The effect of source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior of supervisors on role ambiguity

Hele tekst

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The effect of source credibility, source availability and

promotion of feedback-seeking behavior of supervisors on

role ambiguity

Name: Niels Douma Student number: S2916525

Master: MSc BA Management Accounting & Control Supervisor: dr. L. Bellora-Bienengräber

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Table of content

1. ABSTRACT ... 3

2. INTRODUCTION ... 4

3. LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESES DEVELOPMENT ... 6

3.1ROLE EXPECTATIONS ... 6

3.2FEEDBACK ... 7

3.3DEVELOPMENT OF HYPOTHESES ... 9

3.3.1 Relationship between source credibility and role ambiguity ... 10

3.3.2 Relationship between source availability and role ambiguity ... 11

3.3.3 Relationship between promotion of feedback-seeking behavior and role ambiguity ... 12

4. METHODOLOGY ... 13 4.1RESEARCH DESIGN ... 13 4.2CONSTRUCT MEASUREMENTS ... 15 4.2.1 Role ambiguity ... 16 4.2.2 Feedback characteristics ... 17 4.2.3 Controls ... 19 5. RESULTS ... 21 5.1STATISTICAL PARAMETERS ... 21 5.2MULTICOLLINEARITY ... 21 5.3HYPOTHESIS TESTS ... 21

6. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ... 23

6.1DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ... 23

6.2THEORETICAL IMPLICATION ... 24

6.4RESEARCH LIMITATIONS ... 25

6.5FUTURE RESEARCH ... 26

REFERENCES ... 27

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1. Abstract

This study investigates the effects of source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior of supervisors on role ambiguity. According to existing literature, the reduction of role ambiguity results in an increase in an employee’s productivity, intrinsic job satisfaction and vitality at work. In order to understand the underlying rationale of the relationships among the concepts, the Social Exchange Theory (SET), the Scarcity Principle of Role Theory (SPRT) and the Organizational Socialization Theory (OST) are utilized. Source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior is hypothesized to be negatively associated with role ambiguity. Source credibility is excluded from the analysis as it almost perfectly explains role ambiguity, which is highly unlikely. Next to that, the analysis based on survey data provided no evidence for the presence of a significant effects of source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior of supervisors on the degree of role ambiguity.

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2. Introduction

For long management accounting research has indicated the inadequacy of formal control systems to provide sufficient information as they are perceived to be unreliable, too limited or general for managers and untimely (Luckett and Eggleton, 1991). Performance information could be provided through formal control systems or informal control systems (Farr, 1993). Even though the vast majority of communication within large organizations is informal (Downs, 1967), there is a lack of research of the informal feedback domain (Pitkänen and Lukka, 2011). Pitkänen and Lukka (2011) state that “the relevance and the role of the informal domain in the production and communication of feedback in organizations has hardly ceased to exist. The challenges of feedback practices are not just related to the functionality of systems, but also to how people interact with each other.” (p. 126).

Research on feedback has mainly focused on the effect of feedback on performance (Lam et al., 2011; Papousek et al., 2011; Moss et al., 2003). One of the reasons is that feedback is crucial for employees as it might improve future performance (Ilgen et al., 1979). However, before assessing an employee’s performance, he or she should know what is expected of him or her (Zhou et al., 2016). According to role theory, supervisors communicate the

organization’s role expectations about an employee through providing feedback (Kahn et al., 1964). However, there is potential for inconsistency between the information an employee possesses and the information required to meet the supervisor’s role expectations, i.e. role ambiguity (Kahn et al., 1964). For example, role ambiguity might exist due to unclear

communication of role expectations, i.e. informal feedback. Role ambiguity is directly related to uncertainty as employees experience uncertainty when not having enough information to perform their job adequately (Kahn et al., 1964). As formal feedback is usually provided in annually conducted appraisal interviews (Meyer, 1991) and perceived to be inadequate, informal day-to-day feedback is required to provide employees with sufficient information (Pitkänen and Lukka, 2011). Consequently, organizations should have competent supervisors providing adequate information in informal feedback sessions in order to minimize role ambiguity.

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implications for role ambiguity. Firstly, source credibility directly affects the communication of role expectations (Kahn et al., 1964; Giffin, 1967). Secondly, source availability is selected as access to feedback is critical for the assessment of uncertainty (DeRue and Wellman, 2009). Thirdly, the promotion of feedback-seeking behavior enhances employee socialization (Morrison, 1993), which results in the reduction of uncertainty regarding employees’ roles (DeRue and Wellman, 2009).

The minimization of role ambiguity has several advantages for organizations. The reduction of role ambiguity leads to an increase in employee productivity (Zhou et al., 2016).

Furthermore, research conducted by Faucett et al. (2012) found that role ambiguity is negatively associated with an employee’s intrinsic job satisfaction, which is perceived to be the most desirable satisfaction for employees by firms (Pritchard and Peters, 1974).

