The impact of high‐quality workplace relationships in public organizations

Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
AuthorJames Gerard Caillier
The impact of high-quality workplace
relationships in public organizations
James Gerard Caillier
Department of Political Science, University of
Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA
James Gerard Caillier, Department of Political
Science, University of Alabama, 340 ten Hoor
Hall, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA.
Research has long found that high-quality workplace relationships
have a beneficial impact on employees and organizations. Although
these studies have developed elaborate models to examine high-
quality workplace relationships, none were found to explore the
association between high-quality workplace relationships and job
stress/exhaustion, commitment, and social impact. To fill this void
in the literature, models were developed to explain the expected
association that these employee attitudes have with one another.
These models were then tested on full-time, public employees.
Several important findings emerged. First, high-quality workplace
relationships were positively related to social impact. Next, social
impact was found to positively mediate the relationship between
high-quality workplace relationships and commitment. Finally,
social impact was found to positively mediate the relationship
between high-quality workplace relationships and job stress/
exhaustion. This latter finding was contrary to expectations.
In order to provide more and better services to citizens and to do so without increasing funding, public organiza-
tions around the globe have been constantly undergoing reforms. These reforms which have taken place over the
last several decades have drastically altered the structure of agencies, the result of which has been an increased uti-
lization of team-based approaches in which to perform duties (Borins 1995). Given that such collective approaches
rely heavily on interactions between individuals throughout the organization, work has become more interdepend-
ent and relationships are a more important part of the work context(Colbert et al. 2016). This is especially so con-
sidering the positive impact of healthy workplace relationships. For instance, high-quality workplace relationships
are beneficial to workers (Ragins and Dutton 2007) as well as to achieving the goals of the organization (Dutton
and Heaphy 2003).
Because of their increasing importance in public organizations (Hansen 2011), high-quality workplace relation-
ships have received a lot of interest from scholars who have used theories to explain and assess the effects of these
interactions in agencies. Despite the ubiquitous nature of this stream of research, no article was found that exam-
ined the association between high-quality workplace relationships and job stress/exhaustion, organizational
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12328
638 © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Public Administration. 2017;95:638653.
commitment, and social impact in an integrated model. This is surprising for several reasons. First, workplace inter-
action theories suggest that high-quality workplace relationships can positively affect social impact
(e.g. Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001). Social support theories suggest a positive connection between high-quality
workplace relationships and organizational commitment (Vardaman et al. 1996). Job demand theories suggest that
high-quality workplace relationships can reduce strain and exhaustion (e.g. Heaphy and Dutton 2008). Next, these
factors are practically important. Specifically, high-quality workplace relationships, social impact, organizational com-
mitment, and job demands are attitudes that are critical to the proper functioning of agencies as well as the health
of workers (Heaphy and Dutton 2008; Ferris et al. 2009; Caillier 2012; Bullock et al. 2015). Examining the impact of
high-quality workplace relationships in agencies is also timely, as work is increasingly being performed collabora-
tively and, as a result, managing these interactions is predicted to become a core competency in knowledge-based
organizations (Krebs 2000).
The aim of this article is therefore to fill this gap in the literature by examining the relationship between high-
quality workplace relationships (i.e. the degree to which individuals perceive their workplace relationships to be of
) and these employee attitudes and perceptions. The article is structured as follows. First relevant the-
ories are used to develop the associations between workplace relationships, commitment, social impact, and job
stress/exhaustion. Second, the survey and the study variables are explained. Third, the statistical technique used to
estimate the model is detailed, along with the results of this approach. Finally, the discussion and conclusion
section explains the theoretical and practical implications of the study. The limitations of the study and ways in
which it can be extended by future research are also in this section.
2.1 |Workplace relationships
Individuals have an inherent need to cultivate and maintain positive relationships (Baumeister and Leary 1995). This
is because relationships bring purpose to life, fulfil a desire to belong, and shape the way in which individuals define
themselves (Trefalt 2013). It is apparent that individuals form these relationships not only in their personal lives but
in their jobs as well. These so-called workplace relationships generally refer to patterns of exchanges between two
interacting members or partners, whether individuals, groups, or organizations, typically directed at the accomplish-
ment of some common objectives or goals(Ferris et al. 2009, p. 1379). Workplace relationships are critical in orga-
nizations as employees spend most of their time interacting with other employees (Sias and Perry 2004).
Consequently, these relationships explain how tasks are performed and goals are attained (Kahn 1998). Workplace
relationships can also assist employees in gaining access to resources as well as career opportunities (Dutton
et al. 2010). In addition, workplace relationships help employees form personal, relational, professional, and organi-
zational identities (Sluss and Ashforth 2008; Dutton et al. 2010), alter the way employees see their jobs by making
work more meaningful (Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001), and function as decision-making, influence-sharing, and
instrumental and emotional support systems(Sias 2005, p. 377). Given this, organizations are conceptualized as a
collection of relationships (Katz and Kahn 1978).
Recently, researchers have focused on a particular type of workplace relationship called high-quality workplace
relationships. High-quality workplace relationships are the focus of this article and are defined as short-term, dyadic
interactions that are positive in terms of the subjective experience of the connected individuals and the structural fea-
tures of the connection(Stephens et al. 2012, p. 385; emphasis added). Furthermore, the subjective experience
refers to vitality (e.g. positive energy), positive regard (e.g. sense of profound connection), and mutuality (e.g. all par-
ties are engaged and actively participating), while the structural features refer to higher connection quality
The sentence in parentheses was provided by an anonymous reviewer.

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