New research from the Journal of Personnel Psychology revealed a substantial, positive link between working in a supervisory role and job satisfaction. The strength of this link appears to depend on both individual and country-level power values.
While greater power typically comes with psychological benefits, some psychology research has found little association between greater workplace power and job satisfaction. The current study’s author proposed that this null finding might be explained by individual differences in power values.
“Previous research had concluded that whether or not a person occupied a supervisory role at work had a ‘negligible’ association with job satisfaction,” explained Kenneth Locke, a professor at the University of Idaho.
“I worried this conclusion was misleading because it was based on averaging together the experiences of many people from many countries. My everyday observations—plus studies showing that people are generally more satisfied in positions that ‘fit’ their needs—strongly suggested there might be individual and cultural differences in how people respond to being a supervisor.”
Locke contends that job satisfaction comes from the alignment of what a person desires from their employment and what they receive. Since employees differ in how much they value and desire power, supervisor positions should be more satisfying for some than others. To explore this, Locke set out to examine whether the link between workplace power and job satisfaction would be stronger among supervisors with strong power values — and also among supervisors who reside in countries with strong power values.
Locke obtained data from the European Social Survey, a survey of over 30,000 Europeans from 31 countries. Locke focused on data from respondents who were employed, leaving a final sample between the ages of 28 and 59.
To assess workplace power, the respondents were asked if they were responsible for supervising any employees in their position, and if so, how many. Job satisfaction was measured on an 11-point scale with the simple question, “How satisfied are you in your main job?”.
The respondents also answered two items that assessed individual power values. One item addressed the importance of receiving respect from others and having others do as one says. The second item addressed the importance of being rich and having expensive things. As a measure of national power values, Locke calculated the average power value score of respondents in each country. He also obtained cultural data from a separate source that allocated “power distance” scores for each country — scores that describe the extent that citizens of a country tend to tolerate power inequalities.
Locke’s analysis of the data revealed that job satisfaction was higher among supervisors than those who were not. Moreover, the more employees under one’s supervision, the higher the job satisfaction. This remained true even after controlling for age, sex, education, income, and working hours.
In line with the author’s expectations, the positive link between having a supervisor role and job satisfaction was strongest among respondents with greater power values. This relationship was also strengthened among respondents residing in country’s with strong power values and strong power distance — suggesting that having a supervisory role is most rewarding for people residing in countries whose citizens are more respectful toward authority.
“Job satisfaction was generally higher for supervisors than supervisees, but this association was significantly stronger among individuals with stronger power values (to be respected and obeyed) and in nations with greater levels of overall power values or power distance (where superiors enjoy more respect and obedience),” Locke told PsyPost. “The results suggest that occupying positions of power at work can have a meaningful positive impact on job satisfaction, especially in individuals or societies that esteem power.”
The study was limited as it used a single assessment of workplace power that addressed one’s supervision of other workers. Locke maintains that there are a wealth of other factors to be considered that may affect a supervisor’s authority on the job, such as their own superiors.
“While this study’s representative sample of 30,683 employees from 31 European countries should provide an accurate portrayal of the experiences of people in Europe, how accurately it reflects the experiences of people in other regions—where there might be different cultural attitudes towards workplace power and inequality—remains a question for future research,” Locke said.
“Also, a cross-sectional survey alone cannot confidently support causal conclusions; additional research that monitors employees’ job satisfaction over time as they enter and exit supervisory roles could help clarify the degree to being promoted into positions of power is a cause rather than a consequence of job satisfaction.”
Still, the findings offer compelling evidence that the link between workplace power and job satisfaction should not be ignored. “Although the effect of workplace power and power values on job satisfaction on any random day may be small,” Locke wrote in his study, “to the degree that individual differences in workplace power and power values are stable over time, they may keep exerting that small but consistent daily pressure on satisfaction over months or years.” In this way, Locke says that small differences in job satisfaction can cumulate and become consequential.
The study, “Power Values and Power Distance Moderate the Relationship Between Workplace Supervisory Power and Job Satisfaction”, was authored by Kenneth Locke.