Moreover, a reduction of role ambiguity leads to an increase of an employee’s vitality at work (Karkkola et al., 2019). Therefore, it is interesting for companies to have knowledge on how informal feedback affects role ambiguity.

This study contributes to role theory as it provides insights in how source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior affects role ambiguity of

subordinates through role sending, i.e. informal feedback, by supervisors. Rationale for the relationship between source credibility and role ambiguity is provided by the Social Exchange Theory (SET). According to SET, trust is essential in relationships (Krot and Lewicka, 2012) and results in employees accepting information more quickly provided by supervisors (Giffin, 1967). Furthermore, the association between source availability and role ambiguity is

explained by applying the Scarcity Principle of Role Theory (SPRT). More specifically, supervisors are able to direct the limited amount of resources available to an employee towards essential tasks (DeRue and Wellman, 2009; Aryee et al., 2005). Lastly, rationale for the relationship between promotion of feedback-seeking behavior and role ambiguity is provided by the Organizational Socialization Theory (OST). Promotion of feedback-seeking behavior improves socialization processes (Morrison, 1993), which increases knowledge sharing between supervisors and employees (van Maanen and Schein, 1977).

The research question addressed in this study is:

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The remainder of this study is organized as follows. Section “Literature review and

hypotheses development” examines role expectations and feedback briefly. Next, hypotheses are developed for the relationships between the selected feedback characteristics and role ambiguity. The research design and measurements of the constructs are presented in section “Methodology”. Section “Results” displays the analyses and results. The discussion of the results is covered in section “Discussion”. Lastly, section “Conclusion” discusses the conclusions, limitations of the study and directions for future research.

3. Literature review and hypotheses development

3.1 Role expectations

According to role theory, there is a set of role expectations held by role senders, i.e. supervisors, about a focal person, i.e. employee, and his or her behavior on the job. The supervisor’s role expectations are affected by the supervisor’s experience, which includes cognitive, evaluative and perceptual items (Kahn et al., 1964). More specifically, the

supervisor has knowledge of the employee’s job requirements, knowledge of the employee’s real task performance and the capability to adequately evaluate that task performance

(Steelman et al., 2004). As a consequence, supervisors are able to provide employees with salient and accurate role expectations (Zhou et al., 2016).

The communication of role expectations could lead to two types of role pressures: role

ambiguity and role conflict (Kahn et al., 1964). Role pressures arise when the communication of role expectations is not simply interpretable, unclear, indirect and does not occur within the scope of acceptance of the focal person (Kahn et al., 1964). Role conflict occurs when

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expectations are vague and inconsistent, employees are not able to perform their jobs efficiently and improvement could be made (Kahn et al., 1964). Secondly, the reduction of role ambiguity stronger affects the benefits for firms than the reduction of role conflict. A reduction in role ambiguity leads to a stronger increase in employee productivity (Zhou et al., 2016), an employee’s intrinsic job satisfaction (Faucett et al., 2012) and employee vitality (Karkkola et al., 2019) than a reduction in role conflict.

Reducing role ambiguity is beneficial for firms in several ways. Firstly, role ambiguity negatively affects employee productivity. According to Zhou et al. (2016), in situations of high role ambiguity, employees have to utilize their resources in order to understand what is expected of them. Therefore, the employee’s resources cannot be used for critical tasks. This is supported by Harris et al. (2006), who found that role ambiguity diminishes an employee’s competence to utilize his or her resources efficiently. Secondly, role ambiguity is negatively associated with an employee’s intrinsic job satisfaction. An individual perceiving less role ambiguity has got the feeling that his or her job provides more feelings of pride, personal growth, achievement and meaningfulness (Faucett et al., 2012; Hodson and Sullivan, 2012). An increase in an employee’s intrinsic job satisfaction is beneficial for firms since it improves organizational performance (Latif et al., 2013). Thirdly, employee vitality is negatively affected by role ambiguity (Karkkola et al., 2019). An increase in employee vitality is advantageous for organizations as it means that an employee feels more energized, enthusiastic and improves employee productivity (Ryan and Deci, 2008).

3.2 Feedback

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provided by a supervisor whenever the employee requires feedback (London, 2003; Luckett and Eggleton, 1991; Katz and Kahn, 1978). For the remainder of this paper, feedback refers to informal feedback.

The feedback environment should be understood in order to obtain a better understanding of informal feedback (Steelman et al., 2004). The feedback environment involves the contextual characteristics of informal feedback of two sources. Informal feedback could be provided to an employee by a supervisor or a coworker (Steelman et al., 2004). A supervisor is an

employee’s superior providing the employee job information to enable him or her to perform his or her job adequately in congruence with the firm’s interests (Sparr and Sonnentag, 2008). The focus of this study is on informal feedback provided to employees by supervisors for three reasons. Firstly, supervisors are seen as the role senders of an organization (Kahn et al., 1964). More specifically, supervisors are able to direct employee behavior enabling the employees to utilize their resources for critical tasks (Zhou et al., 2016). Secondly,

supervisors are able to provide day-to-day feedback in order to ensure that employees have adequate job information (Zhou et al. 2016). Feedback from supervisors is found to be

negatively associated with the degree of role ambiguity (Jackson and Schuler, 1985). Thirdly, a supervisor’s style is constructed by the work environment of the organization (Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978). In other words, an organization is able to affect supervisors in an attempt to minimize role ambiguity.

