Research on social support and job satisfaction has yielded mixed
results, partly because studies have rarely examined different types of
workplace social support, such as collegial support, task support,
coaching, and career mentoring. This study identified the relative
contributions of different types of social support to job satisfaction
and explored the relationship between social support and job tenure.
Overall, social support accounted for approximately 17% of the variance
in job satisfaction and 9% of the variance in job tenure. Career
mentoring and task support were the types of social support most
predictive of job satisfaction. Coaching and task support were the types
of social support most predictive of job tenure.
Workplace social support has been defined as the "actions of
others that are either helpful or intended to be helpful" (Deelstra
et al., 2003, p. 324). It includes a variety of interpersonal behaviors
among workers that enhance individuals' psychological or behavioral
functioning. These may include mentoring, providing emotional support,
assisting others with assigned tasks, and teaching about social power
structures (Hill, Bahniuk, Dobos, & Rouner, 1989). Beginning with
the earliest need-fulfillment theories of job satisfaction, workplace
social support has been identified as a predictor of job satisfaction
(Orpen & Pinshaw, 1975; Smither, 1988; Stamps, 1997; Vroom, 1964).
Most research has found workplace social support to be positively
predictive of job satisfaction and other positive outcomes (Harris,
Moritzen, Robitschek, Imhoff, & Lynch, 2001; Smith & Tziner,
1998; Winstead, Derlega, Montgomery, & Pilkington, 1995). However,
there are exceptions to this rule in the research literature (Ducharme
& Martin, 2000). Workplace social support also predicts a variety of
negative outcomes, including absenteeism and turnover (Winstead et al.,
1995), burnout (Myung-Yong & Harrison, 1998), and depression and
anxiety (El-Bassel, Guterman, Bargal, & Su, 1998; Olson &
Findings may be mixed because the construct of workplace social
support is multifaceted (Bahniuk, Dobos, & Hill, 1990). The source
of support may be a supervisor, mentor, or colleague; the content of the
support may include information, appraisal, assistance with tasks, or
emotional support (Bahniuk et al., 1990; Deelstra et al., 2003). Hill et
al. (1989) defined four types of workplace social support: Task support
focuses on sharing and exchanging work assignments and ideas. Career
mentoring refers to parentlike or adviser relationships with other
individuals who have more experience. Coaching involves teaching
organizational/professional rules and goals, including organizational
politics. Collegial social support includes sharing friendships,
personal problems, and confidences. Bahniuk et al. found that, among
business managers, instrumental support from colleagues and mentoring
both predicted higher levels of job satisfaction, along with perceived
success, managerial level, and income. However, coaching and collegial
support had no effect on job satisfaction.
The relationship between workplace social support and the length of
time an employee chooses to remain at the same job (i.e., job tenure)
has recently been explored. Positive relationships with supervisors have
been reported to strongly predict job tenure (Buckingham & Coffman,
1999; Van Breukelen, Van Der Vlist, & Steensma, 2004; Vecchio &
Boatwright, 2002). Positive organizational social climates and the
presence of friends or family at a particular work site have also been
reported to predict employee retention (Van Breukelen et al., 2004;
Milman, 2003; Pizam & Ellis, 1999). Given the importance of
supervisor support and access to friends or family at work, it seems
reasonable to hypothesize that career mentoring (i.e., support from the
supervisor) and collegial support and task support (both of which may be
more readily available from friends and family) may be types of
workplace social support that strongly predict job tenure.
In this study, we attempted to determine types of workplace social
support that best predict job satisfaction and job tenure. On the basis
of Bahniuk et al.'s (1990) previous findings, we hypothesized that
career mentoring and task support would be the strongest predictors of
job satisfaction and that career mentoring, collegial support, and task
support would be the strongest predictors of job tenure.
The study included 122 female and 57 male full-time paid employees
in two training hospitals in the southwestern part of the United States.
The sample was 57% Caucasian, 10% African American, 17% Asian American,
9% Hispanic, and 7% "other." Mean age was 41.8 years (SD =
10.8), average education level was 15.3 years (SD = 2.6), and mean
annual income was $28,500 (SD = $14,500). To derive a range of
occupations, we approached multiple hospital departments, including
patient care areas and departments such as accounting, building
maintenance, and laundry; 50% of the sample was in direct patient care.
After announcing the opportunity to participate in the study, an
investigator (first author) visited the department to distribute a
survey that participants completed and that was retrieved later on the
same day. A total of 237 surveys were distributed; 184 were returned,
yielding a return rate of 77.6%. The institutional research board for
the hospital administering the study reviewed and approved the protocol.
Participants completed a demographic questionnaire that elicited
data on their age, gender, ethnicity, education level, job tenure, job
title and job description, salary, relationship status, and number of
children. Participants also completed the Job in General scale (Ironson,
Smith, Brannick, Gibson, & Paul, 1989), a global index of job
satisfaction. Participants were asked to indicate if each
adjective-phrase item described their jobs by answering "yes,"
"no," or "?" to each item. Scores ranged from 0 to
54. Scores on the instrument yielded alpha coefficients that ranged from
.91 to .95 (Ironson et al., 1989), indicating adequate reliability.
