Strong Relationships Increase Commitment of Information-Technology Personnel in Public Sector

Released: 6-May-2008 8:45 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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Newswise — In one of the first studies to focus specifically on state government information-technology personnel, researchers at the University of Arkansas found that key interpersonal relationships " both mentoring and different types of exchanges between supervisors and subordinates " have a major impact on employees' commitment to an organization.

"Information-technology jobs are inherently stressful regardless of whether employees work in the private or public sector," said Cynthia Riemenschneider, associate professor of information systems in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. "Our findings reiterate the importance of using various types of interpersonal relationships to mitigate stress inherent in these jobs. We believe that interpersonal relationships within the workplace have important implications for employee commitment and, ultimately, the retention of information-technology workers."

Riemenschneider and her research partners " Margaret Reid, professor of political science and public administration in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences; Myria Watkins Allen, associate professor of communication in the Fulbright College; and Deborah Armstrong at Florida State University " studied responses from an online survey of information-technology employees across several governmental departments of a south-central state.

The researchers wanted to accomplish three goals: focus attention on the level of organization commitment of state government information-technology workers, investigate the effects of mentoring and supervisor-subordinate exchanges on job commitment of these workers, and enhance their understanding of the potential effect of gender differences within parameters of the investigation.

Specifically, the researchers examined a construct called "affective organizational commitment," which is defined as a strong belief in and acceptance of an organization's goals and values and a willingness to expend efforts on behalf of the organization. This construct is important because previous research has linked affective organizational commitment to an employee's likelihood to stay with an organization.

The researchers looked at formal mentoring, which has been defined as the deliberate pairing of a skilled or experienced person with a lesser-skilled or lesser-experienced one. The main purpose of formal mentoring arrangements is to develop specific competencies of the lesser-skilled person and for that employee to understand more fully his or her contributions to the organization.

Digging deeper, Riemenschneider and her research partners examined two types of mentoring " career and psychosocial. Career mentoring includes functions such as coaching, sponsorship and protection. Psychosocial mentoring includes processes such as role modeling, counseling and friendship.

In addition, the researchers also examined "leader-member exchanges," which, in contrast to mentoring, refer to work situations in which supervisors or managers use the power of their position and organizational resources to develop different relationships with different employees. Low-quality exchanges are limited to monitoring an employee's work and generally do not include any kind of emotional support. High-quality exchanges, on the other hand, extend beyond basic work interactions and include high levels of mutual trust and respect between supervisor and subordinate.

The researchers found that psychosocial mentoring was more closely associated with the affective organizational commitment of state government information-technology personnel. Employees reported receiving more psychosocial mentoring than career mentoring, and the impact of the former was significant. Riemenschneider said this may be attributed to the work environment in the public sector agencies.

"It may be that public-sector mentors adopt a role more akin to a coach," she said. "Or, the stronger relationship between psychosocial mentoring and commitment to the organization might be an artifact of the motivations of IT workers who choose employment in state government agencies."

However, as the researchers predicted, leader-member exchange emerged as the most significant predictor of affective organizational commitment. Respondents consistently reported higher scores for this type of interpersonal relationship than for mentoring. Riemenschneider said this was logical because the superior-subordinate relationship was the primary career-building experience to which most employees were exposed. Moreover, even if agencies report having a formal mentoring program, many of these programs are not systematically developed or supported, Riemenschneider said.

In the researchers' study, the information-technology employees were scattered throughout agencies within state government, which meant that an employee was likely to have more regular interaction with his or her supervisor than with a mentor who might not even be in his or her physical location.

The study did not reveal any significant gender differences.

The researchers' findings are important because a general shortage of information-technology personnel has led to fierce competition between public entities and private companies for highly qualified workers. For these reasons, Riemenschneider said, public agencies must increasingly examine ways to engender commitment among employees.


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