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Accountability and satisfaction: Organizational support as a moderator

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate how perceived organizational support (POS) moderates accountability's relationship with job satisfaction. Design/methodology/approach – Self-report data were collected from one organizational sample from the USA and one organizational sample from Sweden. Findings – The results support the hypothesis that POS moderates the relationship between accountability and job satisfaction in the two samples. Specifically, the findings show that accountability relates positively to satisfaction under high support conditions and, in one sample, negatively to satisfaction under low support condition. Research limitations/implications – The current results suggest that social context is vital to a more informed evaluation of how accountability relates to work outcomes. Organizations should show their employees that they care about them. This can be achieved through starting, maintaining, and nurturing those initiatives that are interpreted positively by the employees. Social implications – Scandals represent examples of accountability failures. The implications of these scandals are not merely limited to individual companies and their employees. The wellbeing of the employees is part of the wellbeing of the society. Originality/value – This study offers new insights on the relationship between accountability and job satisfaction. First, it demonstrates how organizational support perception functions as a moderator of this relationship. Second, it reports replicable results from two organizational samples – one from North America and one from Europe.
Accountability and satisfaction:
organizational support
as a moderator
Wajda Wikhamn
Department of Business Administration, School of Business,
Economics and Law University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, and
Angela T. Hall
School of Human Resources & Labor Relations, Michigan State University,
East Lansing, Michigan, USA
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate how perceived organizational support (POS)
moderates accountability’s relationship with job satisfaction.
Design/methodology/approach – Self-report data were collected from one organizational sample
from the USA and one organizational sample from Sweden.
Findings – The results support the hypothesis that POS moderates the relationship between
accountability and job satisfaction in the two samples. Specifically, the findings show that accountability
relates positively to satisfaction under high support conditions and, in one sample, negatively to
satisfaction under low support condition.
Research limitations/implications – The current results suggest that social context is vital to
a more informed evaluation of how accountability relates to work outcomes. Organizations should
show their employees that they care about them. This can be achieved through starting, maintaining,
and nurturing those initiatives that are interpreted positively by the employees.
Social implications – Scandals represent examples of accountability failures. The implications
of these scandals are not merely limited to individual companies and their employees. The wellbeing of
the employees is part of the wellbeing of the society.
Originality/value – This study offers new insights on the relationship between accountability and
job satisfaction. First, it demonstrates how organizational support perception functions as a moderator
of this relationship. Second, it reports replicable results from two organizational samples – one from
North America and one from Europe.
Keywords Job satisfaction, Accountability, Sweden, Perceived organizational support (POS), USA
Paper type Research paper
Employee felt accountability, defined as the expectation that one’s role performance
including performing job duties and compliance with organizational norms will be
assessed by an audience, is an essential component in the work place (Breaux et al., 2009;
Hochwarter et al., 2005; Hall et al., 2003). It provides guidance and direction for employees,
establishes role expectations and mutual obligations, and clarifies performance and
behavior evaluation criteria. In this manner, it provides important benefits for both
organizations and their employees.
Research on accountability shows its association with negative work outcomes, such
as tension and emotional exhaustion, and with favorable work outcomes, such as job
performance and organizational citizenship behavior (Hall et al., 2003, 2006; Hochwarter
et al., 2005). Prior research attempting to assess the precise nature of the relationship
between accountability and job satisfaction, however, has been controversial. Whereas
some research has reported a positive relationship (Thoms et al., 2002), others found
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0268-3946.htm
Received 30 July 2011
Revised 25 February 2012
11 December 2012
19 February 2013
15 May 2013
Accepted 16 May 2013
Journal of Managerial Psychology
Vol. 29 No. 5, 2014
pp. 458-471
rEmerald Group Publishing Limited
0268-3946
DOI 10.1108/JMP-07-2011-0022
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mixed evidence (Breaux et al., 2009) or no relationship at all between the two
(Hall et al., 2006; Laird et al., 2009).
In order to properly identify whether a relationship does indeed exist, good research
methodology dictates that relevant factors be both identified and considered. Without
such consideration, the validity of the findings is suspect. Some of the previous research
has acknowledged this necessity and suggested that various social and job factors must
be considered in order to garner a more complete understanding of accountability’s
relationship with satisfaction at work (Hall et al., 2003). For example, Breaux et al. (2009)
found that accountability associated negatively with job satisfaction for employees with
high politics perceptions and positively for individuals with low politics perceptions.
