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Front Line Managers and Employee Outcomes: The Role of Interactional Justice and Supportive Culture.


The role of leadership in influencing employees' in-role and extra--role performance has long garnered the attention of researchers (He et al., 2016; Ng, 2015). The role of the frontline managers (FLMs) has received a lot less attention in the literature despite evidence that FLMs play a crucial role in managing the bottom line and increasingly take on a people management mandate (Townsend & Loudoun, 2015). While it is commonly understood that leadership endeavours, particularly that of FLMs are the key conduit in eliciting positive employee based outcomes (Edgar et al., 2015; Townsend, 2013). This, it is believed, occurs through influencing employee's attitudes and behaviours through an effective FLM as the expected route to increased organisational effectiveness (Kilroy & Dundon, 2015). The role of supportive leadership, particularly from FLMs, has grown, as increasingly it is acknowledged that human resource activities are being devolved down the line, making the FLM the primary implementer of an organisations policies and practices (Purcell & Hutchinson, 2007). Simultaneously, FLMs are increasingly charged with creating and maintaining the environment in which such policies and practices are understood (Bos-Nehles et al., 2013; Kellner et al., 2019). With this in mind, the role of the FLM and their immediate relationship with employees occupies a unique and critical space in determining, through successful policy implementation, the justice perceptions, attitudes and behaviours those under their supervision (Wang et al., 2012; Purcell & Hutchinson, 2007; Uhl-Bien et al., 2000).

However, the process through which employees perceive this FLM support and remains contested, particularly in relation to the conditions (i.e. support structures) under which it occurs and the form it takes (He at al., 2016; Kilroy & Dundon, 2016). To date the transposition of leadership theory to the role of the FLM remains in its infancy, particularly in terms of theoretical understanding (Purcell & Hutchinson, 2007). This article sets out to address these issues in an academic setting for the first time in Malaysia. In taking a more proximal approach to understanding the relationship between the actions and support of the FLM supervisors in terms of providing a supportive culture leading to positive work attitudes and behaviours by academics. By focusing on more proximal (i.e. attitudes and behaviours) as opposed to organisational or financial performance we attempt to explain the process through which performance is realised. We contend that employees will, through direct FLM support, and an explicitly evident supportive culture, perceive a sense of interactional justice (Cho & Dansereau, 2010). This, in turn, will result in displays of increased emotional attachment to the organisation and a willingness to display discretionary extra role behaviours (He et al., 2016).

As a collective society (Hofstede, 1980) Malaysia offers a unique opportunity to test our understanding of predominantly western concepts and theories in alternative setting (Yiing & Kamarul, 2009). Meta-analysis has shown that models of justice as indicators of employee outcomes appear to work better in western societies as opposed to collective cultures in Asia (Rockstuhl et al., 2012). Anand et al., (2011) extends on the relationship between justice perceptions and work outcomes and states that leadership exchange cannot simply be transposed to an Asian context while expecting the same results as in western societies. This is potentially due to inherent issues of trust in the leadership being assumed in Asian contexts with high power distance (Hosfstede & Hofstede, 2001).. Another contention is that in collective societies relationships matter more, yet this remains to be assessed in an organisational context, as opposed to national context (He et al., 2016; Farndale & Sanders, 2016). This provides an opportunity to further develop understanding of relationship between leadership and justice in the region and among the academic professions. In doing so we aim to focus on specific issues of support in terms of FLMs and the organisational culture by assessing such support through perceptions of interactional justice in the relationships to realise positive work outcomes (Cheng et al., 2013).

According to Alonderiene and Majauskaite (2016) a university's reputation, interactive learning and commitment of faculty members are what attracts students, which are all directly affected by leadership specifically the immediate FLM. In the academic institutions, the FLMs are primarily head of departments or schools. They play the primary role of connecting and interacting with the academics that directly affects the quality and reputation of higher education institutions. With professional knowledge workers such as academics, the desire to be mentored by high quality FLMs focusing on relationships is commonplace. While research on leadership in academia is not new, it is however usually placed within the context of organisational change owing to increased pressure from a multitude of stakeholders to perform (Randall & Coakley, 2007). As most universities are commonly understood as having a structure that is hierarchical and compartmentalised FLMs play an important role in communicating the directions from the top management to their immediate employees, particularly junior academics. The competency of an academic refers to knowledge, skills and behaviours required to perform their job effectively and coupled with effective leadership this influences the elements of organisational citizenship behaviour specifically conscientiousness, commitment and civic virtue (Kagaari & Munene, 2007). Complementary to this is the notion of justice in eliciting performance gains through increased pro social behaviours by employees (Yen et al., 2014). Extant research has shown the role of effective leadership (Head of Department/ Academic Head) to be an important component in increasing junior academics satisfaction (Neumann & Neumann, 2003). Therefore, proactive behaviours and positive work attitudes alongside supportive FLMs can be viewed as vital for the student experience, academic success, collegiality, and employee well-being by answering the call of Shore et al., (2009) to better understand the content and process of social exchanges within organisations while taking into account cultural configurations.