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to which employees feel comfortable asking for performance feedback” (Steelman et al., 2004, p. 169).

This paper focuses on source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior for the following reasons. According to Kahn et al. (1964), the

communication of role expectations is influenced by the supervisor’s own experience on that specific job. Source credibility is directly related to the supervisor’s own experience (Giffin, 1967). It is interesting to obtain understanding how source credibility affects role ambiguity through its direct influence on the communication of role expectations. Furthermore, source availability is selected since access to feedback is exceptionally important for the examination of uncertainty (DeRue and Wellman, 2009). Access to feedback enables employees to utilize their resources for priorities as supervisors are able to direct employees towards what is necessary (Zhou et al., 2016). As a result, uncertainty is reduced about what is expected of employees. Lastly, promotion of feedback-seeking behavior is selected since it leads to improvement of employee socialization (Morrison, 1993). More specifically, employees are seeking for information during socialization (Ashford, 1986), which enables them to decrease uncertainty (DeRue and Wellman, 2009).

3.3 Development of hypotheses

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3.3.1 Relationship between source credibility and role ambiguity

For an employee to accept the feedback provided by his or her supervisor, the employee must perceive the supervisor as a credible source in two manners (Giffin, 1967). Firstly, the

source’s expertness is judged based on three dimensions: knowledge of the employee’s job requirement, knowledge of the employee’s real task performance and capability to adequately evaluate that task performance (Steelman et al., 2004). Secondly, the trustworthiness of a source is affected by the degree to which the feedback provided is perceived to be in line with the source’s role (Ilgen et al., 1979; Giffin, 1967). For example, an employee’s supervisor provides feedback that directs the employee to improve his or her performance, this is in line with the supervisor’s role.

A supervisor perceived as credible has several benefits for providing informal feedback. Credible sources are found to be more persuasive than less credible sources (Sternthal et al., 1978). Thus, high credibility sources are more influential than low credibility sources (Rogers et al., 1976). Furthermore, information provided by a credible supervisor is perceived as more reliable and accurate (Giffin, 1967). Therefore, information from a credible source is accepted more quickly (Giffin, 1967). The view that it is beneficial for supervisors to be perceived as credible is supported by Gordon and Miller (2012). They state that “the best feedback is … delivered by a trustworthy source who knows what he or she is talking about” (p. 9).

The association between source credibility and role ambiguity is explained based on the SET. SET concerns relationships among people requiring undefined future obligations (Blau, 1964). The relationships are built through interdependent interactions and are dependent on the acts of the other person in the relationship (Blau, 1964). Trust is crucial in maintaining these relationships (Krot and Lewicka, 2012). This is supported by Spekman (1988), who argues that trust is the cornerstone in relationships. Dependent on the amount of trust among the actors in the relationship, resources are exchanged. Those resources consist of tangible resources, e.g. equipment, and intangible resources, e.g. information (Mitchell et al., 2012). For example, a supervisor provides an employee more accurate information when the degree of trust in their relationship is higher.

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perceives his or her supervisor as credible. Additionally, a credible supervisor has a higher level of expertness, which enables the supervisor to provide an employee with relevant job information (Steelman et al., 2004). Therefore, information provided by a credible supervisor is accepted more quickly and is utilized by employees. Employees do not require to devote resources to understanding or doubting the information by their supervisor as they perceive it to be valid (Harris et al., 2006). By doing so, the employee is able to meet his or her role expectations more adequately, resulting in reduced role ambiguity. Based on theory and existing literature the following is hypothesized:

H1: Source credibility is negatively associated with role ambiguity

3.3.2 Relationship between source availability and role ambiguity

DeRue and Wellman (2009) argue that source availability is essential as access to feedback supports employees in dealing and coping with uncertainty. Moreover, by means of increased social interaction resulting from increased source availability, employees become more self-aware and obtain a better understanding of what their capable of (Hacker et al., 1998). Furthermore, an abundance in availability of coaching is found to be an indication for firms with a solid informal feedback system (London and Smither, 2002). Coaching is referred to as a supervisor providing an employee informal feedback. Supervisors provide employees information about the role expectations that the supervisors and others within the firm hold for those employees (Goodstone and Diamante, 1998). Therefore, it is argued that the amount of role information received by employees increases when source availability increases.