In another study conducted by Hall et al. (2006), accountability related positively to job
satisfaction only for those employees who reported high job autonomy. In yet another
study, Laird et al. (2009) reported that the association between accountability and
satisfaction was negative for individuals with weak personal reputation and positive for
employees who are perceived strongly reputable.
The authors of this paper suggest that yet another factor that is deserving of
consideration is that of perceived organizational support (POS). POS represents an
individual’s perception of how much the organization cares about his or her wellbeing
(Eisenberger et al., 1986). It associates positively with favorable work outcomes and
negatively with unfavorable outcomes (Stamper and Johlke, 2003; Byrne and Hochwarter,
2006). As a social context factor, it has often been discussed in connection with
stress-strain relationships (Cohen and Mckay, 1984) but there has been a suggestion of
relevance in additional relationships as well. For example, Erdogan and Enders (2007)
reported a positive relationship between leader-member exchange (LMX) and job
performance but only under high levels of POS. The same study reported a positive
relationship between LMX and job satisfaction, but this association was stronger for
those employees who POS as high.
Considering that organizations strive to have accountable and satisfied employees, we
believe that understanding accountability’s association with job satisfaction merits
further research. In this paper, we introduce POS as a social context moderator of this
relationship. To date, the investigation of organizational support perceptions within
accountability studies has been scant. The purpose of the present paper is to address this
scarcity, explore the extent of POS as a moderator within the accountability setting, and
foster continued discussion over this important concept within the research community.
Accountability and job satisfaction
Accountability has been described as “the adhesive that binds social systems together”
(Frink and Klimoski, 1998, p. 3). Without this adhesive, social systems would rapidly
deteriorate if, indeed, they were ever able to develop at all. It is, thus, impossible to
preserve a social system without accountability (Frink and Klimoski, 1998; Tetlock,
1985). The extreme importance of accountability to the continued viability of social
structure renders imperative that the concept be fully understood and explored.
Hall et al. advanced this exploration by examining accountability in terms of “felt
accountability” which has been defined as “an implicit or explicit expectation that one’s
decisions or actions will be subject to evaluation by some salient audience(s) (including
oneself), with the belief in the potential for either rewards or sanctions based on these
evaluations” (Hall et al., 2006, p. 88).
Such evaluations take place on a routine basis within an organization, where the
actions of all individuals are subject to scrutiny and potential judgment. Moreover,
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although organizations themselves are also subject to scrutiny and judgment, an
evaluation of the blameworthiness or praiseworthiness of an organization’s actions is
ultimately directed back toward individuals (e.g. CEOs of companies, political figures
in governments, etc.).
Tetlock (1985) proposed a phenomenological view of accountability, in which the
perceptual nature of accountability is examined. He asserted that the accountability
demands placed on individuals are subject to individual perception and distortion.
Consequently, within the workplace setting, there may be a wide variation of how
accountability demands are interpreted by employees. That is because their own
individual perceptions shape the prism by which they view the demands. Inevitably,
then, individual perceptions of accountability will differ, and this notion is at the heart
of the phenomenological view of accountability.
Job satisfaction refers to “an individual’s positive emotional reactions to a particular
job” and “is an affective reaction to a job that results from the person’s comparison of
actual outcomes with those that are desired, anticipated or deserved” (Oshagbemi, 1999,
p. 388). It is one of the most studied work-related outcomes in organizational behavior
because of the favorable outcomes presumed to be associated with it. These favorable
outcomes include less absenteeism (Saari and Judge, 2004), better performance (Petty
et al., 1984; Judge et al., 2001), improved organizational citizenship behavior (Organ, 1988;
Hulin and Judge, 2003), and greater organizational commitment (Meyer et al., 2002).
Research has consistently indicated a positive correlation between accountability and
job satisfaction. For instance, Thoms et al. (2002) found that a higher level of employees’
felt accountability to managers and co-workers was associated with a higher level of
satisfaction. They attributed this finding to an “awareness” that is defined as “the actual
or perceived knowledge that others have regarding one’s performance” (p. 318). They also
asserted that accountability forces function in interpersonal relationships because it is
part of a complex subjectively judged relationship between workers and their managers
and co-workers. According to Thoms et al. (2002), a worker’s belief that co-workers and
managers are aware of his/her own work is an aspect of accountability that is implied but
not explicitly articulated.
Not long before Thoms et al. (2002) finding, Frink and Klimoski (1998) maintained
that context was essential for understanding accountability and its outcomes.
Likewise, Hall et al. (2006) called for considering social and job factors when studying
accountability. Although each of these studies made distinct contributions to the field,
one overarching theme that can be drawn from them is that accountability’s
relationship with work attitudes and behaviors depends largely on the perceptions of
this relationship’s environment.
Perceptions of organizational support as a moderator
POS concerns “the extent to which employees perceive that their contributions are valued
by their organization and that the firm cares about their well-being” (Rhoades and
Eisenberger, 2002, p. 698). POS has been found to be positively associated with other
favorable work behaviors and attitudes such as employee attendance (Eisenberger et al.,
1986), organizational spontaneity and in-role performance (Eisenberger et al., 2001),
affective organizational commitment (Eisenberger et al., 2001; Farh et al., 2007), extra-role
behavior (Chen et al., 2009), and job satisfaction (Riggle et al., 2008).
In examining the implications of POS, Eisenberger and his colleagues drew upon
social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) and the norm of reciprocity (Gouldner, 1960),
They argued that in supportive environments employees develop a feeling of
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obligation to repay the organization for its attention to their socio-emotional needs
(Armeli et al., 1998; Eisenberger et al., 1986). The nature of the environment also plays
an important role within the construct of felt accountability which emphasizes the role
of social environmental factors within which accountability is functioning. Moreover,
social support has previously been identified as a useful resource for employees’ proper
functioning in organizational life (Ng and Sorensen, 2008).
We, thus, argue as a natural extension of the previous findings discussed above that
in highly supportive environments employees are likely to value accountability
because it is interpreted as the availability of potential for recognition from others,
and/or opportunity to develop on the job[1]. Individuals believe high achievement or
good performance will result in praise, reward, and recognition and low achievement
or low performance will signal the need for support, counseling, and/or coaching to
improve performance. The opposite occurs in environments where support is low.
In such environments, employees believe good performance will not be recognized
whereas poor performance will be sanctioned and made public. Constructive
communication in such environments is not possible. When things go wrong, the
discussion is dominated by blame accusations and scapegoating rather than
identifying weaknesses and focussing on what is needed to ensure that problems do
not reoccur in the future. When things go right, on the other hand, acknowledgment
does not exist. There is no praise or reward for the behavior or action that led to the
positive result. As such, accountability can be experienced as a “stressor” (Hall et al.,
2006). In these environments, we believe accountability is not appreciated and will
relate negatively to satisfaction at work:
H1. Perceptions of organizational support will moderate the relationship between
accountability and job satisfaction. Specifically, under conditions of high POS,
accountability will be associated positively with job satisfaction. Under conditions
of low POS, accountability will be associated negatively with job satisfaction.
Methods
Procedure and participants
Data were obtained from two samples. The first sample (study 1) comes from
a medium-sized retail business located in the Midwestern USA. The company granted
the researchers access to all of its 220 employees located at headquarters and in its
various field offices. The organization itself made copies of the survey and distributed
it to employees at headquarters and in the field offices. Surveys completed at
headquarters were collected by the Human Resources Department and were forwarded
to the researchers by US mail. Surveys completed in the field office were mailed
directly to the researchers.
The second sample (study 2) consisted of randomly selected 760 professional
product development employees working at a Swedish automotive corporation that
employed around 30,000 employees in Sweden. The various union representatives were
informed of the research project and approved its implementation. An e-mail, with
a link to the web-based survey, was sent to the sampled individuals explaining to them
the purpose of the study and assuring them of the anonymity of the respondents.
For the first sample, a total of 97 employees returned surveys, resulting in a response
rate of 44 percent. Ten participants were awarded $25.00 each through a lottery. Around
one-third of the respondents were males, approximately 30 percent of the respondents
were between the ages of 25 and 35 and 22 percent were between the ages of 36 and 45.
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One-third of the respondents had high school educations, whereas the rest had at least
some college education. Almost all were white/Caucasian (non-Hispanic) with an average
of 22 years of work experience and 7.7 years working for the organization. More than
60 percent of the respondents held non-managerial or non-professional positions whereas
30 percent identified themselves as middle managers.