Correlations with scores on similar job satisfaction measures ranged
from .67 to .80 (Ironson et al., 1989), indicating scale validity.
Workplace social support was measured using the Mentoring and
Communication Support Scale (Hill et al., 1989), a 15-item measure that
yields subscale scores for Career Mentoring, Coaching, Collegial Social
Support, and Task Support. Examples of items measuring career mentoring
include "Someone of higher rank has shown a parental-like interest
in me and my career" and "Someone of higher rank has placed me
in important assignments or positions." Examples of items measuring
coaching include "I have been coached about office politics"
and "I have had an associate teach me the informal rules of my
organization." Examples of items measuring collegial social support
include "My associates and I are friends as well as coworkers"
and "My associates and I share confidences with each other."
Examples of items measuring task support include "My associates and
I assist each other in accomplishing assigned tasks" and "I
work jointly in major projects or cases with my associates." Items
are rated on a Likert-type scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly
agree); therefore, scores ranged from 15 to 75. Cronbach's alphas
for scores on the subscales ranged from .75 to .89 (Downs, Hill,
Bahniuk, & Rouner, 1994), indicating adequate reliability. Scores
had positive correlations with upward career mobility and satisfaction
with promotions (Hill et al., 1989), indicating validity.
Variable distributions were normal, except for the Job in General
score, which was negatively skewed. Such a negative skew, or ceiling
effect, is a common observation in job satisfaction scores regardless of
the measure used (Spokane, Meir, & Catalano, 2000). Evidently,
research participants' ability to place themselves in satisfying
jobs exceeds researchers' present ability to measure the upper
limits of job satisfaction. A reflect log transformation normalized the
distribution. It was inverted to ease interpretation of findings. Means
and standard deviations are presented in Table 1, as are
intercorrelations. Results of t tests indicated no gender differences in
age, number of children, education, job tenure, income, job
satisfaction, or social support in the workplace. Career Mentoring,
Coaching, and Task Support all had significant positive relationships
with job satisfaction. Coaching and job tenure were negatively
correlated, whereas Task Support and job tenure were positively
Simultaneous multiple regression analysis using the four types of
social support to predict job satisfaction (see Table 2) yielded an
adjusted [R.sup.2] of .176 (F = 10.22, p < .001), indicating that
these combined types of social support were significant predictors of
job satisfaction. Significant individual predictors of job satisfaction
were Career Mentoring ([beta] = .38, p < .001) and Task Support
([beta] = .17, p < .05). Coaching and Collegial Support were not
significant individual predictors of job satisfaction. Simultaneous
multiple regression analysis using the four types of social support to
predict job tenure (see Table 3) yielded an adjusted [R.sup.2] of .091
(F = 5.32, p < .001), indicating that these combined types of social
support were significant predictors of job tenure. Individual predictors
of job tenure were Coaching ([beta] = -.31, p < .001) and Task
Support ([beta] = .22, p < .02).
The first hypothesis was supported: Career Mentoring and Task
Support predicted job satisfaction, whereas Coaching and Collegial
Support did not. This is consistent with Bahniuk et al.'s (1990)
findings in a sample of female managers. The present study also extends
Yoder's (1995) finding that workplace social support predicts job
tenure. The hypothesis that Career Mentoring, Collegial Support, and
Task Support would predict job tenure was only partially supported;
Career Mentoring did not, whereas Coaching and Task Support predicted
job tenure in this sample. Task Support positively predicted job tenure,
and Coaching negatively predicted job tenure. In this analysis, the
combined types of social support explained 17.6% of the variance of job
satisfaction. When one considers the fact that the predictor most often
used in vocational counseling (interest congruence) reliably explains
about 12% of the variance in job satisfaction (Assouline & Meir,
1987; Meir, 1995), the meaningfulness and potential utility of the
finding is clear. In this study, the combined types of social support
explained 9% of the variance in job tenure. Previous research on job
tenure has revealed that this variable is difficult to predict because
of the many and diverse variables involved (e.g., job satisfaction,
compensation, working conditions, family roles, and responsibilities;
Harris et al., 2001). Thus, identifying workplace social support as a
significant predictor of job tenure is a new step in the research
literature on tenure.
On the basis of similar findings, Deelstra et al. (2003) suggested
that Collegial Support may not predict job satisfaction because
individuals who are dissatisfied or stressed at work may be more likely
to seek collegial support. The same may be true of Coaching; individuals
who are unsuccessful in managing workplace relationships may be more
likely to seek or receive this form of social support. Career Mentoring
was related to higher levels of job satisfaction; recent research on
mentoring indicates that it is associated with higher levels of career
success (Kirchmeyer, 2005). It is likely that individuals who believe
that they are supported by their supervisors and that they are
successful in their work may experience higher levels of job
satisfaction. It is possible that Career Mentoring may not predict job
tenure because employees who seek mentoring may be more interested in
being upwardly mobile and may readily seek other positions for greater
career success. Findings suggest that it is more specifically Task
Support that is associated with greater job tenure and job satisfaction.