“Communication … represents an important work tool through which individuals understand their organizational role” (Rogers and Agarwala-Rogers, 1967, p. 7). Thus, increased source availability provides more chances for an employee to communicate with his or her

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able to reduce his or her role ambiguity. The following is hypothesized based on literature and theory:

H2: Source availability is negatively associated with role ambiguity

3.3.3 Relationship between promotion of feedback-seeking behavior and role ambiguity Employees frequently desire feedback (Ashford, 1989) and the main driver is the reduction of uncertainty (Levy et al., 1995). This is supported by Ashford and Cummings (1985), they identified that employees are more actively seeking for feedback when they experience more uncertainty. However, several obstacles have been identified for employees seeking for feedback. For instance, ego maintenance has been found to be such an obstacle (Levy et al., 1995). More specifically, poor performers are more reluctant to seek for feedback as it is more likely for them to damage their ego. To overcome these obstacles, promotion of

feedback-seeking behavior is found to be a potentially significant driver for the improvement of feedback-seeking behavior by employees (Williams et al., 1999).

To understand the relationship hypothesized between promotion of feedback-seeking

behavior and role ambiguity the OST is addressed. OST provides rationale for the process by which an employee acquires knowledge and abilities required to fulfill his or her role within an organization (van Maanen and Schein, 1977). Socialization occurs by social interactions among employees and more experienced employees in the firm, e.g. supervisors (Reichers, 1987). Employees seeking for feedback are actively improving their socialization process (Morrison, 1993). Anseel et al. (2015) found that feedback seeking is related to relationship building, better networking and socializing. Therefore, employees actively seeking for feedback have better relationships with their supervisors. Feedback seeking by employees is enhanced by the promotion of feedback-seeking behavior by supervisors. It creates a

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or her role, which will reduce the employee’s role ambiguity (van Maanen and Schein, 1977; Kahn et al., 1964). The following is hypothesized based on theory and literature:

H3: Promotion of feedback-seeking behavior is negatively associated with role ambiguity

4. Methodology

4.1 Research design

Data has been collected through a structured survey which has been shared with several employees from a service providing organization based in Amsterdam. The organization provides services in the area of accounting, tax and advisory. Moreover, the organization employs more than 250.000 employees globally, out of which approximately 2.000 are based in Amsterdam. The organization is structured as follow, the hierarchical levels range from advisor; senior advisor; manager; senior manager; associate partner to partner. The feedback system in the firm is mainly operating as employees requesting for feedback from colleagues with whom they worked on engagements, usually more senior colleagues, i.e. their

supervisor. The organization’s feedback system mainly consists of informal feedback. This survey mainly focuses on the advisory pillar of the firm. The respondents’ age ranges from 23 to 36 with an average age of 28 years. Furthermore, 61% of the respondents is male and 39% is female. The respondents are considered to be in the beginning of their career as the average years of experience on the current job within the sample firm is 4 years and the average of their overall years of experience is 5.5 years.

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accounting profession resulting in uncertainties. Secondly, the respondents are in the beginning of their career. According to Becker (1962), more experienced employees

accumulate knowledge and skills on the job. Therefore, less experienced employees have less knowledge of what is expected in order for them to perform their job adequately.

The survey has been distributed to employees of only one firm in order to exclude specific characteristics. Feedback could be provided differently in firms due to their firm-specific characteristics, e.g. the firm’s hierarchical structure. The differences in the provision of feedback affect the employee’s perception of feedback (Tessier et al., 2012). To cancel out the different effects of firm-specific characteristics on the perception of feedback, the survey is distributed to only one firm.

The survey process included three steps: pre-test of the survey, initial distribution and follow up. The first step was a pre-test of the survey to check the applicability of the survey to the targeted firm and to establish validity for the survey items. For the pre-test of the survey an employee of the sample firm was asked to complete the survey and an assistant professor of management accounting and control assessed the survey questions. After that, the survey was distributed to direct colleagues of the contact within the sample firm via e-mail on April 17, 2020. Lastly, two weeks after the initial distribution a follow up e-mail is sent to all contacted employees. In total, the survey was online for four weeks, remarkably, all responses were recorded directly after the initial distribution. The distribution of the survey resulted in 27 respondents out of 30 employees to which the survey has been sent, which is a response rate of 90%. Due to uncertainties caused by COVID-19, the contact person was only allowed to distribute the survey among direct colleagues. The estimated time to fill in the survey is five minutes. The distributed survey including the respondent’s instructions can be found in appendix 1.

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Moreover, the question order is counterbalanced, i.e. the order of survey questions regarding the dependent and independent constructs is mixed up. For example, three questions

measuring source credibility are followed by two questions regarding role ambiguity. The aforementioned remedies are taken to withhold respondents from providing socially desirable answers and answers they think the researcher expects them to provide (Podsakoff et al., 2003). Lastly, the magnitude of common method variance is examined by conducting a Harman’s one factor test on the 20 survey questions. The factor analysis extracted 7 factors based on eigenvalues > 1. A significant extent of common method variance exists when one factor accounts for more than 50% of the covariance among the items (Podsakoff et al., 2003). There is no evidence for significant common method variance as 34.1% of the total variance is explained by the first factor.