For the second sample, a total of 402 professional employees who worked in various
subsidiaries of the corporation participated in the study resulting in a response rate of
53 percent. Almost 40 percent of the respondents were between the ages of 25 and 35
and 30 percent between the ages of 36 and 45 years. All sampled employees had
technical education (either at high school level or university level) and performed
vehicle product development tasks such as brake analysis, engines, cab analysis,
and certification. The majority of the respondents were males (86 percent). None of the
respondents occupied a managerial position. The response rates in this study are
consistent with prior research (Baruch and Holtom, 2008).
Measures
Unless otherwise noted, the respondents indicated the extent of their agreement or
disagreement with each item on a seven-point Likert-type scale (1 ¼strongly disagree,
7¼strongly agree).
Felt accountability.Aneight-itemscaledevelopedbyHochwarteret al. (2005) was used
to measure how accountable employees feel. The validity of this scale has been
established in previous research (e.g. Hall and Ferris, 2011; Laird et al., 2009; Breaux et al.,
2009; Royle et al., 2005). Sample items include “If things don’t go the way they should,
I will hear about it from top management” and “The success of my immediate work group
depends on my successes and failures.” Felt accountability has demonstrated a positive
relation to job satisfaction in three samples (r¼0.30, 0.19, and 0.34, po0.05) (Breaux
et al., 2009).
Job satisfaction. Job satisfaction was measured using five (study 1) and three (study 2)
items from Brayfield and Rothe’s (1951) scale found in Judge et al. (1998) with a five-point
response format (1 ¼strongly disagree to 5 ¼strongly agree). Sample items include
“Most days I am enthusiastic about my work” and “Each day at work seems like it will
never end.” Job satisfaction is related to POS (r¼0.56, po0.01) and job performance
(r¼0.29, po0.01) (Hochwarter et al., 2003).
POS. The extent to which employees feel that their organization cares about
them is assessed using items from Eisenberger et al. (1986) scale with a four-point
response format (1 ¼never to 4 ¼always). Sample items include “My organization
strongly considers my goals and values” and “My organization is willing to help me
if I need a special favor.” POS is positively related to felt obligation (r¼0.49, po0.05)
(Eisenberger et al., 2001) and to job satisfaction (r¼0.60, po0.01) (Eisenberger
et al., 1997).
Control variables. Additionally, the respondents were requested to provide their age
and gender. Previous research shows that age is positively related to job satisfaction
(Eskildsen et al., 2004; Kalleberg and Loscocco, 1983). A number of studies report that
females are more satisfied at work than males (Clark, 1997; Sousa-Poza and Sousa-Poza,
2000). Since responsibility and accountability are two closely related concepts, we decided
to control for the former. As Dose and Klimoski (1995) maintain, accountability
involves the precursors of responding to a situation based on a feeling of obligation
(i.e. responsibility). Job control and felt responsibility are both related to job satisfaction
(Hackman and Oldham, 1980). Felt responsibility was assessed in study 1 using five items
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(Morrison and Phelps, 1999). Two items were reverse-coded. Sample items include “I feel
a personal sense of responsibility to bring about change at work” and “I feel little
obligation to challenge or change the status quo at work.” Felt responsibility is positively
related to taking charge (r¼0.25, po0.01) (Morrison and Phelps, 1999) and continuous
improvement (r¼0.27, po0.01) (Fuller et al., 2006). Felt responsibility was measured in
the second study (Swedish sample) using six items reflecting responsibility as felt
obligation from Eisenberger et al. (2001). Sample items are “I feel a personal obligation to
do whatever I can to help the organization achieve its goals” and “I have an obligation
to the organization to ensure that I produce high-quality work.”
Job control, identified as a predictor of job satisfaction (Wood, 2008), was measured
with six items in study 1 and four items in study 2 with response alternatives
anchoring from 1 (to no extent) to 5 (to a great extent). The items are from Tetrick and
LaRocco (1987) and include “To what extent do you have influence over the things that
affect you on the job?” and “To what extent do you have input in deciding what tasks or
parts of tasks you will do?” Job control relates positively to satisfaction at work
(r¼0.72, po0.01) (Logan and Ganster, 2005).
Translation
In study 2, the questionnaire was translated to Swedish by three academicians who are
fluent in both English and Swedish. Resulting variations in the three versions were
reconciled after thorough discussions on the back-translation.
