,
Rowland, & Fitzgibbons, 1994; Kacmar & Carlson, 1999; Wayne & Ferris,
1990; Wayne & Liden, 1995). Impression management theory argues that
positive affect can be fostered when supervisors perceive that they benefit
from the tactics employed (Bolino et al., 2008; Cialdini, 1989; Ferris
& Judge, 1991). That same logic is consistent with appraisal models of
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affect. For example, Lazarus’s (2008) model argues that positive affect
occurs when events are perceived to be beneficial to one’s goals and one’s
identity. The question becomes, then, whether positive affect should result
from both support of stars and support of projects.
To examine this question, it is useful to consider the kinds of goals and
identity elements that are considered in theory and research on affect. Novacek and Lazarus (1990) identified power/achievement and stress avoidance as two broad, widely held goals. Lazarus (1991) later highlighted
several aspects of the power/achievement goal: wanting to obtain awards
and recognition, aspiring to be well-off financially, and wanting to compete successfully. From the perspective of supervisors, power/achievement
goals can be achieved by producing, developing, and supporting top talent
(Hunt & Michael, 1983; Lewis & Heckman, 2006; Noe, 2002). Employees who are known to nurture supportive relationships with stars therefore
facilitate supervisors’ goal achievement by expanding the base of support for that top talent (Hunt & Michael, 1983). With respect to identity,
Lazarus (1991) argued that positive affect would be fostered when events
improve self- or social esteem, or when they reaffirm moral values, ideals,
and meanings. We propose that the reflected glory obtained by employees
who support stars is itself relevant to the self- and social-esteem of supervisors. Supervisors may feel more pride and enthusiasm when interacting
with employees who support stars precisely because that reflected glory
imbues those employees with more status.
Hypothesis 2: Supportive relationships with stars is positively related
to positive affect on the part of supervisors.
Employees’ supportive relationships with projects may also be seen as
goal relevant by supervisors, with the operative goal being stress avoidance rather than power/achievement. Lazarus (1991) highlighted several
aspects of the stress avoidance goal: desiring an easy life, wanting to
avoid blame or criticism, trying to avoid conflict, and wanting to avoid
stress. Supervisors are responsible for the performance of the workgroup
(Floyd & Wooldridge, 1994; Noe, 2002), and projects—whose future
performance is uncertain—could be a source of stress for supervisors.
Witnessing subordinates’ struggles can act as a stressor in its own right.
However, projects’ struggles can also engender role conflict as supervisors
balance assisting projects with investing time and attention in more proximal drivers of unit performance. Employees could ease some of that strain
by providing support to projects, thereby facilitating the achievement of
supervisors’ stress avoidance goals. With respect to identity, employees
who support projects may appeal to supervisors’ moral values and ideals,
with positive affect being triggered by seeing someone support a person in need. Indeed, research on impression management suggests that
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
469
supervisors tend to like employees who help those in need (Bolino et al.,
2006; Eastman, 1994).
Hypothesis 3: Supportive relationships with projects is positively related to positive affect on the part of supervisors.
Perceived Promotability
From an instrumental perspective, an increase in positive affect on the
part of supervisors is beneficial to employees if it impacts career-related
outcomes. One such outcome is supervisor evaluations of employees’
perceived promotability. Although research has previously linked the provision of support to the number of employee promotions received (e.g.,
Allen, 2007; Allen et al., 2006; Bozionelos, 2004; Hunt & Michael, 1983),
the intervening mechanism explaining why support might result in perceived promotability has not been explored. We theorize that a supervisor’s
positive affect may serve as that mediator.
One of the more venerable findings in the impression management
literature is that supervisors who hold positive affect toward employees
more positively evaluate their potential (e.g., Ferris & Judge, 1991; Ferris
et al., 1994; Wayne & Ferris, 1990; Wayne & Liden, 1995). For example, research has demonstrated that supervisors who like employees as a
result of their impression efforts ultimately rate those employees higher
on promotability (Shaughnessy, Treadway, Breland, Williams, & Brouer,
2011). Scholars have suggested that positive affect can influence promotability by altering how supervisors process information about subordinates
(Cardy & Dobbins, 1986; DeNisi & Williams, 1988; Ferris et al., 1994;
Robbins & DeNisi, 1994). Specifically, positive affect impacts the storage
and recall of information (Isen, Shalker, Clark, & Karp, 1978; Thacker &
Wayne, 1995), leading supervisors to focus more on positively valenced
information and less on negatively valenced information. Positive affect
may also mask employee deficiencies, creating a halo bias that extends to
perceived promotability (Balzer & Sulsky, 1992; Ferris & Judge, 1991;
Tsui & Barry, 1986).
Hypothesis 4: Supportive relationships with stars has a positive indirect effect on perceived promotability through positive
affect on the part of supervisors.
Hypothesis 5: Supportive relationships with projects has a positive
indirect effect on perceived promotability through positive affect on the part of supervisors.
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Study 1: Method
Sample and Procedure
We recruited participants via classified advertisements posted on the
Internet in 18 metropolitan areas across the United States. The advertisements indicated that the study was open to full-time employees who had
a supervisor. In order to be eligible, employees must have worked with at
least one peer who “will clearly be a top performer in the organization”
and one peer who “needs some help and refinement to be a top performer
in the organization.” We took three steps to ensure that these eligibility
requirements were met when employees selected their two peers. First,
we emphasized the eligibility requirements in the advertisements. Second,
employees were directed to a web page detailing the study requirements
and listing definitional descriptions of stars and projects, though those
specific labels were never utilized. Finally, at the beginning of the survey,
employees completed a “selection check” in which they indicated the extent to which the peers they had identified conformed to the definitional
descriptions of stars and projects provided on the web page.
Given that our conceptualizations of stars and projects had not been
previously established in the literature, we created and validated scales
that could be used in our selection checks. We developed these scales using measure creation and validation procedures recommended by Hinkin
and Tracey (1999; also see Hinkin, 1998). Adhering to the conceptual
definitions of stars and projects outlined earlier, we created 10 items designed to reflect both peers. We then recruited an independent sample of
undergraduate students (N = 139) from a large southeastern university to
quantitatively assess the extent to which these items matched the conceptual definitions of stars and projects. Undergraduates are an appropriate
sample for Hinkin and Tracey’s (1999) validation method because participants only require sufficient intellectual ability to rate the convergence between items and definitions (Hinkin & Tracey, 1999; Schriesheim, Powers,
Scandura, Gardiner, & Lankau, 1993). Indeed, recent studies have been
published in top psychology and management journals using the technique
with undergraduates (Colquitt, Baer, Long, & Halvorsen-Ganepola, 2014;
Rodell, 2013). The students were randomly assigned to one of two online
survey conditions. Seventy-five students received a survey that provided
the star definition, followed by the 10 star items and the 10 project items.
Sixty-four students received a survey that provided the project definition,
followed by the 10 project items and the 10 star items. To minimize item
context effects, the order in which the items were presented to the students
was randomized.
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
471
Students were asked to rate the extent to which each item provided
a good match to the definition provided using this scale: 1 = extremely
bad match to the definition to 7 = extremely good match to the definition.
The items with the highest means on the intended definition—and the
best ability to draw distinctions with the unintended definition—were
retained for use in the selection check measures. Those criteria netted five
items for the star selection check and five items for the project selection
check. The five star items were: “Has ‘what it takes’ to go far in my
organization,” “Will clearly make a contribution to my organization,”
“Will climb the ladder quickly,” “Is on the ‘fast track’,” and “Seems
like a ‘winner’.” The mean definitional correspondence for these five
items was 5.52 out of 7. The five project items were: “Could succeed
with some assistance,” “Could be described as a ‘work in progress’,”
“Has underdeveloped capabilities but shows promise,” “Shows glimpses
of talent,” and “May not be the best yet but has demonstrated an ability to
learn.” The mean definitional correspondence for these five items was 5.20
out of 7. Those levels of definitional correspondence compare favorably to
past uses of this technique and illustrate adequate content validity for our
selection checks (Colquitt et al., 2014; Hinkin & Tracey, 1999; Rodell,
2013).
A total of 1,077 employees clicked on our advertisements. Once they
did so, they were shown the study description and eligibility requirements
and were asked to provide the contact information for their supervisor, a
star peer, and a project peer. A total of 432 employees self-selected into the
study by providing that contact information. At that point, they began the
Time 1 survey, which included the selection check items described above.
Employees were asked, regarding their chosen star, “In my opinion, [peer
name] is someone who . . . ,” with the star selection check items using the
following scale: 1 = not at all to 5 = to a very large extent. Employees
followed the same procedure to rate their chosen project on the project
selection check. The survey also included the measure of impression management motives for establishing relationships with the stars and projects.
The survey was completed by 391 employees for a completion rate of
88%, with employees receiving $5 for their participation. In all cases,
payments were sent as cash through regular mail directly to the relevant
participants. The employees were 42% male and, on average, were 31.3
years old (SD = 9.23), had worked for their supervisor for 3.6 years (SD =
3.64), and had been with their organization for 4.6 years (SD = 4.41). The
ethnicity of the employees was 48% Caucasian, 18% African American,
16% Hispanic, 11% Asian American, and 2% Native American, with the
remainder indicating other ethnicities. The employees came from at least
12 different industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, government,
education, transportation, and retail.
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Upon receiving a completed survey from the employees, we sent the
star and project peers an email inviting them to participate in the study. Importantly, that invitation came from us rather than allowing the employees
themselves to contact the two peers. We felt this structure would lend more
legitimacy to the study while also allowing us to verify the independent
identities of the stars and projects. The peer surveys included the measure
of supportive relationships. One-hundred and seventy-seven stars agreed
to participate in the study, resulting in a response rate of 45%. The mean
for those 177 peers on the star selection check completed by employees
was 4.43 out of 5, providing strong evidence that the employees picked
peers who matched the star definition. Stars were 48% male and had an
average age of 33.7 years (SD = 10.17). The ethnicity of the stars was
50% Caucasian, 16% African American, 14% Hispanic, and 13% Asian
American, with the remainder indicating other ethnicities. On average,
stars had been with their organization for 3.0 years (SD = 3.23). Onehundred and sixty-six projects agreed to participate in the study, resulting
in a response rate of 42%. The mean for those 166 peers on the project selection check was 4.09 out of 5, again providing evidence that employees
picked peers who matched the project definition. The projects were 55%
male and had an average age of 33.7 years (SD = 10.03). The ethnicity of
the projects was 50% Caucasian, 17% African American, 16% Hispanic,
and 10% Asian American, with the remainder indicating other ethnicities.
On average, projects had been with their organization for 2.7 years (SD =
2.59). The star and project peers were paid $5 for participating.
Six weeks after the completion of the employee survey, supervisors
were invited to participate in the survey. As with the star and project
surveys, this communication came directly from us to increase legitimacy
and verify the identity of the supervisors. The supervisor survey included
measures of positive affect and perceived promotability of the employee.
Of the 391 supervisors who received the invitation to participate, 133
responded, for a response rate of 34%. Supervisors were paid $5 for
their participation. Supervisors had an average age of 41.1 years (SD =
10.03) and were 52% male. On average, supervisors had worked for their
organization for 8.1 years (SD = 5.91) and had 17 subordinates (SD =
24.99). Supervisors were 61% Caucasian, 15% African American, 12%
Hispanic, and 8% Asian American, with the remainder indicating other
ethnicities.
Complete data for the “quartets,” which includes the employee survey,
a star survey, a project survey, and a supervisor survey, were available for
125 employees. Attrition across times and sources was combatted with
weekly reminder emails, including soliciting help from other members of
a given “quartet” when a given source was late in completing their portion.
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Unless otherwise noted below, all surveys used a five-point scale where
1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree.
Employee Measures
Impression management motives. Impression management motives for
supportive peer relationships were measured with the Yun et al. (2007)
six-item self-enhancement motives scale. Employees indicated the extent
to which they agreed that working with the peer provided the opportunities
indicated by the items. The employee responded to both star- and projectreferenced versions of the scale. The introduction to each measure was
modified to read, “Working with [peer name] is an opportunity to . . . .”