Before the analysis, the data is screened for outliers. An outlier is a response that is

contradictory to the remainder of the responses (Grubbs, 1969). In this study possible outliers might result from respondents just clicking themselves through the survey without reading the questions. An indication for respondents clicking themselves through might be opposite responses to questions measuring the same construct. As a consequence of screening for outliers, four observations are excluded from the data.

4.2 Construct measurements

All construct measures have been drawn from existing literature in order to establish validity for the survey items and have been used extensively in research. The constructs are measured on 7-point Likert scale survey questions, 1 meaning ‘strongly disagree’ and 7 meaning ‘strongly agree’. Principal axis factoring with direct oblimin rotation is used to identify the number of factors the data consists of and to identify which items load onto which factors (Fabrigar et al., 1999). More particularly, the factor analysis is used to examine whether the intended items measure the intended construct, e.g. role ambiguity. The results of the factor analysis are presented in table 1.

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is insufficient. It was not possible to obtain more responses from the sample firm due to COVID-19, therefore, the analysis is continued. Furthermore, the Bartlett’s test of sphericity is conducted to assess the suitability of a factor analysis. The test should be significant on a 5% significance level (Williams et al., 2010), which is true for the data.

Table 1 Factor analysis

1 2 3 4 5 6 RA1r -.551 -.351 -.361 RA2r -.752 RA3r -.853 .399 RA4r -.889 RA5r -.932 RA6r -.662 SC1 .665 SC2 .669 .373 SC3r .815 SC4 .335 .590 SC5 .630 .574 SA1 .316 SA2r .886 SA3r .577 .637 SA4 .612 SA5r .951 PF1r .431 .412 PF2r .731 PF3 .385 -.764 PF4 .827

RA=role ambiguity, SC=source credibility, SA=source availability and PF=promotion of feedback-seeking behavior

r=reverse coded

Principal axis factoring with oblimin rotation is used to perform the factor analysis and the factors are extracted based on eigenvalues greater than 1. For convenience, loadings smaller than 0.3 are excluded from the table.

4.2.1 Role ambiguity

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averaging the responses to the corresponding questions. The descriptive statistics of the role ambiguity items are presented in table 2. The responses to the survey questions measuring role ambiguity constitute a wide range from 1 to 6. Overall, the perceived role ambiguity is rather low.

The reliability of the role ambiguity construct is examined by the assessment of the

Cronbach’s alpha, which measures the relatedness of the construct items (Nunnally, 1978). A Cronbach alpha exceeding 0.7 is recommended for a construct to be internally reliable

(Nunnally, 1978). The role ambiguity construct has a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.873 and, thus, is considered to be internally reliable.

Table 2 descriptive statistics of role ambiguity items

Min. Mean Max. Std. dev.

1. I feel certain about how much

authority I have (R) 1.00 2.78 5.00 1.17

2. I have clear, planned goals and

objectives for my jobs (R) 1.00 2.35 5.00 1.03

3. I know that I have divided my

time properly (R) 1.00 2.52 6.00 1.08

4. I know what my

responsibilities are (R) 1.00 2.09 3.00 0.51

5. I know exactly what is

expected of me (R) 1.00 2.17 5.00 0.83

6. I receive a clear explanation of

what has to be done (R) 1.00 2.43 5.00 0.79

(R)=reverse coded

4.2.2 Feedback characteristics

In order to conceptualize feedback, three contextual characteristics of feedback have been adapted from the Feedback Environment Scale (FES) introduced by Steelman et al. (2004). This study focuses on source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior. Firstly, source credibility is measured with five items regarding the employee’s perception of the degree of expertness and trustworthiness of his or her

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sample item is “My supervisor is often annoyed when I directly ask for performance feedback”.

The feedback constructs are assessed based on 7-point Likert-scale survey questions. Several negatively worded items have been reverse coded in order for all scores on the items to have the same meaning. The items of the three feedback characteristics are expected to load onto three separate factors. However, as displayed in table 1, the results of the factor analysis are inconsistent with the items drawn from existing literature measuring the corresponding construct. Rationale for these inconsistent results is provided in the “Discussion and conclusion” section later on. Due to extant use of the measurement items of the feedback characteristics in existing literature, the constructs are formed by averaging the responses to the corresponding questions. The corresponding descriptive statistics are displayed in table 3 and show that the responses to the survey questions display a wide scope with a minimum ranging from 1 to 5 and a maximum of either 6 or 7. Even though the responses to the survey questions have a wide range, the means of the measurement items reveal that the perception of source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior is high.

The reliability of the source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior constructs is assessed based on the corresponding Cronbach’s alphas (Nunnally, 1978). The construct for source credibility is internally reliable with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.759. Furthermore, the constructs for source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior are not internally reliable with Cronbach’s alphas of 0.515 and 0.298, respectively. After consideration, the constructs for source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior are preserved since it is not possible to obtain more responses from the sample firm due to COVID-19.

Table 3 descriptive statistics of feedback characteristic items

Min. Mean Max. Std. dev.