Results
Table I represents means, standard deviations, Cronbach’s areliability coefficients, and
correlations for the observed variables in the two studies. Discriminant validity of the
measures was assessed using confirmatory factor analysis. We tested alternative
models using AMOS and found that the fit of the five-factor model (representing felt
accountability, felt responsibility/obligation, control, POS, and job satisfaction)
provides the best fit in the two samples (see Table II). Standardized regression
coefficients from the five-factor model were all statistically significant and ranged from
0.5 to 0.9. We conducted moderated regression analysis (Cohen et al., 2003) to test the
moderating role of POS on the felt accountability – job satisfaction relationship.
In Table III we report the results of these analyses.
Gender did not predict job satisfaction, after controlling for the other variables.
Age predicted satisfaction in the American sample (older employees are more satisfied).
Responsibility feeling was associated positively with job satisfaction in the Swedish
sample (b¼0.11, po0.05) but not in the American sample (b¼0.21, p40.05).
Job control was also statistically significantly and positively associated with employees’
satisfaction in the Swedish sample (b¼0.22, po0.05) but not in the American sample
(b¼0.23, p40.05).
In both samples, the interaction term between organizational support perception
and accountability feeling was positive and statistically significant (b¼0.18 and
b¼0.09 in the American and Swedish samples, respectively, po0.05). The interaction
term explained 2.8 percent of the variance in job satisfaction in the American sample
and 1.4 percent of the variance in job satisfaction in the Swedish sample. To plot
interactions, we followed the recommendation of Cohen et al. (2003, p. 269) and plotted
(using mean centered values) the regression of job satisfaction on accountability at
three values of POS: mean, low (1 SD below the mean), and high (1 SD above the mean).
Results based on the mean-split of POS show that, in the low POS groups,
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Accountability
and satisfaction
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Mean SD a
1. Age 0.23** 0.04 0.02 0.10* 0.05 0.03 2.96 1.00
2. Gender 0.24* 0.039 0.02 0.09 0.14** 0.06 0.86 0.35
3. Job control 0.33** 0.34** 0.17** 0.53** 0.14** 0.43** 3.23 0.72 0.82
4. Responsibility/obligation 0.26* 0.10 0.66** 0.17** 0.36** 0.23** 5.35 0.94 0.86
5. POS 0.37** 0.15 0.56** 0.35** 0.01 0.48** 2.60 0.63 0.82
6. Felt accountability 0.06 0.05 0.32** 0.52** 0.10 0.13** 4.42 0.93 0.81
7. Job satisfaction 0.44** 0.09 0.56** 0.50** 0.53** 0.20 5.08 1.27 0.87
Mean 42.89 0.33 3.43 4.98 2.88 5.00 3.89
SD 12.90 0.47 1.02 1.19 0.69 0.94 0.71
a 0.89 0.87 0.90 0.80 0.89
Notes: POS, perceived organizational support. Intercorrelations for the American participants (n¼97) are presented below the diagonal and intercorrelations
for the Swedish participants (n¼402) are presented above the diagonal. Means, standard deviations and Cronbach’s areliability coefficients for the American
participants are presented in the horizontal rows and means, standard deviations and Cronbach’s areliability coefficient for the Swedish participants are
presented in the vertical columns. For all scales, higher scores are indicative of more extreme responding in the direction of the construct assessed. American
respondents provided their exact age in years and Swedish respondents selected an age category (five categories where 1 ¼18-24 years and 5 ¼56 years or
above). Gender was coded 1 ¼male and 0 ¼female in the two samples. *po0.01; **po0.05 (two-tailed)
Tabl e I.
Means, standard
deviations, reliability
coefficients, and
correlations
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accountability relates negatively to satisfaction in the American sample (b¼0.25,
po0.05) and negatively but weakly and non-significantly in the Swedish sample
(b¼0.03, p40.05). In high POS groups, accountability relates positively to job
satisfaction (b¼0.28 and b¼0.11, po0.05, for the American and Swedish samples,
respectively) (see Figures 1 and 2 for graphs of the interactions).
