How to Increase Employees' Satisfaction with their Supervisors

Research has shown that dissatisfaction with the immediate supervisor is a strong predictor of unionization attempts as well as of employees' leaving an organization. In unionized settings, a positive employee-supervisor relationship was found to be a necessary condition for effective union-management relationships. Thus supervisors who act poorly toward workers put their organizations at risk. The good news is that management absolutely can control how supervisors behave toward their subordinates.

A survey instrument developed by two of my former professors enables employers to assess the extent to which employees are satisfied with their supervisors. The items on the Satisfaction with My Supervisor Scale¹(SWMSS) provide management with a tool to diagnose and address specific problem behaviors before irreparable harm is done. The scale items cover three categories of supervisory skills: technical, human relations, and administrative. Most of the items represent good management practice; there is nothing "magic" about them.

Based on the SWMSS, here are ten of the nineteen behaviors that influence employees' level of satisfaction with their supervisors:

  1. Listening when employees have something important to say
  2. Appraising performance fairly
  3. Behaving consistently toward subordinates
  4. Giving employees credit for their ideas
  5. Clearly defining job responsibilities
  6. Following through in solving problems
  7. Backing up employees with other managers
  8. Recognizing good performance frequently
  9. Showing concern for employees' career progress
  10. Providing clear instructions

To increase the likelihood that employees will be satisfied with their supervisors, management should consider taking these steps:

  • Identify and clearly define each of the behaviors.
  • Communicate these behaviors to supervisors and emphasize their importance.
  • Provide the support and training necessary for supervisors to behave as required.
  • Monitor the behaviors on a regular basis; reinforce positive behaviors and take corrective action as needed for negative behaviors.
  • Assess employees' perceptions of these specific behaviors regularly.

The return on these and other related common sense behaviors is enormous. How can you afford not to ensure your supervisors are practicing them regularly?

¹ Scarpello, V. and Vandenberg, R.J. (1987). The Satisfaction with My Supervisor Scale: Its Utility for Research and Practical Applications. Journal of Management, 13(3), 447-466.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. Pat can show you how to apply relevant research findings in practical ways to create immediate results in your organization. Contact us today to see how we can help you make a difference!

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