Source credibility

1. My supervisor is

generally familiar with my performance on the job

5.00 5.91 7.00 0.52

2. In general, I respect my supervisor’s opinions about my job performance

5.00 5.91 7.00 0.60

3. With respect to job performance feedback, I

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usually do not trust my supervisor (R)

4. My supervisor is fair when evaluating my job performance

3.00 5.83 7.00 0.78

5. I have confidence in the feedback my supervisor gives me

4.00 5.74 7.00 0.62

Source availability

1. My supervisor is usually available when I want performance information

2.00 5.61 6.00 0.89

2. My supervisor is too busy to give me feedback (R)

4.00 5.65 7.00 0.83

3. I have little contact with

my supervisor (R) 3.00 5.87 7.00 1.10

4. I interact with my

supervisor on a daily basis 1.00 4.00 7.00 1.86 5. The only time I receive

performance feedback from my supervisor is during my performance review (R) 2.00 4.70 6.00 1.26 Promotion of feedback-seeking behavior 1. My supervisor is often annoyed when I directly ask for performance feedback (R)

2.00 6.35 7.00 1.07

2. When I ask for

performance feedback, my supervisor generally does not give me the information right away (R)

3.00 5.65 7.00 0.98

3. I feel comfortable asking my supervisor for feedback about my work

performance

5.00 6.35 7.00 0.71

4. My supervisor

encourages me to ask for feedback whenever I am uncertain about my job performance

2.00 5.30 7.00 1.49

4.2.3 Controls

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Females have a tendency to rate performance less positively than males do (Fletcher, 1999). This might be the case due to males requiring to maintain their ego (Diamond, 2006). Consequently, a supervisor’s feedback characteristics could be perceived differently by a woman. In order to cancel out the effect, the employee’s gender is controlled for.

An employee’s age has numerous effects on the employee’s behavior (Kalleberg et al., 1983). More specifically, a study conducted by Wang et al. (2015) found that age differences could explain the diverse relationships between feedback reactions to feedback characteristics among younger and older workers. Therefore, the effect of age differences is controlled for.

Experienced employees have more accurate information on what is expected of them than new employees due to accumulated skills (Becker, 1962). Less experienced employees are more likely to experience a higher degree of role ambiguity than more experienced

employees. Therefore, the effect of overall experience is controlled for.

Feedback could be provided differently in firms (Tessier et al., 2012). Employees established for a longer period in the same job in the same firm are more used to the feedback provided to them and might derive more useful information from it. This is essentially similar to overall experience, however, an additional concept is that the employee is familiar with the

characteristics of that specific firm. Therefore, the effect of an employee’s years of experience on the current job within the current firm is controlled for.

Different employees could react differently to the same feedback as a result of the satisfaction they derive from that feedback (Jawahar, 2006). More specifically, dependent on the

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5. Results

5.1 Statistical parameters

Table 4 presents the means, standard deviations and Pearson correlation coefficients of every construct. The sample size included in the data analysis consists of 23 respondents. Moreover, the constructs are measured based on 7-point Likert scale survey questions; 1 meaning

‘strongly disagree’ and 7 meaning ‘strongly agree’. In the sample firm the degree of role ambiguity is perceived to be low. The perception of source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior is high and role ambiguity is perceived to be low in the sample firm.

5.2 Multicollinearity

Multicollinearity might exist in the data due to strong linear relationships among variables (Bagya Lakshmi et al., 2018). The variance inflation factor (VIF) of the independent variables is examined to test for multicollinearity. Variables with a VIF of greater than 10 should be excluded from the analysis due to multicollinearity (Micheal and Abiodun, 2014). The lowest value of VIF is 2.120, so there are no signs for multicollinearity. Although there are no signs for multicollinearity, source credibility is excluded from the analysis. Source credibility almost perfectly explains role ambiguity with a coefficient of -0.927 retrieved from a multiple regression, which is highly unlikely. Therefore, source credibility is excluded from the

analysis.

5.3 Hypothesis tests

Table 5 displays the results of two multiple regression models. In the first model, only the controls are included and resulted in an insignificant F-value of 1.305. The R-square is examined to assess the goodness-of-fit of the models (Cameron and Windmeijer, 1996). The

Table 4 Correlation matrix (Pearson) Mean Std. dev. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 1. Role ambiguity 2.39 0.73 1 2. Source credibility 5.79 0.59 -.594** 1 3. Source availability 5.17 0.73 -.221 .540** 1 4. Promotion of feedback-seeking behavior 5.91 0.62 -.160 -.033 .435* 1

5. Satisfaction with feedback 5.60 0.73 -.310 .625** .704** .331 1 **. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (1-tailed).

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R-square for model 1, including only controls, is 0.277. Model 2, including the controls and the independent variables source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior, resulted in an insignificant F-value of 0.991. As a consequence, the R-square is increased to 0.316, which indicates that role ambiguity is better explained by the inclusion of source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior.