The structure of the paper is as follows; firstly, the study context is presented followed. The overarching theory of social exchange is then examined in respect of its relationship with FLM research. A review of extant literature on supportive FLMs, justice perceptions, supportive culture and employee work outcomes is presented. Specific research hypothesis are then introduced followed by a discussion on the research process and data analysis. The research findings are then presented followed by a discussion in respect of extant knowledge and future directions for research are presented.

Theoretical Background and Hypotheses Development

Social Exchange Theory

Social exchange is defined as "a long-term exchange of favours that precludes accounting and is based on a diffuse obligation to reciprocate the conceptual underpinnings of research on work attitudes and behaviours" (Aryee et al. 2002, p. 267-8). According to social exchange theory an expectation is formed when a favour has been rendered which leads to a sense of personal obligation on the part of the receiver (Yen et al., 2014). Perceived imbalance improves the relationship between the employee and leader relationship but the imbalance may create negative work behaviour being displayed by the employee (Lau, McLean, Lien, & Hsu, 2016). A leadership style which manifests itself in terms of creating a supportive culture, recognition and team work is most likely able to enhance positive work outcomes (Yu, 2017). Social exchange predicts that subordinates' satisfaction at work is governed, at least in part, by efforts made by their immediate FLM (Uhl-Bien et al., 2000). When subordinates feel that their needs and concerns are addressed by their FLM coupled with a generally supportive environment (Evans, 2015), employees will reciprocate such efforts (Cohen & Kol, 2004). Social exchange theory also, uniquely, offers understanding in terms of an 'interpretive filter' whereby subordinates willingness to reciprocate is based on their perceptions of fairness in terms of their discourse and interactions with FLMs (Bowen & Ostroff, 2004). If a lack of fairness is identified in the social exchange process it potentially will be redefined by subordinates based on their personal assessment of the exchange (Heffernan & Dundon, 2016). The perception of fairness identified here is interactional justice that emphasises the level of fairness in terms of interaction between FLMs and subordinates in implementing formal procedures (Cheng et al., 2013). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that a supportive FLM who practices fairness in interaction is able to derive employee's trust and create more positive work outcomes (Heffernan et al., 2016; Yiing & Kamarul, 2009).

Supportive Front Line Managers

While leadership member exchange theory assists in develop our understanding of agency in the employment relationship, it is rather static in only accessing relationships on an individual basis, most notably when leaders do not treat each employee the same (Rockstuhl et al., 2012). Furthermore, studies using leader member exchange rarely limit the leaders in their sample to individuals in the FLM role - a role with unique leadership challenges as the first level of people leaders. Similarly, while FLMs have commonly been marginalised and viewed as passive in the HRM literature this has led, wrongly, to suggestions of an omnipresent generic FLM (Kilroy & Dundon, 2015; Purcell & Hutchinson, 2007). In criticism of this homogenous view of the FLM, Kilroy and Dundon (2015) suggest focusing more on the actual roles that a FLM takes within the organisation as opposed to mundane labelling of the classic supervisor role (supervisor, manager, and management). As the FLM oscillates between different roles and responsibilities in the organisation, they play a varying role towards their subordinates for instance as a leader, a coach or a mentor to ensure the tasks and objectives are being met. The varying roles that the FLM has to display present a challenge in terms of how they apply their interpersonal skills to ensure that employees perceive them fairly (Farzaneh et al., 2014) specifically in the collective academic environment in Malaysia.

