Perceptions of Supervisor Supportiveness
A multinational comparison

Posted Wednesday, June 26th, 2013  | Comments (1) rule

Rucha Bhate
Doctoral Research Assistant
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Phone: 617.552.6954

An employee today typically juggles a myriad of duties on the job and at home. For example, many employees are the primary caregivers of young children as well as elders. Fulfilling these roles efficiently can be extremely demanding and conflicting, diminishing job satisfaction and promoting absenteeism. Any organization wanting to retain superior employees would strive to prevent such precarious outcomes. According to Jevon Powell, a management and organizational psychologist, supervisors act as effective mediators as well as “primary implementers of work and family policies.” Supportive supervisors care about employees’ career goals, give credit for work well done, and help employees develop job-relevant skills and competencies. Given the salience of work/family issues in the labor force, employees often identify having a supportive supervisor as a barometer of effective family-friendly workplaces.

Effective supervisor support is associated with increased job satisfaction and job commitment, perceptions of a better fit between the employee and the organization, reduced work/family conflict, and lower turnover (Eisenberger et al., Qiu L, Newman & Thanacoody).  A significant link exists between employees’ perceptions of the level of support they receive from their supervisors and their perceptions of the level of support they receive from the organization as a whole (Kottke & Sharafinski, Rhoades et al., Stinglhamber & Vandenberghe, Yoon & Lim). Supervisors are the agents of an organization—responsible for monitoring the performance of subordinates, undertaking periodic assessment of their work, and giving feedback to enhance the value of their work and to reinforce their commitment to their jobs. Therefore, it is natural for employees to interpret their interactions with their supervisors as indicators of an organization’s view of them. Moreover, employees understand that supervisors report their evaluations of subordinates to upper management, further contributing to employees’ association of supervisor supportiveness with perceptions of organizational supportiveness.

Contrasting perceptions in developed and developing countries
At Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work, we were interested in the cross-national dimensions of perceptions of supervisor supportiveness. To explore these, we used the lens of supervisor supportiveness to review findings from the Center’s 2009-2010 Generations of Talent study.

More than 80 percent of employees in our seven-country sample (Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, China, and India) reported having a supportive supervisor. Employees in two of the four developed countries in our sample (Japan and the Netherlands) rated the supportiveness of their supervisors at the lowest end of our scale. In contrast, employees in the other two developed countries (the United Kingdom and the United States) rated the supportiveness of their supervisors at the top of the scale. This reflects a broad divergence of employee perceptions of supervisor supportiveness among these four industrial nations. Notably, employees in China signaled the highest confidence in the degree of support they receive from their supervisors—significantly higher than employees in most of the countries in our sample indicated. Whereas perceptions of the degree of supervisor supportiveness varied significantly across the developed countries in our sample, perceptions in developing countries were generally highly positive.

  • Surprisingly, female employees with more supportive supervisors reported a lower level of satisfaction with their work/family balance than did female employees with less supportive supervisors.
  • In addition, perceptions of supervisor supportiveness seem to weaken along the career ladder, with early-career employees tending to be the most positive and late-career employees tending to be the least positive.

It would be interesting to study whether these career-stage differences pertain to the maturity and attitudes of employees as they age or if they are indicative of the characteristics and evolution of supervisory relationships over time.

Read Center’s recent publication: Supervisor Supportiveness: Global Perspectives »


Comments (1) for "Perceptions of Supervisor SupportivenessA multinational comparison"

Is an Aging Workforce Less Productive?

Posted Tuesday, June 18th, 2013  | Comments Off on Is an Aging Workforce Less Productive? rule
The following blog is reposted with permission from
Gary Burtless, PhD
Senior Fellow, Economic Studies
Brookings Institution, Washington, DC


As the population grows older an increasing percentage of the workforce will be past age 60. Older workers are ordinarily thought to be less productive than younger ones, raising the question of whether an aging workforce will also be a less productive one.

In new research funded by the Social Security Administration, I consider whether an aging workforce has dragged down average worker productivity over the past quarter century. At least so far, the answer is an emphatic “No.” Improved education among the population past 60 and delays in retirement among better educated Americans have tended to boost the earnings of older workers compared with younger ones.

Using one standard benchmark of individual worker productivity—hourly wages—workers between 60 and 74 now earn more than an average worker who is between 25 and 59. The hourly pay premium for older men was about 22 percent in 2011. For older women it was about 10 percent. Other earnings benchmarks show a somewhat less favorable picture, but all of them show considerable improvement in the relative position of aged workers compared with the nonaged over the past two decades. None of the indicators of male productivity suggest that older male workers are less productive than average male workers who are between 25 and 59.

