Academic journal article Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management

Easing Employee Strain: The Interactive Effects of Empowerment and Justice on the Role Overload-Strain Relationship

Academic journal article Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management

Easing Employee Strain: The Interactive Effects of Empowerment and Justice on the Role Overload-Strain Relationship

Article excerpt


An increase in downsizing due to the economy has left many surviving workers feeling overwhelmed as they are asked to fill in the gaps left by laid off workers. They often experience increased expectations and responsibilities along with longer working hours. When work is increased so much that it becomes unmanageable, workers can experience role overload (Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970). This form of work stress can lead to reduced job satisfaction and commitment and increased burnout, turnover (Jones, Chonko, Rangarajan, & James, 2007), and numerous negative health outcomes (Shultz, Wang, & Olson, 2010). However, not all individuals respond in the same way to increased work demands. While several approaches have been offered to explain these differences, of particular interest to the current study is Karasek's (1979) Job Demand-Control model.

Karasek's (1979) Job Demand-Control model contends individuals with high demands but low decision latitude (i.e., control) will experience the highest level of strain (i.e., high strain jobs) whereas individuals with low work demands but high decision latitude will experience little strain (i.e., low strain jobs). High work demands accompanied by low decision latitude also lead to job dissatisfaction (Karasek, 1979). The notion that certain variables can lessen the effects of role strain on negative outcomes has been referred to in the literature as the buffer hypothesis (van der Doef & Maes, 1999).

In organizations, empowerment can be construed as high decision latitude as it provides individuals resources to cope with excessive work demands. Empowerment generally means providing employees with the autonomy to make decisions that affect how and in what ways they may complete their work (Ford, Fottler, Russ, & Millam, 1995). Workers with low decision latitude have little control over the work situation. Limited control over one's schedule and how to carry out work tasks are also characteristic of low control situations (Parker & Sprigg, 1999). Additional examples of low control include having to follow a set ordering of tasks, no influence over the amount of work that gets done as well as no influence over the policies and procedures in the workplace (Dwyer & Ganster, 1991). Workers who must follow specific policies and procedures in completing their work likely have little decision latitude. Supervisors of workers in low control situations may provide explanations for why formal procedures must be followed. These explanations can create buy-in from the employees. However, as employees buy-in they also sacrifice a desire or need for control over the process of completing their work. In the present study, the extent to which supervisors provide explanations for policies and procedures (i.e., informational justice), is considered a low control situation. Finally, role overload, or excessive work demands given the time allowed, is considered high demands (Karasek, 1979).

Theoretical Background and Hypothesis Development

The present study is a test of Karasek's Job Demands-Control model that explores both buffering and strengthening effects of two measures of control on two role-overload-strain relationships. The relationships tested are shown in Figure 1. Specifically, we first examine a high control situation as we test the buffering effects of empowerment on the positive role- overload-burnout relationship and the negative role-overload-satisfaction relationship. We also examine a low control situation as we test the strengthening effects of informational justice on the role-overload-burnout and role-overload-satisfaction relationships. This study provides a contribution to the stress literature as it includes a test of both high control (i.e., empowerment) and low control (i.e., informational justice) as moderators of these relationships. Additionally, this study responds to calls for tests of matching the level of demands with the level of controls in order to more adequately examine the interactive effects of control (Häusser, Mojzisch, Niesel, & Schulz-Hardt, 2010). …

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