Interactional Justice

Interactional justice is an encompassing term that embraces the entire relationship and is defined as the fairness of interpersonal conduct one receives from others in their work life (Wang et al., 2012; Blau, 1964). With its natural affinity to interactional justice we consider the chameleon type leader of the 'Employee Coach' to have most resonance (Kilroy & Dundon, 2015). He et al., (2016) notes that interactional justice covers the 'entire spectrum' of justice unlike procedural or distributive justice which are predominantly decision and resource allocation based. Due to the inherent proximity between the leadership of FLMs and employees their interaction occurs frequently, to this end we contend the interactional justice plays a more significant role in determining dignity, respect and trust on the part of the employee(s) (He at al., 2016). Similar to FLMs, employees cannot be viewed as passive recipients of the systems in which they operate (Heffernan & Dundon, 2016). In fact employees can be said to continuously interpret and make sense of all interactions and form perceptions of justice in any given situation, perceptions which have a powerful influence over an individual's, present and future, attitudes and behaviour (Colquitt, et al., 2013; Rockstuhl et al., 2012). There have been limited studies addressing the effect of supportive leadership and interactional justice in determining employee outcomes at the FLM level (Cho & Dansereau, 2010). Cho and Dansereau (2010) found that individual- and group-level justice (i.e. interactional justice) is crucial in determining citizenship behaviours. Past studies in the Malaysian context reaffirmed the understanding of fair procedures and its implementation which has a strong influence towards job outcomes (Fatt, Knin., & Heng, 2010)). Interactional justice has also been found to partially mediate with work outcomes (Gumusluoglu et al., 2013) and a mediation effect on leader-member relations, work attitudes and behaviour (Piccolo & Colquitt, 2006). Interactional justice has also been suggested to mediate the personality and organisation citizenship behaviour (Elanain, 2010).

Thus, a key goal of this study is to examine if supportive FLM behaviour affects academics interactional justice perceptions and subsequently their affective commitment, altruism and conscientiousness behaviour.

Affective commitment

Affective commitment is defined as an individual's emotional attachment to their organisation (Meyer and Allen, 1997), or increasingly more to their individual work group (Cafferkey et al. 2017). Affective commitment is overwhelmingly viewed as key in determining organisational performance (Meyer 1993). This emotional attachment forms expectations in terms of discretionary effort displayed through altruism (for co-workers) and conscientiousness (towards the organisation). Past studies in the context of Malaysia have further confirmed the relationship between affective commitment and positive organisational performance when there is an emotional connection between employees and organisations. It is assumed that since FLMs have the immediate human interaction with their employees they are able to derive this positive connection thus alleviating positive employee job outcome (Farzaneh et al., 2014).

Altruism and Conscientiousness

The two dimensions of altruism and conscientiousness are not enforceable behaviours are desired by most organisations to enhance performance. Altruism is the discretionary process of assisting co-workers with organisational related tasks, whereas conscientiousness is the process of going beyond the minimum contractual requirements and expectations of an organisation (Organ, Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006). A positive and harmonious relationship among employees is apparent when there is a presence of helping and nurturing behaviour among employees resulting in them enjoying their work despite not being under supervision (Lazauskaite, Urbanaviciute, & Bagdziuniene, 2015). A favourable working environment supported by a leader who focuses on coaching and mentoring their employees enhances the quality of relationship presenting itself towards an improved organizational performance (Ortiz, et al., 2015). As understanding of the employment relationship has evolved from an agency perspective to a more encompassing social systems approach incorporating exchanges between and among co-workers (Cafferkey et al., 2018), the role of a supportive environment or culture becomes more prominent as a key determining condition under which these relationship of exchanges occur (He at al., 2016; Rockstuhl et al., 2012).

Supportive Culture

An organisation's culture is seen to directly influence the quality of interactions and can determine subsequent behaviour (Townsend et al., 2016; Farndale & Saunders, 2016). A supportive culture is when an organisation is people oriented, encouraging and has a trusting environment (Wallach, 1983). This is further elaborated as a culture that is characterised as open, harmonious, trusting, safe, equitable, sociable, relationship oriented, humanistic, collaborative and as such likened to an extended family (Yiing & Kamarul, 2009).

There has been a general recognition that supportive culture leads to improved work performance such as job satisfaction, and turnover ratios and can be viewed as critical in attracting and retaining high quality talent (Sok et al., 2014). Supportive culture has been shown to cultivate in-group collectivism that includes pride, loyalty, and active support structures (Schyns, et al., 2009). While debating the merit of exploring interactional justice as critical in realising the influence of supportive FLMs, we also acknowledge the role of supportive culture that also plays a crucial role as a necessary condition in eliciting positive behaviour and attitudes among employees (Yiing & Kamarul, 2009). By focusing on more proximal indicators, processes and outcomes, encased in a supportive culture this offers an opportunity to shed light on the actual understanding, through social exchange theory, of the how and why FLMs through supportive leadership are critical in eliciting positive work outcomes for their subordinates. The research model is presented in Figure 1.

