NEW YORK – It’s well-established that workplace culture is set from the top. As such, mid-level managers are likely to treat those below them in the way that they were treated by those above them. In a new study on such “managerial trickle-down effects” in the workplace, Columbia Business School’s Phillip Hettleman Professor of Business Joel Brockner finds that people in mid-level managerial roles are especially likely to do unto those below them as has been done to them from above when those in the mid-level managerial roles experience less of a sense of power, defined as the perceived ability to control valuable resources. He specifically examines the overall impact of a manager’s informational fairness, defined as how well mid-level managers explain decisions to the supervisors below them, and how this affects how much supervisors reporting to the mid-level managers treat their own direct reports in a dignified and respectful manner.
The research, co-authored with National University of Singapore Professor David De Cremer, Rotterdam School of Management Professors Marius van Dijke and Leander De Schutter, Temple University Professor Brian Holtz, and Ghent University Professor Alain Van Hiel, uses data from two separate studies to examine when trickle-down effects of managers are more versus less likely to occur. In the first study, which included 102 supervisor-subordinate dyads, the researchers examined how supervisors who experience varying degrees of a sense of power treat their employees as a function of the informational fairness they received from their own bosses. The second study consisted of an experiment in which the researchers placed 267 participants in a supervisory position within a simulated company and examined the impact of their sense of power and the informational fairness received from their manager. In both studies, the researchers find that the extent to which lower-level supervisors treat their direct reports in a dignified and respectful manner depends not only on how much informational fairness they received from their own bosses but also on the sense of power experienced by the lower-level supervisors: trickle-down effects were shown more strongly among the lower level supervisors who experienced less of a sense of power. In other words, when lower-level supervisors feel less of a sense of power in the workplace, they are more likely to base their own behavior on external cues: how they were treated by their bosses. Hence, it’s particularly important for the individuals further up in management to exhibit high levels of fairness and serve as positive role models for those working under them when the latter experience less of a sense of power. More generally, these findings help those in the managerial space understand when some employees may be more likely to show a “justice trickle-down effect” than others.
The study, Factors affecting supervisors' enactment of interpersonal fairness: The interactive relationship between their managers' informational fairness and supervisors' sense of power, is available online here.
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About the researcher
Within the broader field of organizational behavior, Professor Brockner is well known for his work in several areas, including the effects of organizational downsizing...Read more.