The items included “Change my behavior to create a good impression
to others,” “Create the impression that I am a ‘good’ person to others,”
“Modify my behavior to present a good image to others,” “Be sensitive to
the impression that others have of me,” “Present myself to others as being
friendlier and more polite,” and “Demonstrate how important it is to me
to give a good impression to others.” The coefficient alpha was .88 for the
star-referenced scale and .91 for the project-referenced scale.
Peer Measures
Supportive relationships. Stars and projects both assessed the support
they received from the employee using the 10 psychosocial support items
from Dreher and Ash’s (1990) mentoring scale. All items began with the
introduction, “[Employee name] has . . . ” The items included “Encouraged me to talk openly about anxiety and fears that detract from work,”
“Conveyed feelings of respect for me as an individual,” “Shared personal
experiences as an alternative perspective to my problems,” “Conveyed empathy for the concerns and feelings I discussed with him/her,” “Discussed
my questions or concerns regarding feelings of competence, commitment
to advancement, relationships with peers or supervisors, or work/family
conflicts,” “Shared history of his/her career with me,” “Served as a role
model,” “Encouraged me to prepare for advancement,” “Displayed attitudes and values similar to my own,” and “Encouraged me to try new ways
of behaving on the job.” The coefficient alpha for supportive relationships
was .94 for both the star and project peers.
Supervisor Measures
Positive affect. Positive affect toward the employee was measured using the 10 positive affect adjectives from the positive and negative affect
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schedule–expanded form (PANAS-X; Watson & Clark, 1994). Supervisors were asked to “Indicate to what extent you typically feel this way
when thinking about or interacting with [employee name].” A five-point
scale (1 = not at all to 5 = to a very large extent) was used. The items
included enthusiastic, excited, inspired, proud, strong, determined, interested, active, alert, and attentive. The coefficient alpha for this scale
was .92.
Perceived promotability. Perceptions of the employee’s overall promotability were measured with a seven-item scale from Harris et al.
(2006). The items included “Is someone I would select as a successor
to my position,” “Is someone I believe has high potential,” “Is the type of
individual our company seeks to promote,” “Is someone that will have a
successful career,” “Is someone I would approach if I needed advice,” “Is
someone that seems to ‘fit in’ well around here,” and “Is someone whose
opinions have an impact on my decisions.” This scale had a coefficient
alpha of .91.
Control Variables
We collected employee ratings of the Big Five personality
dimensions—for use as potential control or moderating variables—using
Donnellan, Oswald, Baird, and Lucas’s (2006) four-item mini-IPIP (International Personality Item Pool) scales. We examined the moderating
effects of conscientiousness (α = .67) and openness to experience (α =
.75) to explore the possibility that the responders to our advertisements
were unusually motivated or unusually curious. We examined emotional
stability (α = .85) as a control given that it predicts “backing up behavior” (Porter et al., 2003)—a construct somewhat similar to supportive
relationships with projects. During data collection, we supplemented the
emotional stability scale with four items from the IPIP due to concerns that
the four-item measure might exhibit low reliability. In the end, including
these personality dimensions did not alter the results of our hypothesis
testing. Our analyses therefore proceeded without them, consistent with
recent recommendations (Carlson & Wu, 2012). Demographic controls—
including tenure with the organization, tenure with the supervisor, race,
gender, and age—also did not alter our hypothesis testing, so they were
not included in our analyses.
Confirmatory Factor Analysis
A confirmatory factor analysis with impression management motives for star, impression management motives for project, supportive
relationship with star, supportive relationship with project, positive affect,
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
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TABLE 1
Study 1: Descriptive Statistics, Reliabilities, and Correlations
Variable
Mean
SD
1. Impression management motives
for star
2. Impression management motives
for project
3. Supportive relationship with star
4. Supportive relationship with project
5. Positive affect
6. Perceived promotability
3.99
.67 .88
1
3.79
.79 .51∗
.91
3.89
3.74
4.20
4.40
.86
.91
.63
.52
.14
.15
.11
.26∗
.25∗
.27∗
.22∗
.29∗
2
3
4
5
6
.94
.53∗
.42∗
.43∗
.94
.44∗
.38∗
.92
.71∗
.91
Note. n = 125. Coefficient alphas are on the diagonal.
∗
p < .05.
and perceived promotability modeled as latent factors with item-level
indicators showed that our six-factor model provided a good fit to the
data: χ 2 (1,065) = 1,981.75, p < .01; comparative fit index (CFI) = .94;
incremental fit index (IFI) = .94; root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) = .076; standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) =
.065. We compared our Study 1 measurement model to a five-factor model
in which the perceived promotability and positive affect items loaded on
a single factor. That comparison revealed a χ 2 difference of 102.11 (df =
5, p < .001) in favor of our hypothesized measurement model. Thus, we
retained our hypothesized model.
Results and Discussion
Descriptive Statistics
The descriptive statistics, coefficient alphas, and zero-order correlations for our variables are shown in Table 1.
Tests of Hypotheses
We tested our hypotheses using structural equation modeling in LISREL 8.80 (Jöreskog & Sörbom, 1989). Latent variables were modeled
with item-level indicators. Direct effects from the supportive relationship variables to perceived promotability were also included because
those paths are necessary for the calculation of indirect effects (MacKinnon, Lockwood, Hoffman, West, & Sheets, 2002). The resulting model
provided an adequate fit to the data: χ 2 (1,119) = 2,113.15, p < .01;
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
CFI = .94; IFI = .94; RMSEA = .076; SRMR = .14.1 Figure 1 shows the
standardized path coefficients from the LISREL output.
Hypothesis 1 predicted that impression management motives for stars
would be positively related to supportive relationships with stars. As
shown in Figure 1, the relationship between impression management motives for stars and supportive relationships with stars was significant (b =
.27). Hypothesis 1 was therefore supported. Figure 1 also reveals a nonsignificant linkage between impression management motives for projects
and supportive relationships with projects.
Hypotheses 2 and 3 predicted that supportive relationships with stars
and projects would be positively related to positive affect on the part of
supervisors. As shown in Figure 1, the relationship between supportive
relationships with stars and positive affect was significant (b = .27),
providing support for Hypothesis 2. Hypothesis 3 was also supported,
as evidenced by the significant, positive relationship between supportive
relationships with projects and positive affect (b = .34).