Supportive FLMs and employee outcomes

Supportive FLMs exert influence by expressing concern for followers and taking account of their individual needs (Townsend, 2013). FLMs through expressing concern for employees develop a sense of obligation to reciprocate with effort towards the organisation through extrarole behaviours (Wang, 2011). The reciprocation behaviour demonstrates concern for subordinates that will manifest in their interpersonal behaviours while communicating with employees gaining a sense of being treated with equality and respect. Reciprocity, which is the primary element in social exchange perspective is when leaders who exemplify supportive FLM style by showing concern will encourage subordinates in to extra role behaviours (Lo et al., 2006). In this study, the indicators to measure employee outcomes comprised of affective commitment, altruism and conscientiousness. Significant research has demonstrated a positive relationship between affective commitment and altruism (Ortiz et al., 2015; Farzaneh et al., 2014) and also affective commitment has a positive relationship with conscientiousness (Jain, 2016; Farzaneh et al., 2014). Affective commitment is when employees develop a positive emotional connection to the organisation (Ortiz et al., 2015; Perryer & Jordan, 2010) further developing initiating positive work behaviours. This leads to our first hypothesis.

Hypothesis 1: Supportive FLM leadership predicts affective commitment (H1a), altruism (H1b) and conscientiousness (H1c)

The mediating effect of interactional justice

Organisational justice as a determinant of work outcomes such as organisational citizenship behaviours and organisational commitment is a key conduit in eliciting positive work outcomes (Heffernan & Dundon, 2016). It has been suggested that interactional justice mediates the relationship to behaviour and work attitudes (Colquitt et al., 2013). Bhal (2006) concluded that interactional justice mediated the leader member relations and citizenship behaviour. Gumusluoglu et al., (2013) found partial mediation effects of interactional justice in the relationship between transformational leaders and follower's commitment. Therefore, we expect that interactional justice is able to provide a strong link between FLMs and subordinates positive work outcomes, in this instance altruism, conscientiousness and affective commitment. Malaysia is a collectivist society (Hofstede, 2009), therefore we expect that interactional justice is able to play a crucial role in enhancing the level of trust between the leader and positive work outcomes (Elanain, 2010). Since interactional justice has been linked to positive relationship between supervisor and subordinate it is able to lead to beneficial outcome for the organisation. Previous studies had further revealed the full mediation effect of interactional justice towards interpersonal helping and its partial mediation effect on positive work outcomes such as individual initiative. ((Elanain, 2010) This leads us to hypothesis two:

Hypotheses 2: Interactional justice mediates the relationship between supportive FLM leadership and affective commitment (H2a), altruism (H2b) and conscientiousness (H2c)

The moderating effect of supportive culture

Organisational culture plays an important role in generating commitment and proactive behaviours (Yiing & Kamarul, 2009). Wallach (1983) found that employees perform more effectively and achieve their potential when there is a fit between their motivation and organisation culture. In particular, studies across various countries and industries have indicated that favourable work outcomes are contingent on a supportive culture (Lok & Crawford, 2004). With this in mind it is suggested that culture, or a supportive culture in this instance, is a necessary boundary condition under which the individual support of the FLM is realised. While individual FLMs indeed have their own personal characteristics and roles an overarching supportive organisational framework is a necessary to realise the contribution of the FLM. Therefore, we hypothesise:

Hypotheses 3: Supportive culture moderates the relationship between supportive FLM support and affective commitment (H3a), altruism (H3b) and conscientiousness (H3c).

Research Method

Surveys were distributed to academics in the faculty of business in private universities in Malaysia. In total twenty-eight private universities participated in this study. The data collection process initially involved an introductory letter to the dean of respective faculties requesting a sample of academics. Upon agreement, the questionnaire was sent in an individual personalised email to each respective faulty member with an accompanying endorsement from the dean. Follow up requests through each respective dean were administered after two weeks to bolster responses. In total 1926 questionnaires were distributed across 28 universities. In total 374 were returned, due to missing data 50 questionnaires were removed giving an effective response rate of 16.8 percent.

Instruments and Measures

Supportive FLM is assessed using three questions that were adopted from Rafferty and Griffin (2004). Questions included '[My Supervisor]... 'Sees that the interests of employees are given due consideration' and 'Considers my personal feelings before acting'. A multi item Likert scale of five points was used (1= 'strongly disagree and 5= strongly agree). The scale has an internal reliability Alpha Coefficient of [alpha] = .904.

