Benjamin M. Walsh, Ph.D., Grand Valley State University; Dana Kabat-Farr, Ph.D., Dalhousie University

By and large, people benefit when they are supported at work. It follows that researchers have called for supervisors and employers to double-down their levels of support during the COVID-19 pandemic (Sinclair et al., 2020). But to what extent are increases in support during the pandemic beneficial to employees?

With this in mind, we examined consequences of within-person increases in perceived support from supervisors (family-supportive supervision or FSS; Hammer et al., 2009) and organizations (perceived organizational support or POS; Eisenberger et al., 1986) during the initial weeks of the pandemic. We took a broad approach to our investigation of worker well-being by studying four outcomes: job insecurity, job satisfaction, anxiety, and depression. Our use of random-intercepts cross-lagged panel modeling (RI-CLPM; Hamaker et al., 2015) provides insight into causal effects, while distinguishing between stable between-person differences and the within-person changes of interest.

Corollary 1 of conservation of resources (COR) theory proposes that individuals with access to greater resources are less likely to experience resource loss (Hobfoll, 1989). Further, by being increasingly supportive, supervisors and organizations may have reduced the uncertainty experienced by workers (Sinclair et al., 2020), and improved their well-being. For example, Marsh & McLennan CEO Dan Glaser is quoted as saying “I want to say to all of you that while we are in the thick of this global pandemic, your job is secure” (McGregor, 2020, para. 2). Such an increase in support may have improved worker’s attitudes and well-being. We view FSS and POS as resources and hypothesized that within-person increases in both supports will decrease job insecurity, anxiety, and depression over time, and increase job satisfaction over time. Consistent with COR theory, we also predicted that FSS and POS would be reciprocally and positively associated over time.

We utilized Prolific, a participant recruitment tool, to collect longitudinal data from employed participants with three surveys, one week apart. Hypotheses were tested with data from 368 participants: 50.8% of whom were male, 81.3% identified as White, 35% had children aged 17 and under at home, and had an average job tenure of 5.0 years (SD = 4.9).

Analyses were completed using Mplus. After conducting CFAs and invariance testing, we followed Hamaker et al.’s (2015) approach for testing RI-CLPMs via path analysis with ML estimation to test our hypotheses. Separate models were analyzed for each outcome – four models in total – and FSS and POS were included in all models.

Table 1 shows descriptive statistics and zero-order correlations. Results from CFAs show that the hypothesized model was the best fit, and results from invariance tests showed that items and constructs were invariant over time.

Table 2 shows standardized parameter estimates from the four RI-CLPMs. Consistent with our hypothesis, within-person increases in POS increased job satisfaction (βT1-T2=.23, p=.003; βT2-T3=.30, p=.009), and within-person increases in FSS increased job satisfaction at p<.10 (βT1-T2=.19, p=.066; βT2-T3=.23, p=.056). Likewise, support for the positive, reciprocal relation between FSS and POS was also observed in three of the four models, lending general support for our hypothesis. Within-person increases in FSS led to increased POS in all but the depression model (βT1-T2=.16, p=.133; βT2-T3=.19, p=.136), and within-person increases in POS led to increased FSS in all models.

However, remaining hypotheses were unsupported. Within-person increases in FSS (βT1-T2=-.01, p=.878; βT2-T3=-.02, p=.879) and POS (βT1-T2 = -.09, p=.376; βT2-T3 = -.12, p=.374) did not decrease job insecurity. Within-person increases in POS were unrelated to anxiety (βT1-T2=-.10, p=.172; βT2-T3=-.15, p=.165) and depression (βT1-T2=.11, p=.575; βT2-T3=.08, p=.548), and within-person increases in FSS increased (rather than decreased) anxiety (βT1-T2=.21, p=.018; βT2-T3=.31, p=.006) and depression (βT1-T2=.61, p<.001; βT2-T3=.40, p<.001).

Consistent with Hobfoll’s (2011) theorizing of gain cycles, we found that FSS and POS were reciprocally and positively related during the initial weeks of the pandemic. Furthermore, increases in POS, and to a lesser extent FSS (p < .10), drove increased job satisfaction, providing some reassurance that by increasing support, employees’ job satisfaction improved.

However, our lack of consistent findings regarding the benefits of increased support are troubling. When studied over time, increases in FSS and POS failed to reduce job insecurity, anxiety, or depression. This fails to support Corollary 1 of COR theory; however, it is consistent with subsequent tenets of this theory that emphasized “how resources operated depended on the ecological context” (Hobfoll et al., 2018, p. 113). Our findings suggest that the ecological context of the pandemic may have overpowered the benefits of supervisor and organizational support.

We saw limited evidence of the causal benefits of increases in FSS and POS in the early weeks of the pandemic. Future research and managerial practices should consider the ecological context, such as stressful events like a pandemic or downsizing, because employees may need different kinds of support during these times.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Applied research, COVID-19, Empirical study, Job Attitudes; Turnover; and Retention, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Theoretical and Conceptual Issues in Job Stress, Work - Life - Family, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery