Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Relationship between Supervisory Communication and Subordinate Performance and Satisfaction among Professionals

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Relationship between Supervisory Communication and Subordinate Performance and Satisfaction among Professionals

Article excerpt

The Relationship Between Supervisory Communication and Subordinate Performance and Satisfaction Among Professionals

An area receiving increasing attention from communication researchers is that of the relationship between communication and job performance. Interest in this area reflects a much needed shift in the focus of communication research within organizations. If communication research is to have an important effect on the management of organizations, attention must be directed toward organizational behaviors such as performance. Furthermore, since communication is both an observable and a changeable (albeit with difficulty) supervisory behavior, an understanding of the relationships between supervisory communication behaviors and subordinate behaviors would be extremely valuable for organizations.

This study examines the relationship between supervisory communication behaviors and two types of subordinate outcomes: performance and satisfaction. Specifically, this study examines the relationship between the communication behavior of supervisors of professional vocational-rehabilitation counselors and their counselors' performance in closing cases and those counselors' satisfaction with their jobs.


The questions which need to be answered in relating communication to performance and satisfaction are actually quite simple. First, one needs to know what communication is, or more specifically what its content or purposes are. Second, one needs a theory of how this communication relates to satisfaction and performance. Since our concern in this research is with superior-subordinate relationships, these questions become:

1 - What is the content of superior to subordinate messages? and

2 - How does this content relate to subordinate outcomes?

With regard to the first question, Katz and Kahn (1978) provide a comprehensive categorization of the types of communication which take place from supervisor to subordinate.

They identify five types of communication:

1 - job instructions (an explanation of what is to be done on the job);

2 - job rationale (an explanation of the reasons why a job is to be done in a particular manner);

3 - procedures and practices (information about the general manner in which jobs are accomplished within the organization);

4 - feedback (information to the subordinate regarding his or her performance); and

5 - indoctrination of goals (information designed to make the employee feel a part of the organization).

An answer to the second question is provided by Huseman and his colleagues (Huseman, Hatfield & Gatewood, 1978). They suggest that communication from a supervisor to his or her subordinates can affect subordinate performance and satisfaction in four ways:

1 - by providing data about the job which is necessary to effective performance;

2 - by providing performance feedback which allows the subordinate to evaluate the effectiveness of his or her behavior;

3 - by providing reinforcement of desired subordinate behavior; and

4 - by developing and maintaining a positive interpersonal relationship between the superior and the subordinate. In each of these four ways, the messages from the supervisor have the potential of affecting subordinate satisfaction and performance.

A system for measuring these types of messages is provided by Huseman, Hatfield, Boulton and Gatewood (1980a). Based on Katz and Kahn's work as well as on research of their own, Huseman and his colleagues developed a measurement instrument highlighting seven types of superior-subordinate communication:

1 - Direction (task performance information);

2 - Information (neutral messages related to job content);

3 - Rationale (messages related to the "whys" of job activities);

4 - Feedback (messages providing an evaluation of the worker's performance);

5 - Positive Expression (phatic and social communication);

6 - Negative Expression (criticism of worker and his work);

7 - Participation (attempts to include the worker in the decision making process). …

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