Offering praise and having a good working relationship isn’t always enough to engender loyalty from staff — employees also need to feel that the relationship with their boss is important, according to new research.

The study, led by Dr Allan Lee from the University of Exeter’s Business School, is the first of its kind to examine both the quality of exchanges between a leader and follower and the value of those exchanges in the eyes of the follower.

It had previously been assumed that a high quality relationship alone would automatically lead to feelings of loyalty towards managers, but this latest research shows that it also depends on whether the employee views the relationship as important in the first place.

“Our findings have real implications for the workplace because it shows that the perceived importance of a manager is also really important in building loyalty,” said Dr Lee.

“While it’s worthwhile investing in employees who see the relationship as important, employers would also do well to look for ways to motivate those staff who don’t.”

The research was also carried out by Professor Geoff Thomas from Surrey Business School, Professor Robin Martin from Alliance Manchester Business School, Professor Yves Guillaume, Liverpool Business School and Dr Anders Marstand, Birkbeck, University of London.

“We also found that a quality relationship with a boss caused greater feelings of psychological empowerment and this effect was felt more strongly when the relationship was viewed as important by the employee,” added Dr Lee. “For instance, if a member of staff receives recognition and praise from a leader, it has more impact on the way they view their own competencies the more importance they place on that relationship.

“Employees with a strong sense of empowerment are also likely to take an active attitude towards their work and perform “above and beyond” what is expected.”

Two separate studies were carried out; the first with 292 participants studying for a business-related degree at a UK business school. The second study involved 196 participants from a UK-owned organisation based in India.

Participants were asked their views at three different time points over a period of six months. Those in the first study reflected on their relationship with their appointed team leader for a group-work based module and participants in the second study reflected on their relationship with their work supervisor.

The research, Beyond relationship quality: The role of leader-member exchange importance in leader-follower dyads is published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

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