Dana Kellman, B.A. in Psychology, University of South Florida Cheryl E. Gray, M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, University of South Florida Paul E. Spector, Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, University of South Florida
This research aims to develop a new measure of supervisor social support with strong psychometric properties that aligns with increasingly complex, evidence-based conceptualizations of the multidimensional construct. The new social support scale draws from the premise that support can be broken into distinct forms based on the type of support (emotional versus instrumental), direction of support (available versus received), and the quality of support (high-quality versus low-quality).
Research on supervisor social support is plagued by drastically inconsistent and conflicting findings, which mitigates the ability to draw clear theoretical and practical insights. For example, a recent meta-analysis found that workplace social support can serve a protective (i.e., buffering) role against the negative effects of job stressors, but reverse-buffering effects were just as common (Mathieu et al., 2019). Inconsistent findings may be a testament to the frequent use of inadequate measurement in the field of workplace social support. While countless social support scales have been developed and evaluated (Tardy, 1985), there remains no universally accepted scale to measure workplace social support, and many existing scales do not measure the construct optimally. For example, many scales conflate emotional support (i.e., the supply of emotional resources such as compassion and warmth) and instrumental support (i.e., assisting an individual on a task or work-related assignment). The majority of existing scales also conflate high-quality support (e.g., performing a task well when helping an employee) and low-quality support (e.g., performing a task poorly in an attempt to be helpful). This study aims to develop a new measure of social support with strong psychometric properties that aligns with increasingly complex, evidence-based conceptualizations of the multidimensional construct.
A thorough review of social support literature was conducted to develop the underlying theoretical model of supervisor social support. Sixty-two items were initially selected from existing measures or written based on critical incidents reported in qualitative research (e.g., Gray et al., 2020). To help refine the scale, data were collected from 258 employees taking classes at an American university using a non-experimental anonymous survey design. All participants who completed the survey were currently employed in a wide array of occupations. Participants responded to the supervisor social support items as well as established measures of supervisor social support, job-related negative affect, physical symptoms, and burnout. Following data collection, exploratory factor analyses, item reliability analyses, correlational analyses, and multiple regression analyses were conducted using SPSS 27 to examine the scale?s internal consistency reliability and provide initial evidence of convergent and criterion-related validity.
The 24-item supervisor social support scale assesses six subscales of social support: high-quality received emotional support, high-quality received instrumental support, high-quality available emotional support, high-quality available instrumental support, low-quality received emotional support, and low-quality received instrumental support. All subscales had Cronbach?s alphas well above the generally accepted value of .70 (?s = .85 – .95, see Table 1), and an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) demonstrates that all items have loadings above .40 on their respective factors, and no items have cross-loadings above .30. A moderate to large, positive correlation was found between all high-quality social support subscales and the Helpful Workplace Social Support Scale (Caplan et al., 1975; rs = .61 – .76), providing evidence of convergence. All high-quality social support subscales were found to have a low to moderate, negative correlation with strain outcomes, including job-related negative affect, physical symptoms, and burnout (rs = -.11 – -.49), providing evidence of criterion-related validity. The low-quality social support subscales were positively associated with measured strains (rs = .10 – .45), providing evidence of criterion-related validity. Table 2 contains correlations among the various scales included in this study. When the strains were separately regressed on the supervisor support subscales, the subscales explained different amounts of variance, suggesting their unique contributions to the study of supervisor social support. Table 3 contains values obtained from the multiple regression analyses.
Research on supervisor social support is highly inconsistent and conflicting, an issue we believe arises from the use of inadequate measurement. Therefore, this study aimed to develop and validate a new, sound measure of supervisor social support. Results from a sample of employees studying at an American university testify to the strong psychometric properties of the supervisor social support scale. Precise measurement driven by advances in social support operationalization will assist researchers in accumulating and classifying empirical findings to advance the field. Future research should continue to collect more data to further examine and improve the measure.
In this study, a new measure of supervisor social support was developed. Findings from the study demonstrate the strength of this new scale. Evidence of both convergent and criterion-related validity was observed, and the scale demonstrated good internal consistency reliability. The scale has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the measurement and study of workplace social support.