Interactional justice is measured using six measures that were adopted from Asgari et al. (2010). Questions include 'Your supervisor provided you with timely feedback about the decision and its implications' and 'Your supervisor showed concern for your rights as an employee'. A multi item Likert scale of five points was used (1= 'strongly disagree and 5= strongly agree). The scale has an internal reliability Alpha Coefficient of [alpha] = .920.

Supportive culture is assessed using the six items of Yiing and Kamarul (2009). Questions included an assessment of the work environment in terms of encouraging, sociable, personal freedom, equitable, safe, and trusting. A multi item Likert scale of five points was used (1= 'strongly disagree and 5= strongly agree). The scale has an internal reliability Alpha Coefficient of [alpha] = .888.

Affective commitment is measured using the eight measures of Allen and Meyer (1990). Questions including 'I would be happy to spend the rest of my career with this organization' and 'This organization has a great deal of personal meaning to me'. A multi item Likert scale of five points was used (1= 'strongly disagree and 5= strongly agree). The scale has an internal reliability Alpha Coefficient of [alpha] = .769.

The questions on altruism were adopted from Asgari et al. (2008). Questions include '[He/She]... helps others with heavy workload', and 'willingly gives his/her time to help others who have work related problems'. A multi item Likert scale of five points was used (1= 'strongly disagree and 5= strongly agree). The scale has an internal reliability Alpha Coefficient of [alpha] = .886.

The questions on conscientiousness were adopted from Asgari et al. (2010) Questions include '[He/She]... is always punctual' and 'never takes long lunches or breaks'. A multi item Likert scale of five points was used (1= 'strongly disagree and 5= strongly agree). The scale has an internal reliability Alpha Coefficient of [alpha] = .886.

Analysis of Data

Table 1 presents the correlations statistics for the variables of interest in the study; variable means and standard deviations are also included. All study variables are significantly correlated at the level p [less than or equal to] 01. The data was analysed using IBM SPSS 22. Our hypothesis testing was conducted using hierarchical linear regression for both direct relationships and mediation under the conditions set out by Baron and Kenny (1986). A Sobel's test was also included to test the indirect effect of the mediation analysis (Preacher and Hayes, 2008). To test the moderation effect of a supportive culture the conditions set out by Aiken et al. (1991) were employed to assess the interaction effects using newly created centred variables.

Representativeness of the Sample

Respondents in the sample were predominantly female 194 (60.1%) as opposed to males 129 (39.6%). Generation Y formed the majority of the research sample 188 (58.2%) whereas Generation X consisted of 135 (41.8%). With regards to ethnicity, Malay formed the majority 137 (42.4%), followed by Chinese 130 (40.2%) and Indian 49 (15.2%) and finally Others 7 (2.2%).

Main Effects

As indicated in hypothesis 1, we predicted a positive relationship between supportive FLM and attitude (affective commitment) and behaviours (altruism and conscientiousness). The data results are presented in table 2. Step two indicates the beta coefficients for both attitude and behaviours. Supportive FLM positively predicts affective commitment ([beta] = .517, p [less than or equal to] .01), altruism ([beta] = .386, p [less than or equal to] .01), and finally conscientiousness ([beta] = .225, p [less than or equal to] .01). The results indicate support for hypothesis 1a to 1c, and suggest the supportive FLM positively predicts, to varying degrees, employee attitudes and behaviours.


Hypothesis 2 states that interactional justice mediates the relationship between supportive FLM and both employee attitude and behaviours. The analysis is conducted under the steps set out by Baron and Kenny (1986) and the results are presented in Table 2. Baron and Kenny first state that the independent variable must predict the mediating variable. As the results in Step two indicate supportive FLM positively predicts interactional justice ([beta] = .598, p [less than or equal to] .01). The next stage suggests that the mediator must predict the dependent variable(s). Step 3 indicated that interactional justice positively predicts affective commitment ([beta] = .461, p [less than or equal to] .01), altruism ([beta] = .486, p [less than or equal to] .01), and conscientious ([beta] = .348, p [less than or equal to] .01). Stage three suggests that the independent variable must positively predict the independent variable. This stage is fulfilled in the acceptance of H1 for all three dependent variables. Finally stage four states that mediation occurs if the significant relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable is reduced or become non-significant after controlling for the mediator. Step 4 shows that the predictive value for supportive FLM and affective commitment reduced ([beta] = .517, p [less than or equal to] .01, to [beta] = .377, p [less than or equal to] .01), for altruism ([beta] = .386, p [less than or equal to] .01, to [beta] = .150, p [less than or equal to] .05), and for conscientiousness ([beta] = .225, p [less than or equal to] .01, [beta] = .074, p = .260). A Sobel's test was also conducted and indicated a significant indirect effect on all three dependent variables. The results indicate partial mediation for H2 (a) and H2 (b) and full mediation for H2 (c).


The results of moderation analysis are presented in table 3. Hypothesis three indicated that the relationship between supportive FLM and attitude (affective commitment) and behaviours (altruism and conscientiousness) is contingent on a supportive culture. As suggested by Aiken and West (1991) an interaction variable was formed by first creating two new centred variables from the independent variable and the moderating variable. The interaction variable is then created by multiplying the centred independent variable with the centred moderating variable. Moderation is then tested through hierarchal multiple regression where variables are entered into the model in a series of steps, step one the control variables are entered, step two the independent and the moderators are included, step three the interaction term is added. The interaction term (supportive FLM * supportive culture) was only found to be significant for affective commitment ([beta] = .126, p [less than or equal to] .01). In this instance only hypothesis H3 (a) is supported. This suggests that positive attitudes are conditional on a supportive culture but the same cannot be said for behaviours (altruism and conscientiousness).


The findings of this research indicate that supportive FLMs play a positive and significant role in eliciting positive attitudes and behaviours for employees, namely affective commitment, altruism and conscientiousness. The research also indicates that perceptions of fairness on the part of employees in terms of interactional justice play a crucial role in mediating the relationship. In contrast, surprisingly, supportive culture had only a moderating effect for affective commitment. The research supports and extends on existing literature advocating the role of the FLM in eliciting positive work outcomes (Kilroy and Dundon, 2016) incorporating justice perceptions (He et al., 2016). The research suggests, extending on previous works that FLMs, and how they interact with their subordinates is a matter of organisational importance. Organisations increasingly must acknowledge and manage the careful functioning of this relationship as mismanagement has catastrophic potential in terms of effective operational capacity (Purcell and Hutchinson, 2007). This unique relationship is somewhat siloed from the organisational hierarchy where social systems of interaction between and among FLMs and individual employees and their co-workers are the key determinant of positive employee outcomes (Cafferkey and Dundon, 2015). These positive employee outcomes such as affective commitment, altruism and conscientiousness are largely determined based on an employee's perception of fairness provided in terms of supportive leadership and this extends our understanding of how the management of people can result in superior performance gains (Jiang et al., 2013).

This article makes progress in comprehending how supportive leadership is most effective offering both moderating and mediating considerations linking supportive FLM roles to work related outcomes (Avolio et al., 2009). We shed light on these mechanisms, beyond conceptual recognition and chronicle the process through social exchange theory. The findings also extend on the application of social exchange (Uhl-Bien et al., 2000) through its function as an interpretive filter in this instance to assess perceptions of fairness.

Employees who perceive that the leadership of their FLM demonstrates fair and genuine sincere relational exchanges will exhibit loyalty and attachment towards their profession that will ultimately benefit the organisation. Interactional justice plays an important role, which strengthens the understanding of social exchange theory where reciprocation of fairness produced positive outcomes (Gumusluoglu et al., 2013). A perception of interactional justice prompts subordinates to enhance teamwork in altruistic behaviours by going well beyond the minimum job requirement. The cooperation between colleagues through assisting each other heightens the understanding that subordinates are shifting their commitment towards their workgroup. This shift suggests that such is the centrality of the FLM is creating and maintaining the work environment that the strength of this relationship through mutual dependency, forged out of norms of reciprocation, could have the potential to lessen the effects of poor organisational practice.

Another notable contribution is made in relation to the moderating role of a supportive culture. Most interestingly, in this instance, the role of a supportive culture moderated support for FLM support and affective commitment; however, it is not able to provoke proactive behaviours (altruism and conscientiousness). This suggests that cultural values have a role to play in eliciting positive perceptions of a given situation, but are not necessary to simulate behaviour or acting on those positive attitudinal assessments (Geare et al., 2014). A possible explanation for this is that in a collective culture such as Malaysia the role of an overarching supportive culture can be assumed above and beyond its practical application. Where high power distance is assumed, hierarchy is emphasised and subordinates expect to be given instructions (Hofstede et al., 1990). A culture of trust, personal freedom and equitable treatment may not be congruent in a value system such as Malaysian in prompting proactive behaviours. This conclusion offers findings that are different from others who have highlighted the positive effects of supportive culture in alternative different cultural settings (Taormina, 2008). Going beyond national cultural confinements, this finding has a wider application in suggesting that a supportive culture, in and of itself, may not be a central tenant in determining behaviour. Complimentary to this suggestion regarding collective cultures we find that age has no difference in eliciting work outcomes. This refutes the popular perception (perhaps misconception) that the two generations are fundamentally different in not only their approach to the employment relationship but also their value system (Solnet & Hood, 2008). Again national culture, potentially, has significant bearing in this instance in terms of the clan-based assessments (Hartnell et al., 2011). This suggests that perhaps the universal assumption that both generations are fundamentally different is dependent on a cultural value system, which it is possibly less pronounced in collective cultures.