The hypotheses are tested based on a one-tailed significance test as the hypotheses tested are directional. It is hypothesized that source availability is negatively associated with role ambiguity. However, no significant relationship between source availability and role

ambiguity is found. Therefore, no evidence is found to support hypothesis 2. Moreover, it is expected that promotion of feedback-seeking behavior is negatively related to role ambiguity. Nevertheless, no significant association between promotion of feedback-seeking behavior and role ambiguity is found. Thus, there is no evidence to confirm hypothesis 3.

A significant positive relationship is found between gender and role ambiguity on a 10% significance level. The respondent’s gender could be male, female and other, however, no ‘other’ gender is registered. The construct gender is coded as follows: 1 meaning male and 2 meaning female. The coefficient of gender in model 2, i.e. 0.583, entails that the role

ambiguity perceived is higher when the respondent is female.

Table 5 Parameter estimates of role ambiguity

Model 1 Model 2 Controls Std. coeff. (std. error) P-value Std. coeff. (std. error) P-value Satisfaction with feedback -.141 (.346) .688 -.138 (.436) .757 Gender .437 (.339) .079 .583 (.421) .062 Age .349 (.098) .504 .026 (.137) .972 Years of experience on current job within current firm

.043 (.111) .924 .093 (.118) .848

Overall years of work

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6. Discussion and conclusion

6.1 Discussion and conclusion

This paper examines the effect of source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior on role ambiguity. It is hypothesized that source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior are negatively associated with role ambiguity. Empirical results generated through the use of a multiple regression are utilized to answer the research question leading this paper. Source credibility is found to explain role ambiguity almost perfectly which is highly unlikely and, therefore, is excluded from the analysis. One possible explanation is the order of the questions. More specifically, when questions regarding role ambiguity occurred in the survey for the first time, those questions were directly followed by questions regarding source credibility. As a result, the respondents might feel that they should provide opposite answers to the questions concerning role

ambiguity and source credibility.

Table 5 displays the results of the multiple regression. There is no significant relationship found between source availability and role ambiguity. This finding means that, in the sample employed, the frequency and ease at which an employee is able to obtain job information from his or her supervisor has no impact on the extent of role ambiguity perceived by the employee. This is not in compliance with the SPRT. According to the SPRT, an individual has a limited number of physiological and psychological resources (Aryee et al., 2005), which could be directed to essential tasks by supervisors (DeRue and Wellman, 2009).

Consequently, role ambiguity is reduced. However, no empirical evidence is found to support the negative association between source availability and role ambiguity in this sample.

Research conducted by Chhokar and Wallin (1984) found that feedback regarding

performance provided once in two weeks is roughly as good as once a week. This supports Ilgen et al. (1979), who argue that more feedback might not be better. This view could also be applied to this study as increased source availability might not mean that role ambiguity is reduced. A possible explanation is provided by Zhou (2003), who argues that close

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No significant relationship between promotion of feedback-seeking behavior and role ambiguity is found, thus, hypothesis 3 is not supported. In other words, the encouragement and rewarding of feedback-seeking behavior and the convenience employees experience to ask for performance feedback has no impact on the degree of role ambiguity perceived by employees. This finding is not in line with the OST. According to the OST, the socialization process improves due to promotion of feedback-seeking behavior (Morrison, 1993), which increases knowledge sharing between supervisors and employees (van Maanen and Schein, 1977). Nonetheless, no empirical evidence is found based on this sample to support the negative association between promotion of feedback-seeking behavior and role ambiguity. A possible explanation for these results is provided by Higgins et al. (2001). Higgins et al. (2001) argue that promotion is related to the accomplishment of objectives, however, might also result in pain resulting from the absence of accomplishing objectives. Therefore, the anxiety of not accomplishing objectives might offset the positive implications of promotion of feedback-seeking behavior on role ambiguity.

Even though not hypothesized in this study, an interesting finding is that gender has a

significant positive relationship with role ambiguity. This entails that females perceive higher role ambiguity than males. Rationale for this finding is provided by Diamond (2006), who argues that males require to maintain their ego. As a result, males are more reluctant than females in admitting that they do not possess the amount of information required to perform their job adequately.

6.2 Theoretical implication

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investigated as a moderating effect on the relationship between role ambiguity and its outcomes (Babin and Boles, 1998; Bettencourt and Brown, 2003). For example, job performance is more negatively affected by role ambiguity when the employee is female (Bettencourt and Brown, 2003).

6.3 Practical implication

This study has several practical implications for both managers and employees. From a manager perspective, a manager’s availability for the provision of feedback is not related to an employee’s role ambiguity. Thus, managers do not have to make an effort to be available for the provision of feedback in order to reduce role ambiguity. Furthermore, there is no need for managers to promote feedback-seeking behavior by employees if managers aim to reduce role ambiguity in the firm. From an employee perspective, the frequency at which an

employee obtains feedback does not influence the employee’s role ambiguity. Therefore, employees do not have to request feedback more often if employees desire reducing role ambiguity.