Since all our data are self-report, this raised the concern of common method bias. In
order to control for potential common method bias, we did the following. First, we
assured the respondents that their participation was anonymous and that only the
researchers would have access to their answers. Second, we used proximal separation
between the predictors and the criterion variables (Podsakoff et al., 2012). Finally, we
used the single-method-factor approach (Podsakoff et al., 2003, p. 891) and found
consistent findings[2].
w
2
df w
2
/df TLI CFI RMSEA
American sample
1 factor model 1,062.75 324 3.28 0.45 0.53 0.15
3 factors model (FA, FR and control are one factor) 845.16 322 2.63 0.61 0.67 0.13
4 factors model (FA and FR are one factor) 659.93 318 2.08 0.74 0.78 0.11
4 factors model (FA and control are one factor) 713.08 318 2.24 0.70 0.75 0.11
4 factors model (FR and control are one factor) 675.19 318 2.12 0.73 0.77 0.11
5 factors model 574.07 314 1.83 0.80 0.84 0.09
Swedish sample
1 factor model 2,837.38 252 11.26 0.29 0.39 0.16
3 factors model (FA, FR and control are one factor) 1,824.91 249 7.33 0.59 0.63 0.13
4 factors model (FA and FR are one factor) 1,173.66 246 4.77 0.75 0.78 0.10
4 factors model (FA and control are one factor) 13,460.77 246 5.48 0.71 0.74 0.11
4 factors model (FR and control are one factor) 1,335.67 246 5.43 0.71 0.74 0.11
5 factors model 671.34 242 2.77 0.88 0.90 0.06
Notes: FA, felt accountability; FR, felt responsibility
Table II.
Discriminant validity
Job satisfaction
American participants Swedish participants
Predictor variables btbt
Age 0.22 2.44* 0.05 1.16
Gender 0.03 0.31 0.07 1.53
Responsibility 0.21 1.74 0.11 2.39*
Job control 0.23 1.71 0.22 4.33**
Felt accountability 0.04 0.40 0.05 1.06
POS 0.25 2.47* 0.36 7.06**
AccountabilityPOS 0.18 2.10* 0.09 2.12*
R0.68 0.55
R
2
0.47 0.31
Adjusted R
2
0.42 0.29
F10.30** 24.65**
df (7, 83) (7, 394)
Notes: *po0.05; ** po0.01 (two-tailed)
Table III.
Results of regression
analyses for USA and
Swedish samples
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Accountability
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Discussion
The aim of this paper was to determine whether employees’ perception of organizational
support moderates the relationship between accountability and satisfaction at work.
The results from the two samples from the USA and Sweden indicated that accountability
is beneficial when an appropriate positive social environment exists and can be
counterproductive when such an environment is lacking.
Overall, the finding is consistent with Frink and Klimoski’s (1998) assertion that
social context is important for the functioning of accountability. The positive
association of accountability with job satisfaction is in line with previous research
interpreting accountability as awareness from managers and co-workers of role
performance (Thoms et al., 2002). Indeed, when employees feel that management
cares about their opinions, values, and wellbeing, any comments and suggestions
from management concerning role performance signal that the employee is visible
and that management is aware of his/her efforts. Likewise, the negative association
with satisfaction (American sample) is in line with the research that describes
accountability as a “stressor” that associates with strain (Breaux et al., 2009;
Hall et al., 2006; Hochwarter et al., 2005; Laird et al., 2009) As a stressor,
accountability can be perceived as excessive control (Hochwarter et al., 2005) where
only failures are recognized.
7
6
5
4
3
2
Low High
High POS
Average POS
Low POS
Felt accountability
Job satisfaction
Figure 2.
The relationship
between accountability
and job satisfaction
(the Swedish sample)
7
6
Low POS
Average POS
High POS
5
4
3
2
Low High
Felt accountability
Job satisfaction
Figure 1.
The relationship between
accountability and
job satisfaction (the
American sample)
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Implications for research, practice, and society
This study contributes to the field in three ways. First, it expands research on POS by
investigating how it interacts with the construct of accountability by moderating its
relationship with job satisfaction. The findings represent an advance in the field by
showing that the presence of social resources is significant for accountability’s
functioning. This is in accordance with previous findings that social support
is an important factor at work (Eisenberger et al., 2001; Eisenberger et al., 1997).
Second, results reported in this study support the validity of accountability theory
(Hochwarter et al., 2005) in two nationally and contextually distinct organizational
environments. We believe this is a novel contribution to the literature on felt accountability.
Indeed, felt accountability in particular has a plethora of salient implications for
organizations. Employees are expected to be involved and proactive at work. Moreover,
what is considered the typical and most desirable path toward organizational
development emphasizes self-management and self-control – concepts which both
normally entail increased accountability. As our study indicates, however, that
increased accountability will only be beneficial when social resources (e.g. high POS)
are available. The practical implication is thus plain – in order for accountability to
function in a positive manner, management should strive to improve the wellbeing of
its employees by providing social and job resources.