There are two main reasons for the surge in older workers’ earnings. First, the sheer size of the baby boom generation means that the number of Americans attaining age 60 each year is climbing steeply (see Chart 1). Second, labor force participation rates of adults between 60 and 74 have increased. The share of all labor income earned by older workers has soared in recent years because these workers have enjoyed faster wage gains than workers who are younger. It is crucial to understand why this is the case. A major reason is that older workers are now better educated compared with prime-age workers than was the case in the past. Twenty-five years ago the gap in education between prime-age workers and older Americans was large. Americans past 60 had much less schooling than workers who were younger. That gap is now much narrower.

Educational attainment is also important for understanding the increase in Americans’ labor force participation rates at older ages. At older ages there are major differences between the participation rates of highly educated and less educated people, and these differences have persisted and even widened in recent several decades (see Chart 2). In the early 1990s nearly 60 percent of 62-74 year-old men with doctoral and professional degrees were still in labor force. In contrast, only 20 percent of male high school dropouts the same age remained in the workforce. The participation-rate gap was smaller for older women, but it was still sizeable and it has grown over time.


Chart 2. Labor Force Participation Rates of Persons 62-74 Years Old by Schooling Attainment, 1991-1992 and 2009-2010


In the past quarter century there has been a steady improvement in older Americans’ educational credentials, both absolutely and in comparison to the qualifications of younger cohorts still in their prime working ages (see Charts 3 and 4). The improvement in older Americans’ educational attainment has improved their job market position. This is especially true for the men and women who remain in the workforce, because older Americans who stay attached to the labor force after 62 are much more likely to have received schooling after high school than the workers who retire at younger ages.



Changes in the distribution of educational attainment have influenced the age profile of earnings. Older workers now receive much better compensation compared with their prime-age counterparts (see Chart 5). Workers younger than 50 have seen a modest decline in their relative annual earnings, but workers past 55 have enjoyed impressive relative earnings gains. Compared with the earnings of an average 35-54 year-old worker, the average worker between 65 and 69 has seen his or her earnings climb 30 percentage points. Workers between 70 and 74 experienced a 28-percentage-point gain in their relative earnings. As noted, the relative earnings gains of older workers can be traced to the improvement in their educational attainment compared with younger workers. However, this development does not fully explain their gains. When I separately tabulate the age-earnings profiles of workers within each educational group I find similar, though generally far smaller, income gains among workers in the oldest age categories.


Chart 5. Age Profile of Annual Earnings of Adults Who Have Labor Income, 1985 and 2010


Using data from the March CPS files, I tabulated the distribution of annual earned income received by 25-74 year-old workers. I find that the share of male earnings received by 60-74 year-olds increased from 7.3 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent in 2010. Among female earners, the share increased from 5.8 percent of total female earnings in 2000 to 11.7 percent of earnings in 2010. The magnitude of these gains is partly explained by the rising share of older workers in the labor force, partly by their increasing levels of work, and partly by improvements in their relative earnings if they do work. Even if employment and earnings patterns of older workers do not change during the next two decades, the share of all labor income received by older workers will continue to rise through about 2025. At their peak in importance, 60-74 year-old men will account for about 16 percent of male earnings and 60-74 year-old women will earn about 14½ percent of total female earnings.

What has been the impact of older workers on workforce productivity? If worker productivity has been harmed by the surge of older workers into the labor force the fact is not evident in the earnings statistics for the elderly themselves. The average worker between 60 and 74 now earns a higher hourly wage than workers who are between 25 and 59 (see the top panel of Chart 6). The hourly earnings premium enjoyed by older men and women has increased steadily since the turn of the century. The gains are equally impressive when we consider trends in annual labor income (wages plus self-employment earnings). The average annual earnings of working men between 60 and 74 is now slightly higher than that of men age 25-59. The yearly earnings of women between 60 and 74 is currently about 11 percent below that of working women between 25 and 59, but the gap is much narrower than it was at the turn of the century, when older women earned 28 percent less than their younger counterparts.