The present study has implications for practitioners and academics alike. The study stressed the importance of the FLMs role and the importance of treating people fairly at work. Results indicate that FLMs play a key role in strengthening perceptions of interactional justice. Hence, FLMs should be equipped with management skills; specifically interpersonal and decision making skills. To fully realise the potential of the FLM as the key architect of the work environment suggest the possibility of redirecting focus away from the content of people management to the process of its actual enactment.

The research has shown that attitudinal and behavioural gains can be formed through successful social exchange by FLMs. The findings also further our understanding of the justice process through which employees experience their relationship with their respective FLM. The findings contradict present conceptualisations that a supportive organisational culture is a key determinant of behaviour.


As with all research there are several limitations that should be acknowledged. The data obtained in this study was derived from a self-report methodology. All the items in the questionnaire were evaluated by the same source at the same time, which has a tendency of producing the effect of common method variance (Crampton & Wagner, 1994). However in this instance, assessing perceptions of FLM support, one's own sense of justice and an individual's resultant attitudes and behaviours demand a common method. In this instance we follow the recommendation of Spector (2006: 222) who suggest that research designs should be fit for purpose in relation to subjective assessments.

Secondly, data was collected at a single point of time so the direction of causality cannot be conclusively determined. Even though the respondents have been assured of confidentiality of their response in this study we cannot rule out that self-serving bias is a possible influence in this study since supportive FLM is perception based.

Future Research

This research specifically chose supportive FLM as it synchronizes with interactional justice and supportive culture that focuses on the aspects of addressing individual needs, teamwork and trust. Future efforts should explore more specific FLM styles such as those suggested by Kilroy and Dundon (2016) such as policy enactor, organisational or most interestingly the employee coach. This coupled with a complimentary bureaucratic culture assessment could potentially prove fruitful particularly in high power distance cultures. Another possible future direction for this research is to use a differentiated measure of proactive behaviours that is geared more towards individual level such as peacekeeping and cheerleading efforts directed at colleagues instead attitudes and behaviours directed towards the benefit of organization. This has potential to advance understanding particularly in light of present conceptualisations that suggest the organisation as a referent point for items such as commitment is becoming increasingly redundant. Another possibility is to incorporate gender preferences into the proposed future trajectory of research on FLM leadership styles.


The paper set out to answer the call for a better understanding of leadership roles and support in collective cultures. The research found that perceptions of fairness in terms of interactions with ones FLM to be an important conduit in eliciting positive attitudes pro social behaviours. The research however found no evidence to suggest the role of supportive culture as necessary condition in stimulating pro social behaviours. The finding suggests that FLM practice in collective cultures is a complex issue that requires further examination. In terms of advancing knowledge it is suggested that a greater understanding of specific FLM styles and their influence at a group, as opposed to an individual, level offers the most avenues for advancement. The centrality of the FLM to organisational function is further advanced in thesis further research is required to fully unearth the condition under which the FLM operates. The research also notes the potential in removing the organisation as the sole referent point for employee attitudes and behaviours.


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Kenneth Cafferkey Taylor's University, Malaysia

Keith Townsend Griffith University, Australia

Sofiah Kadar Khan Quest International University, Malaysia

Authors' Details:

Kenneth Cafferkey, Faculty of Business and Law, Taylor's University, Subang Jaya, Malaysia.