While this study does not find source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior to be relevant for role ambiguity, managers are encouraged to focus on developing clear job descriptions to reduce role ambiguity (Chang and Hancock, 2003; Schwab and Iwanicki, 1982). Therefore, developing clear job descriptions is more powerful than source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior if managers wish to reduce role ambiguity.

6.4 Research limitations

The various practical- and theoretical implications have to be considered in the light of several limitations. First, the small sample size might have caused the insignificant results. Due to COVID-19 the contact within the sample firm was only allowed to distribute it among direct colleagues. As a consequence, the sample size constitutes of 27 respondents, of which 23 respondents have been included in the analysis. Without those restrictions imposed by the sample firm, the survey could have been distributed across the whole office in Amsterdam. This would be feasible when taking into account the ±2.000 employees located in

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analysis, possibly resulting in significant results. Second, the reduction of role ambiguity through feedback provided by a supervisor rests upon the assumption that supervisors have intentions to provide employees with adequate information. However, supervisor’s interests might diverse from the company’s interests (Eisenhardt, 1989) and, thus, the supervisor might provide inadequate information to employees. As a result, role ambiguity might exist due to the diverse interests of supervisors and not due to the differences in feedback characteristics. Third, although several remedies are taken for common method bias, response bias might still exist. An employee might feel uncomfortable to admit that he or she is experiencing role ambiguity and, therefore, is not able to perform efficiently. An employee admitting that he or she is experiencing role ambiguity might be seen as inefficient by a firm.

6.5 Future research

This paper recommends two options for future research. First, future research should reconsider the hypotheses formed in this study based on empirical research with a larger sample size. Extant literature provides evidence for a negative impact of source credibility, source availability and promotion of feedback-seeking behavior on role ambiguity. Therefore, it is recommended to reexamine the hypotheses of this study in future research with a sizable sample size. Second, future research should include all six feedback characteristics identified by Steelman et al. (2004) to generate an overall view of the effects of the feedback

characteristics on role ambiguity. According to Steelman et al. (2004), source credibility, source availability, promotion of feedback-seeking behavior, feedback quality, feedback delivery and favorability of feedback comprise the feedback environment.

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Appendix 1 – Survey on your work environment and your work tasks

Welcome to this questionnaire! This questionnaire is the essential part of my master thesis. The purpose of this study is to gain insight in different aspects of your work environment and your work tasks. To do so, I need your help. Your participation is critical to gain

representative results. Therefore, I kindly ask you to support this research project by filling in this questionnaire.

I estimate that this will take 5 minutes.

All answers will be treated completely confidentially.

My goal is to provide managers with findings that will help them to improve the work environment. Therefore, your participation is crucial and highly appreciated.

Please do not hesitate to contact me in the case of any questions through these contact details: Name: Niels Douma

E-mail: n.douma@student.rug.nl Tel: +31 652597484

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Please answer all questions. There are no right or wrong answers. We are just interested in your

personal opinion.

Please do not go back through the internet browser’s back functions as issues might arise.

It is crucial that the following definitions of feedback and supervisor are used throughout the survey.

Supervisor is your superior who evaluates your job.

Feedback is the day-to-day communication between you and your supervisor on job

information.

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General information of respondent

1. Gender – male/female/other (specify) 2. Age – “fill in number”

3. Years of experience on current job within current firm – “fill in number” 4. Overall years of work experience – “fill in number”

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Please indicate to what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements:

1. I feel comfortable asking my supervisor for feedback about my work performance. 2. My supervisor encourages me to ask for feedback whenever I am uncertain about my

job performance.

3. I have little contact with my supervisor.

4. I feel certain about how much authority I have.

5. I have clear, planned goals and objectives for my jobs. 6. I know that I have divided my time properly.

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Please indicate to what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements:

1. My supervisor is fair when evaluating my job performance. 2. I have confidence in the feedback my supervisor gives me.

3. In general, I’m satisfied with the content of the feedback I receive from my supervisor.

4. The last feedback I received gave me a good idea of how well I’m doing in my job. 5. My supervisor is often annoyed when I directly ask for performance feedback. 6. When I ask for performance feedback, my supervisor generally does not give me the

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Please indicate to what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements:

1. My supervisor is generally familiar with my performance on the job. 2. In general, I respect my supervisor’s opinions about my job performance. 3. With respect to job performance feedback, I usually do not trust my supervisor. 4. I interact with my supervisor on a daily basis.

5. The only time I receive performance feedback from my supervisor is during my performance review.

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Please indicate to what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements:

1. I know what my responsibilities are. 2. I know exactly what is expected of me.

3. I receive a clear explanation of what has to be done.

4. In general, I think feedback helps me learn to do a better job. 5. In general, I feel that the feedback I receive is unfair.

6. The last feedback I received increased my understanding of the job. 7. My supervisor is usually available when I want performance information. 8. My supervisor is too busy to give me feedback.

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