Hypotheses 4 and 5 predicted that supportive relationships with stars
and projects would have indirect effects on perceived promotability
through positive affect. We tested these mediation hypotheses using a
product of coefficients approach (MacKinnon et al., 2002). This approach demonstrates mediation by showing that the product of the
predictor→mediator and mediator→outcome relationships is statistically
significant when direct effects are also modeled. Because the product of
two path coefficients is rarely normally distributed, more accurate and
powerful tests of the significance of the mediated effect can be obtained
using a distribution-of-the-product approach, which corrects for the nonnormality of the product (MacKinnon, Fritz, Williams, & Lockwood,
2007; Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011). We conducted these distribution-ofthe-product analyses using the RMediation package within R software
(Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011). The effect decomposition for these mediated effects is shown in Table 2, which reveals that both supportive
relationships for stars (.18) and projects (.23) had significant indirect effects on perceived promotability through positive affect, supporting both
predictions. The magnitude of the indirect effects can be recovered using
the tracing rule (Kline, 2011) with the Figure 2 coefficients (.27 * .67 =
.18 for stars; .34 * .67 = .23 for projects).
Taken together, our results suggest that both supportive relationships
with stars and supportive relationships with projects offer what might be
1
We examined an alternative model where perceived promotability and positive affect
were modeled as dual terminal outcomes, as opposed to positive affect predicting perceived
promotability. A comparison of the two models revealed a χ 2 difference of 54.20 (df = 1,
p < .01) in favor of our hypothesized model. Thus, we retained our hypothesized structure.
Note. n = 125.
*p < .05.
Figure 1: Structural Equation Modeling Results for Study 1.
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
477
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
TABLE 2
Study 1: Effect Decomposition Results for Effects of Supportive Relationships
With Stars and Projects on Perceived Promotability
Predictor
Indirect effect through
Positive affect
Direct effect
Total effect
Supportive relationship
with star
Supportive relationship
with project
.18∗
.16∗
.34∗
.23∗
.00
.22∗
Note. n = 125.
∗
p < .05.
called “impression management opportunities.” That is, both supportive
relationships had their own indirect effects on perceived promotability
through positive affect. Employees who engaged in both kinds of relationships gained, from a perspective of perceived likeability and perceived
potential. Importantly, those impression management opportunities only
seemed salient to employees in the case of stars. Impression management motives did predict supportive relationships for stars but not for
projects. Finding similar outcomes for supportive relationships with stars
and projects suggests that when it comes to “scoring points with the
boss,” employees who could be supporting projects may be missing out
on a valuable image-enhancing option.
Of course, Study 1 possessed some limitations. Although our recruitment approach resulted in a heterogeneous sample with some external
validity advantages (Shadish, Cook, & Campbell, 2002), it did not allow
us to calculate a response rate because we could not track the number
of individuals who saw the advertisement without clicking on it. Our approach also asked employees themselves to identify stars and projects,
leaving open the question of whether our results would generalize to other
nomination approaches. Similarly, we operationalized supportive relationships using psychosocial support (Dreher & Ash, 1990) when a number
of other constructs could serve as appropriate indicators. Finally, it may
be that our positive affect mediator is contaminated with other relevant
supervisor evaluations, such as perceived performance or perceived citizenship. Unpacking that possibility would make for a more compelling
test of the mediating role of positive affect. Study 2 addressed all of
these limitations while exploring a question that was not answered in
Study 1: “Why would employees engage in supportive relationships with
projects?”
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
479
Study 2
If supportive relationships with projects do represent a missed “impression management opportunity” because of their effects on positive
affect and perceived promotability, are some employees gaining those
benefits for reasons other than impression management? Exploring this
issue requires a consideration of motives for behavior that do not center
on controlling supervisor evaluations. In a study of citizenship behavior,
Rioux and Penner (2001) showed that discretionary behaviors could be
driven by prosocial behaviors, in addition to impression management behaviors. For example, employees might maintain a positive work attitude
to be helpful to others and/or to impress their bosses.
Grant (2008) defined prosocial motives as a desire to protect and promote the welfare of other people. His research illustrated that employees
who want to make a prosocial difference engage in behaviors similar to
the supportive relationships examined in Study 1. For example, Grant
and Mayer (2009) showed that prosocial motives and impression management motives both explained helping behaviors among peers. The authors
concluded that “employees who are both good soldiers and good actors
are more likely to emerge as good citizens in promoting the status quo”
(p. 900). In this study, we go one step further by suggesting that employees who hold prosocial motives will consider the type of peer when
forming supportive relationships. Such employees should recognize that
the welfare of projects is particularly in need of protection and promotion.
Indeed, Grant and Gino (2010) showed that employees with prosocial
motives focused their attention on others when they felt their efforts could
make a difference.
Hypothesis 6a: Impression management motives are positively related to supportive relationships with stars.
Hypothesis 6b: Prosocial motives are positively related to supportive
relationships with projects.
We also hypothesize that our predictions in Hypotheses 2 through 5
in Study 1 will replicate with the Study 2 sample. As in Study 1, finding
similar outcomes for supportive relationships with stars and projects would
lend support to our proposal that relationships with both types of peers
have impression management benefits.
Method
We recruited participants through two different pools. One was a sample of executive and professional MBA programs for a large southeastern
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
university. The other was a subject pool of a large southeastern university
that included working undergraduates as well as other working adults not
affiliated with the university who had indicated a willingness to participate
in university research projects. We contacted all 2,165 individuals in these
two pools to participate in this study. Those communications indicated
that eligible participants must be working at least 20 hours per week,
work in an environment with coworkers, and be willing to fill out two
online surveys. Eligible individuals were asked to provide their contact
information as well as the contact information for their supervisor. Of
the 2,165 individuals who were contacted, 759 completed this employee
registration survey, for a response rate of 35%.
