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Coworker support: a moderator of the LMX differentiation-employee response relationship

Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory holds that leaders develop unique exchange relationships with each of their members. In a high quality LMX relationship, a leader and a member exchange significant amounts of valuable resources, including tangible (e.g. promotion) and intangible resources (e.g. social support). Even though most research has considered LMX purely as a dyadic level construct, some scholars have viewed LMX as a group context. On the one hand, the leader can develop an even level of LMX relationships across all members, i.e. low LMX differentiation. On the other hand, the leader can develop differential levels of LMX relationships, with a few members receiving higher levels of LMX than others, i.e. high LMX differentiation. 

The current study investigated (1) members’ reactions to LMX differentiation and (2) under what circumstances the negative members’ reactions toward LMX differentiation are mitigated. Based on surveys completed by 186 employees and 41 group leaders, Hae Sang Park, Dr. Liden, Dr. Wayne, and Jeremy Meuser found 

  • Members were likely to perceive leaders who developed differentiated LMX relationships as being unfair 
  • Members working for leaders that developed differentiated LMX relationships were less likely to engage in desirable work behaviors at work because they viewed their leaders as being unfair. 
  • Members who received support from coworkers are less likely to be influenced by LMX differentiation and perception of fairness regarding their leader, at times when the members decide to help other coworkers. 


Implications of the Results: 

A limitation of LMX research is that the majority of the research has neglected the fact that members compare their LMXs with others’. This study illustrates members’ negative reactions to LMX differentiation within groups. In addition, this study highlights the influence of coworkers, an important part of the social environment at work besides the leader, on members’ work behaviors.