This is consistent with recent research, which has noted that
individuals who receive high levels of support with job tasks report
higher levels of intrinsic motivation for even very demanding jobs (Van
Yperen & Hagedoorn, 2003) and, thus, may be less dependent on
reinforcement from the employer or other types of social support to both
enjoy and decide to continue in that job. Higher amounts of coaching
were found to correlate with shorter job tenure. It is possible that
this negative result may be due to the intentions of the individuals
seeking coaching; these may be people who are seeking to advance and,
thus, need to be aware of the workplace structure and politics. Another
possible explanation is that people with less job tenure are more likely
to seek coaching, because they are not yet familiar with workplace
structure and politics.
This study addresses the mixed results in the literature of this
field by separating aspects of social support into coaching, mentoring,
collegial support, and task support. These analyses more specifically
identified sources of social support associated with job satisfaction
and job tenure. Seventeen percent of the variance in job satisfaction
and 9% of the variance in job tenure were accounted for in this study.
Career Mentoring and Task Support were the types of social support that
best explained job satisfaction, and Coaching and Task Support were the
types of social support that best explained job tenure. Although this
was not a sample of individuals in career counseling, these findings
support the need for future studies to determine if counseling
interventions to teach workers to seek out task support may be useful.
Limitations of this study include a modest sample size, a higher
proportion of female than male participants, and a correlational design.
Results are also limited by sampling specifically in nonprofit settings
(i.e., hospitals); therefore, it may not be appropriate to generalize
these results to for-profit settings. Similarly, the average level of
education in this sample was higher than the average in the United
States; thus, it is not clear whether these results could be generalized
to workers who have lower levels of education. Results largely
replicated the findings of Bahniuk et al. (1990) but are insufficient to
establish causality. In combination with the previous literature on
social support and vocational adjustment, these results provide
additional empirical support for organizational interventions that may
enhance job satisfaction and increase job tenure across a variety of
workplaces; future research on such interventions may address issues of
causality and could contribute to the field of career counseling by
helping workers develop more effective forms of workplace social support
to enhance job satisfaction. The findings regarding job tenure may be
particularly useful at the organizational level, because extending job
tenure may reduce training and other turnover costs to employers.
With the aforementioned study limitations in mind, it may be useful
for career counselors, coaches, and mentors to work with clients to
examine the types of social support available in their workplaces,
particularly if the client expresses concern about social factors
relevant to job satisfaction and decisions to maintain versus leave the
job. It may be possible to facilitate a client's efforts to seek
more constructive types of social support in the workplace. For example,
a client who has access to high levels of collegial support may feel a
lack of job satisfaction because of a lack of career mentoring and may
benefit from encouragement to explore supervisors as a source of support
and mentoring. It also may be possible to provide organizational
interventions, for example, training supervisors to provide mentoring
and training teams of workers to provide task support for one another.
It should be noted, however, that these are preliminary findings from a
specific sample, and further research is necessary before firm clinical
recommendations can be made. Useful directions for future research on
the basis of our study include measuring types of social support, rather
than social support as a unitary construct, when studying vocational
outcomes. It may also be useful to explore the potential moderating
effects of participant variables such as education level, compensation
level, and occupational group in the relationships between workplace
social support and vocational outcomes.
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TABLE 1 Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Between Variables
(N = 179)
Variable 1 2 3 4 5
1. Job tenure -- .01 -.07 -.21** .09
2. Job satisfaction .01 -- .41** .20** .12
3. Career Mentoring -.07 .41** -- .53** .18**
4. Coaching -.21** .20** .53** -- .32**
5. Collegial Support .09 .12 .18** .32** --
6. Task Support .16* .29** .37** .30** .53**
Variable 6 M SD
1. Job tenure .16* 5.23 5.64
2. Job satisfaction .29** 39.71 12.18
3. Career Mentoring .37** 12.53 4.39
4. Coaching .30** 8.92 3.06
5. Collegial Support .53** 13.81 3.78
6. Task Support -- 15.66 3.49
*p < .05. **p < .01.
TABLE 2 Multiple Regression for Types of Social Support as Predictors of
Job Satisfaction (N = 179)
Variable B SE B [beta] p
Career Mentoring .03 .13 .38 <.01
Coaching -.01 .01 -.05 .57
Collegial Support .00 .01 -.02 .79
Task Support .01 .01 .17 .04
Note. Adjusted [R.sup.2] = .176, p < .001.
TABLE 3 Multiple Regression for Types of Social Support as Predictors of
Job Tenure (N = 179)
Variable B SE B [beta] p
Career Mentoring .00 .12 -.02 .84
Coaching -.57 .16 -.31 <.01
Collegial Support .14 .13 .09 .30
Task Support .36 .15 .22 .01
Note. Adjusted [R.sup.2] = .091, p < .001.