This study has also implication for society. Scandals representing examples of
accountability failures are many. While a mere surface review of these scandals might
lead one to conclude that the implications are limited to the individual companies and
their employees, such a review ignores the reality that the wellbeing of the employees is
part of the wellbeing of society.
Strengths and limitations
There are many strengths to the present study. First, it provides results from two
distinct organizational samples from two distinct countries. Much of the empirical
research on accountability to this point has been laboratory experiments, often using
undergraduates as subjects (Lerner and Tetlock, 1999). While such experiments have
unquestionably advanced our understanding of accountability, Frink and Klimoski
(1998) and others (e.g. Hall and Ferris, 2011) have called for more accountability
research utilizing actual employees in their organizations. By using samples consisting
of working adults in their organizational settings, we have attempted to further
advance the knowledge of felt accountability in the workplace.
Second, because most research on accountability has been conducted in a North
American context, the inclusion of a European organizational environment is valuable.
The unfortunate reality of many studies is that the significance of their findings can
frequently not be effectively translated beyond the cultural boundaries of the sample
population. Because our findings are consistent with the theoretical framework that we
presented, however, we believe that our results can be generalized to many other
western organizations.
Third, the consistency of the direction of the interactions found in the two samples
provide evidence of replication (Lykken, 1968). This evidence of replication constitutes
a significant research contribution (Colquitt and Ireland, 2009).
As is the case with all research, however, there are limitations to the instant study.
First, we assessed all the measures using self-report data. Although this approach carries
with it the risk of common method variance, previous work actually provided support for
us doing so. For example, Spector (1994) argued that when research involves constructs of
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emotional and psychological states, self-report data are appropriate because they describe
individuals’ subjective states that shape their own behaviors. Nevertheless, we took all
appropriate steps to rule out potential common method variance. The second potential
limitation of the study is that it is based upon cross-sectional, non-experimental design.
Therefore, it was not possible to assess a causal relationship. Additionally, response bias
analysis was not conducted. In both samples, we did not have access to data that enabled
us to determine whether non-respondents differed from the respondents. Finally, although
the respondents were promised full anonymity, this was not possible to fully guarantee for
headquarter respondents in the American sample.
Directions for future research
In this study, we focussed on the environmental factor of organizational support perception
to investigate the relationship between accountability feeling and job satisfaction at work.
Future research is encouraged to examine this relationship under other social support
conditions such as perceived support from the supervisor and/or colleagues. Previous
research highlights the importance of these two constructs and their role in enhancing
functional outcomes at work (Ng and Sorensen, 2008), and it would be helpful to determine
if they, too, moderate the relationship between accountability and job satisfaction. Another
subject deserving of consideration for research is an examination of the moderating effect
that social resources may have upon the relationship between accountability and negative
work outcomes. To date, most research has considered job resources (e.g. job autonomy
and job control) as a moderator. The role of social resources has been under researched.
Finally, research treats felt accountability scale (Hochwarter et al., 2005) as unidimensional.
This measure, however, has diverse accountability items and therefore future attempts to
refine, and possibly validate a modified version of this scale, would be valuable.
Conclusion
Whether an organization will be successful is necessarily based upon the actions and
decisions of its employees. The manner in which these actions are taken and decisions
made is frequently dictated or influenced by the employee’s perception of how much
the organization actually cares about his/her wellbeing. An employee who perceives
that an organization cares about him/her is likely to have greater job satisfaction and
more engagement in decision-making. Although such satisfaction does not guarantee
organizational success, the favorable attitude engendered by the satisfaction does foster
an environment whereby greater accountability is more palatable to the employee and
presumably (although not tested in the instant study) more conducive to a favorable work
outcome. If on the other hand, an employee does not perceive that the organization cares
about him/her, greater accountability is negatively associated with job satisfaction.
In sum, the findings of the instant study strongly suggest that social context is vital to
a more informed evaluation of how accountability relates to work outcomes.
Notes
1. We thank an anonymous reviewer for this idea.
2. Details of these analyses can be obtained from the first author.
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Corresponding author
Dr Wajda Wikhamn can be contacted at: Wajda.Wikhamn@handels.gu.se
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