As the organizational environment becomes more dynamic and complex, leaders often assign conflicting work requirements on employees to achieve organizational goals effectively, thus leading to employees experiencing ambivalence towards leaders. Recently, scholars have examined ambivalence within the context of workplace relationships. Leader-Member Exchange（LMX）ambivalence refers to the subjective experience of coexisting positive and negative thoughts towards the leader-follower relationship; however, the influence of ambivalence on employees’ work outcomes is inconsistent. Moreover, there is a lack of understanding on the relationship of ambivalence and changed-oriented behavior. Based on the tenets of social information processing theory, we investigate how LMX ambivalence affects employee proactive behavior by exploring the mediating role of organizational status and the moderating role of authoritarian leadership.
We collected data with validated scales in 11 companies from Beijing, Shanghai, and Qingdao in China at two time points. At time 1, we distributed questionnaires to 462 employees to measure their demographic variables, LMX ambivalence, authoritarian leadership, organizational status and control variables. At time 2, we sent questionnaires to the corresponding supervisors to measure their demographic variables and employee proactive behavior. We obtained a dataset of 409 supervisor-subordinate dyads eventually. This study verifies the hypothesis with confirmatory factor analysis, correlation analysis, and hierarchy regression analysis.
The results show that the relationship between LMX ambivalence and employee proactive behavior is significantly negative, and such relationship is mediated by employees’ organizational status. Authoritarian leadership plays a moderating role in the relationship between LMX ambivalence and employees’ organizational status. Specifically, for employees under a high level of authoritarian leadership, the negative effect of their LMX ambivalence on employees’ organizational status is stronger. Our moderated mediation model also demonstrates that the indirect effect of LMX ambivalence on employee proactive behavior through organizational status is stronger for employees who are under a high level of authoritarian leadership. This study explores the influence of the factors of individual attitude and leadership on employee proactive behavior, providing new ideas for motivating employees to engage in proactive behavior.
This study makes the following contributions: Firstly, it extends the outcome variables of LMX ambivalence from employees’ task performance to proactive behavior, which advances our knowledge on the relationship of LMX ambivalence and change-oriented behaviors. Secondly, it reveals that organizational status is a path to explain the relationship between LMX ambivalence and employee proactive behavior from the cognitive perspective. Thirdly, it examines authoritarian leadership as a boundary condition aggravating the negative effect of LMX ambivalence on employees’ organizational status and proactive behavior. In terms of managerial implications, leaders should empower employees rather than display authoritarian behaviors to avoid strengthening the negative effect of their experience of “love and hate together”.