We then contacted the 759 supervisors via email to invite them to participate in the study. Unlike the procedure in Study 1, the supervisors were
asked to read the definitional descriptions of stars and projects and to identify one employee who fit the star description and one employee who fit the
project description. We also instructed the supervisors that these identified
employees should have regular interactions with the focal employee. After
providing the names of the star and project, the supervisors were asked
to complete the selection check described in Study 1. Three-hundred and
seventy-one supervisors completed this supervisor registration survey, for
a response rate of 49%. The employees of these supervisors were then
emailed the Time 1 survey, which included measures of impression management motives for stars, impression management motives for projects,
prosocial motives for stars, prosocial motives for projects, and demographic and control variables. Three-hundred and thirty-two employees
completed the Time 1 survey, for a response rate of 89%. Four weeks later,
these employees were emailed the Time 2 survey, which included measures of supportive relationships with stars and supportive relationships
with projects. The Time 2 survey was completed by 311 employees, for a
response rate of 94%. Four weeks after the Time 2 survey, the supervisors
of those 311 employees were emailed the Time 3 survey, which included
measures of positive affect and perceived promotability, as well as demographic and control variables. Two-hundred and forty-two supervisors
completed the Time 3 survey, for a response rate of 78%.
Complete data, which included a completed Time 1 and Time 2 survey from the employee and a registration and Time 3 survey from the
supervisor, were available for 207 employee–supervisor dyads. At Time
1, we included scales that assessed the extent to which the employee had
the opportunity to observe the star and project peers that were selected
by the supervisor. Employees whose mean rating was below two on the
five-point scale for their opportunity to observe either the star or project
were removed from the analyses. This criteria led to the removal of three
dyads from our analyses, resulting in a final sample size of 204 dyads—an
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
481
effective response rate of 10%. Employees had an average age of 31.7 years
(SD = 10.07) and were 50% male. They had worked for their organizations for an average of 4.5 years (SD = 4.88) and for their supervisors for
an average of 2.7 years (SD = 2.83). Employees identified their ethnicity
as 61% Caucasian, 14% African American, 12% Asian/Pacific Islander,
7% Hispanic, and 6% other. Seventy-one employees (35%) were themselves in managerial roles, whereas 133 (65%) were not. Supervisors had
an average age of 39.6 years (SD = 10.99) and were 54% male. They had
worked for their organizations for an average of 7.9 years (SD = 6.77). Supervisors identified their ethnicity as 65% Caucasian, 12% Asian/Pacific
Islander, 11% African American, 6% Hispanic, and 6% other. The mean
on the supervisors’ selection check for the stars was 4.40 out of 5. The
mean on the selection check for the projects was 3.88 out of 5. All participants were paid $10 for participating in the study, with payments sent
as cash through regular mail. Unless otherwise indicated, all scales below
used a five-point response scale from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly
agree.
Employee Measures
Impression management motives. Impression management motives for
supportive peer relationships were measured with Rioux and Penner’s
(2001) 10-item impression management scale. As in Study 1, the employee
responded to both star- and project-referenced versions of the scale. The
introduction to each measure was modified to read, “Working with [peer
name] is an opportunity to . . . .” The items included “Look better than
my other coworkers,” “Indicate that I want a raise,” “Impress my other
coworkers,” “Avoid looking bad in front of others,” “Look like I am
busy,” “Avoid appearing irresponsible,” “Avoid looking lazy,” “Stay out
of trouble,” “Avoid a reprimand from my boss,” and “Show that rewards
are important to me.” The coefficient alpha was .95 for both the starreferenced scale and the project-referenced scale.
Prosocial motives. Employees’ prosocial motives for supportive peer
relationships were measured with Rioux and Penner’s (2001) 10-item
prosocial values scale. The items included “Help those in need,” “Show
that I am concerned about others’ feelings,” “Be helpful,” “Be courteous
to others,” “Help my coworkers in any way I can,” “Interact with my
coworkers,” “Have fun with my coworkers,” Get to know my coworkers
better,” “Be friendly with others,” and “Put myself in others’ shoes.” The
coefficient alpha was .92 for the star-referenced scale and .93 for the
project-referenced scale.
Supportive relationships. Employees assessed the support they provided to the stars and projects using the seven-item helping scale from Van
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
Dyne and LePine (1998). The items included “Volunteered to do things
for them,” “Helped them with their work responsibilities,” “Helped them
learn about the work,” “Gotten involved to benefit them,” “Attended functions that help them,” “Assisted them with their work for the benefit of
the group,” and “Helped orient new employees for them.” The coefficient
alpha was .87 for the supportive relationship with star scale and .85 for
the supportive relationship with project scale.
Supervisor Measures
Positive affect. Following Study 1, positive affect toward the employee
was measured using the PANAS-X (Watson & Clark, 1994). The fivepoint scale ranged from 1 = not at all to 5 = to a very large extent. The
coefficient alpha for this scale was .96.
Perceived promotability. As in Study 1, the supervisor’s perception of
the employee’s overall promotability was measured with Harris et al.’s
(2006) seven-item scale. This scale had a coefficient alpha of .91.
Control Variables
We examined the potential importance of many of the same controls
from Study 1, including demographic variables and emotional stability
(α = .85) using the four-item mini-IPIP scale (Donnellan et al., 2006),
again supplemented with four items from the IPIP. None had significant
effects on our hypothesis testing, so they were omitted from our analyses
(Carlson & Wu, 2012). The following controls were included, however,
to address limitations of Study 1.
Opportunity to observe. Given that supervisors nominated the stars
and projects in Study 2, it became important to ensure that employees had
sufficient knowledge of those peers—and to control for any variation in
such knowledge. We therefore assessed employee ratings of the opportunity to observe stars and projects using Rodell’s (2013) three-item scale,
which was adapted from Judge and Ferris (1993). The items referred the
employee to either the star or project and included “I regularly have the
opportunity to observe his/her job performance,” “Most of the time, I am
able to monitor his/her job performance,” and “Generally, it is easy for
me to see his/her job performance.” The coefficient alpha was .86 for the
star-referenced scale and .87 for the project-referenced scale.
