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Putting self-determination theory into practice: Autonomy-supportive training for supervisors in low-skilled jobs

According to self-determination theory (SDT), supervisors’ autonomy support (SAS) is one of the main factors that contributes to employees’ well-being and other positive outcomes. Wider studies on the outcomes of autonomy support have been conducted in sectors such as education, healthcare, sports and financial institutions and with occupational groups such as teachers, upper managers and coaches. While all of these studies demonstrate the importance of autonomy support in facilitating positive outcomes, the importance of SAS in enhancing the well-being of employees in low-skilled occupations is often neglected, despite the continued contribution of this sector to the economy and total workforce in New Zealand. Furthermore, limited studies within the workplace have also shown that (upper) management can be trained to be more autonomy-supportive. To date, however, this training has not been designed for supervisors in low-skilled occupations, who have different learning needs than those in higher-skilled occupations. Similarly, the effect of autonomy-supportive training on employees has been established in higher-skilled occupations, but not with employees in low-skilled occupations. Finally, according to Grossman and Salas (2011), various organisational factors can weaken the effect of training, which, in turn, undermines the long-term benefit of SAS. Nevertheless, this aspect of maintaining SAS after the training has often also been neglected in autonomy-supportive training studies. To address these issues, this thesis aims to: (1) develop the autonomy-supportive training (AST) and conduct a preliminary evaluation of the AST with supervisors in low-skilled occupations; (2) establish the perceived effect of SAS on employees in low-skilled occupations; (3) evaluate the outcomes of AST on supervisors and employees; and, (4) explore the factors affecting the maintenance of SAS with supervisors. To achieve these aims, a mixed-method approach was employed to collect data from supervisors and employees; these data were then presented as three separate research articles. The articles were submitted to peer-reviewed journals; all three articles have been published. Study 1 reports on the development and preliminary evaluation of the AST for supervisors in low-skilled occupations. Drawing on and integrating both SDT and adult learning principles, the resultant training module is one of the first training modules in SDT designed to suit the learning needs of supervisors in low-skilled occupations. The study reports on the development of the training material as well as the preliminary evaluation of the AST using reaction evaluation. In general, supervisors found the AST relevant, easy to understand, and applicable to their work setting. Study 2 examined the effect of employees’ perceived SAS on employees’ well-being and job performance. This study included analyses of need satisfaction and need frustration as mediators. Using mediation analyses, the results showed employees’ perceived SAS predicted well-being and job performance through need satisfaction but not through need frustration. The findings were the first to demonstrate the importance of employees’ perceived SAS on their well-being and job performance through need satisfaction in low-skilled occupations. Study 3 used a two-stage mixed-method approach. First, the quantitative phase employed a quasi-experimental approach with AST as the manipulated variable and a longitudinal survey completed by both employees and supervisors. The second phase, the qualitative phase, employed both focus groups and interview with supervisors as its data gathering methods. The quantitative phase demonstrated an initial change in supervisory style after the training, although this effect was not perceived by employees in the longitudinal analysis. The qualitative phase unravelled factors affecting the maintenance of SAS. This study found that, although AST can increase SAS, the effects were diluted when upper-management autonomy support, and essential resources to complete tasks, are lacking. Overall, this thesis expands the organisational and SDT literature by including an understudied occupational group: low-skilled employees and their supervisors. The findings of this thesis emphasise not only the benefits of AST and SAS for employees and supervisors, but also highlight the importance of senior managerial autonomy support and organisational support in leading low-skilled occupations.
Type of thesis
Yong, A. (2020). Putting self-determination theory into practice: Autonomy-supportive training for supervisors in low-skilled jobs (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13459
The University of Waikato
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