Behavioral Plasticity Theory-Pierce 1993

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' Academy of Management Joumai 1993. Vol. 36, No. 2. 271-288.

^MODERATION BY ORGANIZATION-BASED SELF-ESTEEM OF ROLE CONDITION-EMPLOYEE RESPONSE RELATIONSHIPS JON L. PIERCE University of Minnesota at Duluth DONALD G. GARDNER University of Colorado at Colorado Springs RANDALL B. DUNHAM University of Wisconsin at Madison LARRY L. CUMMINGS University of Minnesota at Minneapolis Behavioral plasticity theory is offered as an explanation for the moderating effects of self-esteem on role perception-employee response relationships. According to this theory, hecause individuals with low self-esteem are more reactive than their counterparts with high selfesteem, they are more susceptible to adverse role conditions, such as role conflict, ambiguity, and overload, and a poor work environment and poor supervisory support. Moderated hierarchical regression analyses revealed significant moderating effects for organization-based selfesteem on role condition-response relationships, thereby providing support for predictions based on behavioral plasticity theory.

It has heen empirically demonstrated that role-related influences such as conflict, overload, and amhiguity can have an impact on the affective and hehavioral responses of organization memhers. Researchers have further argued that an individual's ahility, adaptahility, and self-esteem may influence those reactions. The purpose of the research reported here was to evaluate empirically the hypothesis that an employee's level of self-esteem affects the impact of role conditions on performance and satisfaction. The research is important in that it provides insight into the viahility of hehavioral plasticity theory (cf. Brockner, 1988) for predicting relationships hetween role conditions and employee responses. In addition, this investigation employed an organization-hased rather than a glohal self-esteem measure so the measure is framed within the same context as the affective and hehavioral responses under investigation. Finding support for the moderating effects of self-

We would like to express our appreciation to Warren Gandy and Bert Phillips, representatives of the host organization, for their cooperation with the conduct of this investigation. We also extend our appreciation to Linn Van Dyne for her constructive comments on an earlier version of this article. 271

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esteem would suggest that if working conditions become increasingly uncertain, conflictual, and demanding and less supportive, steps taken by management to foster experiences that facilitate the development of a healthy sense of self-esteem will be important. THEORETICAL BACKGROUND Role Condition-Response Relationships For several decades, organization scholars have addressed relationships between role perceptions and a variety of employee affective and behavioral responses. Much attention has been given to the job stressors of role conflict and role ambiguity. Reviews of this literature (Jackson & Schuler, 1985; Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964; Van Sell, Brief, & Schuler, 1981) confirm the existence of such effects. For example, in their review and meta-analysis Jackson and Schuler identified a number of antecedents and consequences of role conflict and role ambiguity. They reported an average role ambiguity-satisfaction correlation of - . 4 6 and an average role conflict-satisfaction correlation of - .48, although the strength of correlations varied by the facet of satisfaction examined. Their meta-analytic results also revealed modest negative relationships between both role conflict and ambiguity and the job performance of organization members. Finally, other researchers have shown that role conflict and ambiguity can have a significant impact on employee strain (e.g., Hendrix, 1989; Kahn et al., 1964; Revicki & May, 1989). Individual Difference Moderators Several individual differences have been proposed as moderators of role condition-response...
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