Perceived performance. We controlled for supervisor perceptions of
employee performance to remove any contaminating influence that they
had on the positive affect felt by the supervisor for the employee. Perceived performance was assessed using a five-item measure adapted
from MacKenzie, Podsakoff, and Fetter (1991). The items referred the
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
483
supervisor to the employee and included, “Is very good at his/her daily
job activities,” “Is an excellent worker compared to his/her peers,”
“Is outstanding at his/her job, all things considered,” “Is one of the best at
what he/she does,” and “Is a good performer in general.” The coefficient
alpha for this scale was .93.
Perceived citizenship. Similarly, we controlled for supervisor perceptions of employee citizenship to remove any contaminating influence that
they had on the positive affect felt by the supervisor for the employee. Perceived citizenship was assessed using Lee and Allen’s (2002) eight-item
measure. The items referred the supervisor to the employee and included
“Attends functions that are not required but that help the organizational
image,” “Shows pride when representing the organization in public,” “Defends the organization when other employees criticize it,” “Keeps up with
developments in the organization,” “Offers ideas to improve the functioning of the organization,” “Takes action to protect the organization
from potential problems,” “Expresses loyalty toward the organization,”
and “Demonstrates concern about the image of the organization.” The
coefficient alpha for this scale was .90.
Confirmatory Factor Analysis
We conducted a confirmatory factor analysis in which impression
management motives for stars and projects, prosocial motives for stars
and projects, supportive relationships with stars and projects, positive
affect, perceived promotability, perceived performance, perceived citizenship, opportunity to observe star, and opportunity to observe project
were modeled as latent factors with item-level indicators. Our proposed
12-factor model provided a good fit to the data: χ 2 (3,849) = 7,566.65,
p < .01; CFI = .94; IFI = .94; RMSEA = .067; SRMR = .059. We
compared our measurement model to an 11-factor model where the perceived promotability and positive affect items loaded on a single factor.
That comparison revealed a χ 2 difference of 466.63 (df = 11, p < .001)
in favor of our measurement model. We also compared our measurement
model to a 10-factor model where the items for perceived performance,
positive affect, and perceived citizenship loaded on a single factor. That
comparison revealed a χ 2 difference of 910.04 (df = 21, p < .001) in favor
of our measurement model. Finally, we compared our measurement model
to a nine-factor model where the items for perceived performance, positive affect, perceived citizenship, and perceived promotability loaded on a
single factor. That comparison revealed a χ 2 difference of 1,139.55 (df =
30, p < .001) in favor of our measurement model. Taken together, these
results provide support for the structure of our hypothesized measurement
model.
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
Results and Discussion
Descriptive Statistics
The descriptive statistics, coefficient alphas, and zero-order correlations for the variables in Study 2 are shown in Table 3.
Tests of Hypotheses
We tested the model shown in Figure 2 using structural equation modeling in LISREL 8.80. To prevent the number of estimated parameters
from exceeding our sample size (for a discussion of this issue, see Kline,
2011), we created three parcels as indicators for each of the following
constructs: impression management motives for star and project, prosocial motives for star and project, supportive relationships with star and
project, positive affect, perceived citizenship, and perceived promotability. We used all items in the scales, rather than parcels, as indicators for
opportunity to observe star, opportunity to observe project, and perceived
performance, in order to avoid having only one or two parcels per construct, which can lead to an underidentified model (Kline, 2011). As in
Study 1, we included direct effects from supportive relationships with stars
and projects to perceived promotability because those paths are necessary
when testing hypotheses of indirect effects (MacKinnon et al., 2002). We
allowed the disturbance terms for positive affect, perceived performance,
and perceived citizenship to covary to represent unmeasured common
causes. The resulting model provided an adequate fit to the data: χ 2 (634)
= 1,258.90, p < .01; CFI = .96; IFI = .96; RMSEA = .067; SRMR =
.071.2 The standardized output from LISREL is shown in Figure 2.
Hypothesis 6a predicted that impression management motives for
stars would be positively related to supportive relationships with stars.
As shown in Figure 2, the relationship between impression management
motives for stars and supportive relationships with stars was significant
(b = .20). Hypothesis 6a was therefore supported. Figure 2 also reveals
a nonsignificant linkage between impression management motives for
projects and supportive relationships with projects. Hypothesis 6b predicted that prosocial motives for projects would be positively related to
2
We examined an alternative model where perceived promotability and positive affect
were modeled as dual terminal outcomes, as opposed to positive affect predicting perceived
promotability. A comparison of the two models revealed a χ 2 difference of 9.97 (df = 1,
p < .01) in favor of our hypothesized model. We also examined a model in which perceived
performance, citizenship, and promotability were all modeled as terminal outcomes. A
comparison of the two models revealed a χ 2 difference of 113.18 (df = 3, p < .01) in favor
of our hypothesized model. Thus, we retained our hypothesized model.
3.19
3.12
4.03
3.97
3.85
3.71
3.98
4.26
4.34
4.11
3.89
3.81
1. Impression management motives for star
2. Impression management motives for project
3. Prosocial motives for star
4. Prosocial motives for project
5. Supportive relationship with star
6. Supportive relationship with project
7. Positive affect
8. Perceived promotability
9. Perceived performance
10. Perceived citizenship
11. Opportunity to observe star
12. Opportunity to observe project
Note. n = 204. Coefficient alphas are on the diagonal.
∗
p < .05.
Mean
Variable
.95
.93
.57
.64
.64
.64
.78
.63
.62
.59
.73
.77
SD
.95
.79∗
.26∗
.15∗
.28∗
.16∗
.16∗
.13
.01
.14∗
.14∗
.15∗
1
.95
.21∗
.27∗
.16∗
.23∗
.10
.04
-.04
.05
.04
.15∗
2
.92
.58∗
.33∗
.20∗
.24∗
.20∗
.25∗
.28∗
.42∗
.31∗
3
.93
.22∗
.46∗
.21∗
.17∗
.24∗
.24∗
.21∗
.31∗
4
.87
.52∗
.23∗
.25∗
.15∗
.27∗
.41∗
.26∗
5
.85
.24∗
.23∗
.24∗
.25∗
.14∗
.33∗
6
TABLE 3
Study 2: Descriptive Statistics, Reliabilities, and Correlations
.96
.64∗
.58∗
.64∗
.13
.15
7
.91
.72∗
.68∗
.22∗
.18∗
8
.93
.65∗
.16∗
.22∗
9
.90
.18∗
.15∗
10
.86
.55∗
11
.87
12
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
485
Note. n = 204.
*p < .05.
Figure 2: Structural Equation Modeling Results for Study 2.
486
PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
487
TABLE 4
Study 2: Effect Decomposition Results for Effects of Supportive Relationships
With Stars and Projects on Perceived Promotability
Predictor
Indirect effect through
Positive affect
Perceived performance
Perceived citizenship
Total indirect effect
Direct effect
Total effect
Supportive relationship
with star
Supportive relationship
with project
.04∗
.02
.06∗
.12
.11∗
.23∗
.04∗
.13∗
.04∗
.21∗
-.05
.16∗
Note. n = 204.
∗
p < .05.
supportive relationships with projects. The relationship between prosocial motives for projects and supportive relationships with projects was
significant (b = .41), supporting Hypothesis 6b. Figure 2 also reveals a
nonsignificant linkage between prosocial motives for stars and supportive
relationships with stars.
Hypotheses 2 and 3 predicted that supportive relationships with stars
and projects would be positively related to positive affect on the part of
supervisors. Both hypotheses were tested while controlling for perceived
performance and perceived citizenship. As shown in Figure 2, both hypotheses were supported, as supportive relationships with stars (b = .18)
and supportive relationships with projects (b = .18) were significantly
related to positive affect.
Hypotheses 4 and 5 predicted that supportive relationships with stars
and projects would have indirect effects on perceived promotability
through positive affect. These indirect effects and their significance levels
were calculated using the distribution-of-the-product method (MacKinnon et al., 2007) described in Study 1, with perceived performance and
perceived citizenship controlled. The results are shown in Table 4. In support of Hypotheses 4 and 5, the results revealed that, when controlling for
perceived performance and perceived citizenship, supportive relationships
with stars (.04) and projects (.04) both had significant indirect effects on
perceived promotability through positive affect.
General Discussion
When deciding how to manage their images in the workplace,
employees have a number of options—most of which represent
488
PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
behaviors targeted at supervisors (Bolino et al., 2008; Gardner & Martinko, 1988; Roberts, 2005; Rosenfeld et al., 1995). Our study focused
instead on the impression management implications of supportive relationships with peers. Although scholars have previously noted the positive
image implications for employees who build supportive relationships at
work (Allen et al., 1997; Cialdini, 1989; Kilduff & Krackhardt, 1994),
many aspects of this phenomenon have remained unaddressed. In particular, it remains unclear whether supportive relationships with both star
and project peers are viewed as impression management opportunities. It
also remains unclear how supervisors react to relationships with those two
types of peers, in terms of evaluations like positive affect and perceived
promotability.
Taken together, the results of both studies showed that supportive relationships with stars and supportive relationships with projects both had
significant effects on perceived promotability—a fundamental outcome
in impression management contexts (Ferris & Judge, 1991; Harris et al.,
2006; Thacker & Wayne, 1995). We had reasoned that supportive employees would be viewed as more promotable because supervisors would
feel positive affect toward those employees. Such affect is, after all, a
proximal concern when employees manage impressions in the workplace
(Bolino et al., 2006; Cialdini, 1989; Ferris et al., 1994; Kacmar & Carlson,
1999; Wayne & Ferris, 1990; Wayne & Liden, 1995). Our theorizing was
supported for both relationships with stars and relationships with projects.
It may be that both relationships help supervisors protect relevant goals
and identity elements, triggering positive affect (Lazarus, 1991; Novacek
& Lazarus, 1990). For example, employees who support stars may contribute to supervisor achievement goals while also appealing to supervisor
esteem. For their part, employees who support projects may contribute
to supervisor stress avoidance goals while also appealing to supervisor
moral values and ideals.
Although both supportive relationships with stars and supportive relationships with projects were shown to “move the needle” on supervisor
impressions, employees only acted based on impression management motives in the case of stars. Those motives predicted supportive relationships
with stars in both studies. In contrast, impression management motives
did not predict supportive relationships with projects in either study. The
results for stars are understandable given the intuitive benefits that come
from being connected to a well-regarded peer (Cialdini, 1989, 2001;
Dijkstra et al., 2010; Kilduff & Krackhardt, 1994; Leary, 1995; Schlenker,
1980). The results for projects, however, point to a missed impression
management opportunity for many employees. The indirect effect of
supportive relationships with projects on perceived promotability was
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
489
similar to the effect for stars, yet those project relationships were not
driven by impression management motives.
Indeed, our Study 2 results showed just how ripe that missed opportunity could be when it comes to supporting projects. Specifically,
our results showed that supportive relationships with projects—and not
supportive relationships with stars—predicted supervisor perceptions of
employee performance. It may be that supervisors place a premium on
the task relevance of support (Allen, 2007), sensing that employees may
be sharpening their skills, or growing in their capacity to perform their
jobs by helping those who are less proficient (Allen et al., 1997; Kram,
1985; Newby & Heide, 1992; Noe et al., 2002; Wagner & Sternberg,
1985). In contrast, supervisors may not see any potential for employees
to improve their skills by helping those who essentially do not need help.
Both types of supportive relationships contributed to supervisor perceptions of employee citizenship, which makes sense given the promotive
and discretionary nature of our supportive relationship operationalizations (Bolino, 1999; Bolino et al., 2006; Grant & Mayer, 2009; Rioux &
Penner, 2001).
Of course, if employees were not supporting projects out of concerns
for impression management, then why were they supporting them? Our
Study 2 results suggest that supporting projects stands as an opportunity
for exercising prosocial motives. Prosocial motives were a significant predictor of supportive relationships with projects but not stars. In a study
of motives for helping behavior, Grant and Mayer (2009) had shown that
being a “good citizen” (i.e., helping) was driven by both being a “good actor” (i.e., impression management motives) and by being a “good soldier”
(i.e., prosocial motives). Our results suggest that employees play the role
of good actor with stars while assuming the part of good soldier around
projects. That latter result underscores Grant and Gino’s (2010) finding
that prosocial motives become most salient when employees believe that
they can truly make a difference.