Chart 6. Average Earnings of Workers Age 60-74 as a Percent of Earnings of Workers Age 25-59, 1985-2011


The expectation that older workers will reduce average productivity may be fueled by the perception that the aged are less healthy, less educated, less up-to-date in their knowledge, and more fragile than the young. While all these images of the elderly are accurate to some degree, they do not necessarily describe the people who choose to remain employed at older ages. My research shows there are enormous differences between the labor force participation rates of older Americans depending on their level of schooling. People with limited education have low employment rates in old age. People with college and advanced degrees tend to remain in the workforce longer. If less productive workers selectively exit the workforce at younger ages, the average productivity of the older workers who remain may compare favorably to the average productivity of the young. A surge in the percentage of the potential workforce that is old may simply increase the proportion of the workforce that consists of comparatively skilled older workers.


Note: This is a research summary of Gary Burtless, “The Impact of Population Aging and Delayed Retirement on Workforce Productivity,” Working Paper 2013-11 (Chestnut Hill, MA: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, June 2013).

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Adapting to a World Without Jobs

Posted Wednesday, June 12th, 2013  | Comments (3) rule

In 1994, the organizational consultant William Bridges predicted the end of jobs as the way of organizing work. Almost 20 years later, it’s looking like he might have been right. Now, half of working Americans are earning income from sources other than traditional jobs—as freelancers, consultants, contingency workers, independent contractors, and temps.

Bridges predicted that labor-saving technologies would eliminate the jobs of full-time employees who fulfill strictly prescribed duties for unvarying pay during regular hours. He saw that such traditional jobs are a rigid solution to an elastic problem in a fast-moving economy. Employers focused on cutting costs are not going to hire full-time employees when the work that needs to be done doesn’t require full-time attention. Already they have laid off most of the middle managers who once were needed to supervise employees.

Bridges wrote: “No longer the best way to organize work, the traditional job is becoming a social artifact. Its decline creates unfamiliar risks—and rich opportunities.” These opportunities are obvious both to employers and to experienced workers with highly developed skills. For example, a worker can perform a specialized task for a number of companies on contracts that do not require the service on a full-time, permanent basis.

An opportunity for Baby Boomers
Older workers who are creative and entrepreneurial are taking advantage of this shift in the labor market, seizing it as an opportunity to work past retirement age without being tied to a nine-to-five schedule. The Baby Boom generation has received the gift of 20 active, healthy years added to the middle of the life span, thanks to nutrition, exercise, and the medical miracles of the last century. Over the years since Bridges talked about the end of jobs, the share of workers planning to continue employment past the age of 65 has quadrupled, from 10 percent to 40 percent. The shift is due, in part, to the workers’ need for income with the shrinking of savings accounts and pension plans. Many Boomers, however, also seek personal satisfaction, choosing to forge new careers in fields that interest them or work for causes that they believe in.

Technology and longevity have given Boomers choices that did not exist previously. New ways of doing work have also given seniors the flexibility to take charge of their work schedule, work environment, and work focus. Experienced workers of any age who use current technologies and stay informed about market trends should be able to match their skills to opportunities for meaningful paid work. Professionals in their late sixties and seventies have the advantage, however, when it comes to coping with the insecurity of contract employment, because this cohort is more likely to have health care coverage and some pension savings as a cushion between contracts.

Safety in “flexicurity”
Both employers and workers benefit from the flexibility of labor contracts written to meet changing needs. But employers and workers also must contend with the insecurity that is inherent in the contract system. Workers juggling contracts can swing between overload and famine, while employers may lose production capacity as they search for qualified workers in a competitive market.

For the past several years, the European Union has been advocating “flexicurity”: an integrated strategy for enhancing both flexibility and security in the labor market. Flexicurity attempts to reconcile an employer’s need for a flexible workforce with a worker’s need for protection from long periods of unemployment. Denmark, in particular, has emphasized flexicurity principles in its labor market policies and social security system. These principles emphasize flexible and reliable contractual arrangements and comprehensive lifelong learning strategies.

In his bestselling book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change (third edition, 2013), Bridges talked about three stages in the psychological process of adapting to change:

  1. letting go of the past
  2. the “neutral zone,” where the past is gone but the new isn’t fully present
  3. making a new beginning

We’ve made a new beginning in adapting to the end of jobs, but the transition is hard. The challenge before us is to come up with a system that prepares and protects both employers and workers.*

*Older workers who want to live and work smart will find useful information in these two books:

  • Life Planning Network. (2012). Live Smart after 50!: The Experts’ Guide to Life Planning for Uncertain Times. Boston, MA: Life Planning Network.
  • Marci Alboher. (2013). The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. New York: Workman Publishing.

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