Keith Townsend, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Sofiah Kadar Khan, Faculty of Business, Management and Social Sciences, Quest International University. Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Table 1: Means, standard deviations and correlations

                            M    SD    1           2      3

1. Gender                              1
2. Age                                 -.160 (**)  1
3. Ethnicity                           -.134 (*)    .096  1
4. Leadership Support      9.19  2.57   .014       -.003  -.029
5. Supportive Culture     19.85  4.47   .005       -.069  -.080
6. Interactional Justice  20.52  4.58  -.016        .047  -.042
7. Affective Commitment   24.61  3.77  -.078        .014  -.010
8. Altruism               13.25  2.86   .018        .033  -.023
9. Conscientious           9.94  2.21   .012       -.018   .055

                          4           5           6           7

1. Gender
2. Age
3. Ethnicity
4. Leadership Support     1
5. Supportive Culture      .592 (**)  1
6. Interactional Justice   .598 (**)   .510 (**)  1
7. Affective Commitment    .516 (**)   .450 (**)   .461 (**)  1
8. Altruism                .387 (**)   .445 (**)   .486 (**)   .444 (**)
9. Conscientious           .254 (**)   .296 (**)   .342 (**)   .371 (**)

                          8           9

1. Gender
2. Age
3. Ethnicity
4. Leadership Support
5. Supportive Culture
6. Interactional Justice
7. Affective Commitment
8. Altruism               1
9. Conscientious           .432 (**)  1

Note: (*) p [less than or equal to] .05; (**) p
[less than or equal to] .01. N = 323

Table 2: Summary of hierarchical regression: interactional justice as

                  Interactional Justice        Affective Commitment
                  Step 1  Step 2       Step 1  Step 2       Step 3

Gender            -.015    -.006       -.081    -.086        -.074
Age                .049     .077        .003     .003        -.019
Ethnicity         -.048    -.027       -.021    -.007         .001
Supportive                  .598 (**)            .517 (**)
Interactional                                                 .461 (**)
[R.sup.2]          .005     .362        .007     .274         .218
[DELTA][R.sup.2]   .005     .357        .007     .268         .211
F                  .483   45.045 (**)   .703   30.022 (**)  22.146
Sobel Test

                  Step 4       Step 2       Step 3       Step 4

Gender             -.081         .017         .028         .025
Age                -.009         .038         .015         .019
Ethnicity           .001        -.013         .000         .000
Supportive          .377 (**)    .386 (**)                 .150 (*)
Interactional       .234 (**)                 .486 (**)    .396 (**)
[R.sup.2]           .298         .151         .237         .251
[DELTA][R.sup.2]    .035         .149         .235         .100
F                 28.369       14.174 (**)  24.704 (**)  21.291 (**)
Sobel Test         7.608 (**)                             7.881 (**)

                  Step 2      Step 3       Step 4

Gender             .014         .022         .021
Age               -.022        -.038        -.036
Ethnicity          .067         .076         .076
Supportive         .225 (**)                 .074
Interactional                   .348 (**)    .303 (**)
[R.sup.2]          .069         .124         .128
[DELTA][R.sup.2]   .065         .120         .059
F                 5.893 (**)  11.276 (**)   9.283 (**)
Sobel Test                                 11.993 (**)

Table 3: Summary of hierarchical regression analysis: Supportive
culture as moderator

                             Affective Commitment
                             Step 1  Step 2       Step 3

Gender                       -.081    -.081        -.065
Age                           .003     .017         .026
Ethnicity                    -.021     .007        -.008
Supportive FLM                         .385 (**)    .385 (**)
Supportive Culture                     .225 (**)    .244 (**)
Supportive FLM * Supportive                         .126 (**)
[R.sup.2]                     .007     .306         .321
[DELTA][R.sup.2]              .007     .299         .015
F                             .703   28.020 (**)  24.949 (**)

                             Step 2       Step 3

Gender                         .024         .021
Age                            .060         .059
Ethnicity                      .007         .010
Supportive FLM                 .186 (**)    .186 (**)
Supportive Culture             .339 (**)    .336 (**)
Supportive FLM * Supportive                -.025
[R.sup.2]                      .225         .226
[DELTA][R.sup.2]               .223         .001
F                            18.422 (**)  15.354 (**)

                             Step 2      Step 3

Gender                        .019        .033
Age                          -.007        .001
Ethnicity                     .080        .068
Supportive FLM                .118        .118
Supportive Culture            .232 (**)   .248 (**)
Supportive FLM * Supportive               .107
[R.sup.2]                     .014        .114
[DELTA][R.sup.2]              .100        .010
F                            7.323 (**)  6.793 (**)

Note: (*) = p[less than or equal to] .05 (**) =
p[less than or equal to] .01 (standardised coefficients reported).
N = 323

Gender (1 = Male; 2 = female); Age (1 = GenY; 2 = GenX); Ethnicity (1=
Malay, 2= Chinese, 3= Indian, 4= Others)
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Author:Cafferkey, Kenneth; Townsend, Keith; Khan, Sofiah Kadar
Publication:International Journal of Employment Studies
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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