Collectively, our results make important contributions to the literature
on impression management. They illustrate the value in continuing to
move beyond supervisor-targeted actions by expanding the focus to peerreferenced behaviors (Allen et al., 1997; Kilduff & Krackhardt, 1994;
Ragins & Scandura, 1999). Indeed, it may be that employees view such
actions as less risky than tactics like self-promotion or ingratiation, which
can sometimes have negative reputational implications. In addition, our
results reinforce the wisdom in Cialdini and Richardson’s (1980) notion
that what is done may be less important than with whom it is done.
Once the impression management net is cast beyond supervisors, scholars
should resist the temptation to lump peers together. Finally, our results
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PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
revealed important differences in relationships with stars and projects, and
accounting for such nuances would seem critical in future work.
In addition, our findings contribute to the literature on helping. Our
results suggest that different motives drive employees’ willingness to
help certain types of coworkers. This is important for researchers attempting to isolate the predictors of various helping behaviors (Organ,
Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006). Moreover, our results support theorizing that suggests workplace helping behaviors are not purely altruistic
(Bolino, 1999). Indeed, employees may also recognize that helping can
have an influence on how they are perceived by supervisors and important
others.
Suggestions for Future Research
In addition to these contributions, our results point to some valuable
directions for future research. For example, it is important for researchers
to continue to identify different motives for predicting supportive relationships with peers. As in the present research, there are certainly other
“good actor” and “good citizen” motives that could drive employees toward forming workplace relationships with their peers (Bolino, 1999; Kim
et al., 2013; Rioux & Penner, 2001). Relatedly, researchers should also
consider other operationalizations of supportive relationships, or other
types of interpersonal connections between employees, as outcomes of
impression management motives. For example, it could be that social
networks have a similar ability to influence supervisor reactions as do
supportive relationships. Results from these studies would be instrumental in identifying employees who are likely to receive help or not and
for aiding organizations with developing unbiased feedback processes for
supervisors.
Our study focused on how supervisors would be influenced by supportive relationships, creating a need for future studies to consider how other
parties might also be influenced. For example, would projects react negatively if they knew that the help they received was for image-enhancement
purposes? Or, would they be grateful for the assistance, regardless of the
employees’ intent? Also, how would observers—or coworkers not directly
involved in supportive relationships—react? Would they react positively
because they indirectly benefit from their peers’ development or because
they are not burdened with the responsibility of supporting others? Or, as
impression management scholars have noted, would they be suspicious
of their colleagues whom they perceive as leveraging these relationships
solely to win the boss’s favor (Vonk, 2002)?
Other suggestions center on additional nuances residing within the
“peer” referent. We were drawn to the star versus project distinction
DAVID M. LONG ET AL.
491
because most work units likely include examples of both and because relationships with both types of peers could reveal impression management
benefits. That said, most work units include other kinds of peers—some
of which could be intriguing for their impression management benefits (or
costs). One example could be poor performing peers who lack the developmental potential of projects but who remain employed for idiosyncratic
or bureaucratic reasons. How might supervisors view supportive relationships with these kinds of peers? As another example, some work units
include peers who engage in minor or major deviant behaviors directed at
coworkers, the organization, or the supervisor (e.g., Bennett & Robinson,
2000). Do supervisors appreciate employees giving such peers “second
chances,” or do such connections create reputational detriments for those
employees?
Limitations
This research has some limitations that should be noted. One limitation
is that our measures of positive affect and perceived promotability were
collected at the same time and from the same source. The path coefficients
in that portion of the models may therefore be inflated by common method
bias (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). However, it should
be noted that the other portions of our models possess some combination
of temporal separation, source separation, or both. Both design elements
represent procedural remedies for common method bias (Doty & Glick,
1998). Moreover, many of our hypotheses depended on indirect effects
that were not time or source bound. Another limitation was our small
sample size in Study 1. Our design involved collecting data over two time
periods and across four sources, which is challenging from an attrition
perspective. This issue was exacerbated in our study by the need to identify
two specific types of peers: stars and projects. Relatedly, the recruitment
approach used in Study 1 prevented the calculation of a response rate—an
issue that was addressed in the design of Study 2. We also note that in
Study 1, our value for SRMR was not ideal, indicating potential model
misspecification. However, our other fit indices indicated good fit, and
this issue did not arise in Study 2.
Practical Implications
Despite those limitations, our research offers some important practical implications for employees, supervisors, and human resource personnel. For employees, our results point to important outcomes that can be
gained from providing support to others. These outcomes include positive
affect and perceptions that the employee is promotable. Perhaps more
492
PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
importantly, these gains can come from peers who are at different perceived levels of competence and ability. Employees who might otherwise
be tempted to shy away from working with projects (Andrews & Kacmar, 2001; Cialdini, 1989; Kulik et al., 2008) can be encouraged that it
is not only the high-ability peers that offer an image enhancing “return
on investment” at the workplace (Feldman & Klich, 1991). Moreover, our
results suggest that for employees, providing support might be a viable
path to being recognized as a good citizen or a competent performer at
one’s job (Rosenfeld et al., 1995, Wexler, 1986).
For supervisors, our results suggest a compelling story to tell employees when promoting the benefits of a supportive workplace culture (Tews,
Michel, & Ellingson, 2013). That story can highlight how employees, in
addition to organizations, might benefit when support is provided to different types of peers. The employees’ benefits can come in the form of
positive supervisor perceptions. However, our results also suggest that supervisors should recognize the impact that their perceptions have on how
they evaluate their employees (Bazerman & Moore, 2009). That recognition could prompt more extensive record keeping or the collection of
additional opinions to offset the impact of affect.
Finally, our results could be important to human resource personnel.
Most human resource personnel are well aware of the influence that impression management can have on the interviewing process and hiring
decisions (Bolino et al., 2008; Rosenfeld et al., 1995). However, less recognized by these personnel is how impression management can impact
posthiring decisions and outcomes, such as supervisor evaluations and
promotions. By recognizing that employees might use support as an image management strategy, human resource personnel can work to ensure
that support is used with good overall intentions and not merely as a
means to look good. Moreover, human resource personnel can help train
supervisors to be wary of employees who are using support with dubious
intentions (Halbesleben, Bowler, Bolino, & Turnley, 2010).
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