This dissertation describes four studies investigating the role of perceived available social support in helping individuals to cope with organisational stressors. The program of research had four central objectives. The first aim, building on the work of Gore (1985) and Lazarus and Folkman (1984), was to develop and test an integrative model of perceived available support, organisational stress and support mobilisation in a number of organisational stressor contexts. This model enabled a more explicit testing of the theory of stress-buffering during secondary appraisal, which had not been empirically examined in the literature. The new model also incorporated the principles of the stress-matching (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Cutrona & Russell, 1990) and source of support (Cohen & McKay, 1984; Thoits, 1986) frameworks to specifically guide hypothesis development. This enabled a more comprehensive examination of the conditions under which stress-buffering is effective in countering the demands of specific organisational stressors.
The second aim was to examine the role of perceived available support in prompting the decision to mobilise support, within the context of the new research model. To date this relationship has not been empirically examined to any great depth. Third, this dissertation aimed to provide further conceptual clarification of two aspects of social support, perceived available support and support mobilisation. Within the existing literature, these social support constructs have not been conceptualised in a consistent manner (see reviews by Cohen and Wills, 1985; Schwarzer & Leppin, 1991; Winemiller, Mitchell, Sutchff & Cline, 1993). The final aim was to test the predictive validity of the developed research model in the context of three organisational stressors: organisational change, role conflict and interpersonal conflict. Notably, few conceptualisations of the stress-adjustment process had been developed that reflect the special demands upon employees in the context of either organisational change or interpersonal conflict.
Study 1 quantitatively tested the applicability of the proposed integrated model in the context of stress arising from organisational change. Rather than testing the full version of the research model. Study 1 explicitly examined the degree to which different sources of available support moderate the negative effects of change-related stress on adjustment outcomes, by mobilising global levels of support. Survey data from 296 public hospital nurses were used to test three hypotheses. Whilst the survey data did not reveal mediated-moderation effects, partial support was found for the research model. Perceived available support from colleagues and non-work people played an important role in focusing individuals to mobilise support when dealing with the introduction of the downsizing process. In contrast, supervisors only tended to have generalised effects on adjustment outcomes.
Study 2 qualitatively generated new ideas, and confirmed conceptual and conditional aspects of the proposed model. First, due to the inconsistent conceptualisation of both perceived available support and support mobilisation in the literature, validation was sought for multidimensional conceptualisation adopted for both these variables. Second, confirmation of basic aspects of the stress-matching and source of support frameworks was sought, by examining nurses' work-related perceptions of controllability, and by examining the relationship between source of support characteristics and both perceptions of available support and the mobilisation of support. In-depth interview data from 20 nurses provided support for the multidimensional conceptualisation of perceived available support and support mobilisation, using House's (1981) functional categories and the Terry, Nielsen and Perchard (1993) categorisation of source of support. Interview data also provided some support for Cutrona and Russell's (1990) stress-matching taxonomy, and the source of support framework (Cohen and McKay, 1984; Thoits, 1986). With regards to the latter case, other source of support characteristics, support provision as a job role and closeness, also appeared to impact on participants' perceptions of support availability and their decisions to mobilise support when faced with workplace stressors.
Study 3 developed multidimensional inventories of both perceived available support and support mobilisation, relevant for workplace contexts. Adequate work-related measures of both these types of support were lacking in the literature and therefore scale development was warranted. Two survey inventories were created from both a functional and source perspective: one measuring perceived available support; and the other measuring support mobilisation. Survey data relating to the perceived available support inventory were collected from two samples of 190 and 170 nursing staff. Survey data relating to the support mobilisation inventory were collected from a sample of 155 nursing staff in the same public hospital. Both inventories showed evidence of construct validity, reliability and discriminant validity, and in relation to the perceived available support inventory, there was also evidence of construct replication across samples. Consultation with a sample of 20 organisational behaviour experts and 20 respondents from the target population established content validity.
Study 4 quantitatively verified the full theoretical model in the context of two organisational stressors, role conflict and interpersonal conflict. The multidimensional inventories developed in Study 3 were used to assess both perceived available support and support mobilisation. Survey data from 118 nurses were used to test six hypotheses. Findings provided some support for the mediated-moderating research model. Additionally, the stress- matching and source of support theories did demonstrate some degree of predictive utility. However, the pattern of findings suggest that the links between perceived available support, support mobilisation and adjustment outcomes, in the context of particular organisational stressors, is complex and highly dependent on the type of supportive function examined.
Overall this dissertation made three major theoretical contributions. Findings from Study 1 and Study 4 did provide some support for the integrative model of perceived available support, organisational stress and support mobilisation. Second, nurses' interpersonal coping responses to three important and highly salient organisational stressors - organisational change, role conflict and interpersonal conflict - were examined. Third, by examining the individual contribution of supportive functions arising from different sources of support, both in terms of perceptions of support availability and support mobilisation, the current research project was able to demonstrate a series of unique and complex findings. The ability to examine these complex relationships within the integrated model was only made possible via the major conceptual contribution of the dissertation. Both Study 2 and Study 3 provided evidence to support a parallel multidimensional conceptualisation for perceived available support and support mobilisation. It was from this basis that the full test of theoretical model could be conducted.