This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Investigating Social Exchange Relationships in Organizations: The Neglected Role of Gratitude




Li, Hairong

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




The study of gratitude has been missing from the literature of social exchange relationships in organizations. The present study aims to investigate the role of gratitude in social exchange processes within organizational context. Considering the distinction between trait gratitude (gratitude as a disposition) and state gratitude (gratitude as an emotional experience), two studies were proposed and conducted. Study 1 focuses on the effect of trait gratitude on employee-organization social exchange relationship during organizational entry. A model was developed in which organizational newcomers’ trait gratitude moderated the link between a newcomer intervention (i.e., ROPES; Wanous, & Reichers, 2000) and socialization outcomes. A field experiment with a group of new nurses was conducted to test this model. Participants were 74 newly hired nurses entering into a public hospital located in a northern city in China. These new nurses were randomly assigned to either a control condition (n = 37) in which they went through a regular orientation program, or an experimental condition (n = 37) in which they received ROPES. These nurses were followed up 6 months and 12 months post-entry. The results indicated that the ROPES intervention – POS link were stronger for newcomers with higher trait gratitude. Study 2 focuses on the role of state gratitude in employee-organizational agent (e.g., supervisor, coworker) social exchange relationships. A cross-level multifocal model was developed in which state gratitude mediated the relationship between favorable treatment from the organizational agents and employees’ positive attitudes and behaviors toward the agents. A daily diary study was conducted to test this model. Participants were 64 employees from various organizations recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). They completed a preliminary screen survey and daily surveys for ten consecutive workdays. The results showed that: (a) at the within-individual level, daily variations in supervisor/coworker helping and justice predicted daily variations in gratitude directed at supervisor/coworker, which then predicted daily variations in prosocial behaviors toward supervisor/coworker; (b) at the between-individual level, supervisor/coworker developmental feedback predicted mean levels of gratitude directed at supervisor/coworker and these mean levels of gratitude predicted communal exchanges with supervisor/coworker; (c) employees’ humility moderated the relationship between supervisor developmental feedback and chronic gratitude directed at supervisor; and (d) employees’ cynicism moderated the link between coworker developmental feedback and chronic gratitude directed at coworker. The major findings, contributions, limitations, and future research directions were summarized and discussed for each study.