Service Climate and Employee Wellbeing in Higher Education
University of Tasmania, School of Management, Hobart TAS
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A growing emphasis on the discourse of ‘student as customer’ has increased the salience of the concept of service climate in universities and anecdotal evidence suggests that this may have placed increased pressure on staff.
This study investigated the relationship between service climate and psychological well being in a sample of 340 university staff. Questionnaire data was analysed using structural equation modelling showed that a positive service climate was negatively related to job-induced tension and positively related to job satisfaction. Job-induced tension also mediated the effects of service climate on psychological dysfunction and job satisfaction.
Implications for management of university stakeholder relationships and directions for future research are discussed.
service climate, students, employee well being, university employees, job satisfaction
High levels of competition in the global higher education market and the policy agenda of the current Australian government has seen a growing emphasis on the discourse of ‘student as customer’, increasing the relevance and salience of the concept of service climate in universities. Service climate reflects the degree to which employees feel that the organisation places significant value on the needs of its client or customer base (Schneider & Bowen 1985). Service climate, a dimension of the psychological climate in an organisation has been studied in the retail and banking sectors as an important source of competitive advantage, particularly in relation to its contribution to high levels of staff and customer satisfaction (Borucki & Burke 1999; Schneider & Bowen 1985; 1993; Schneider, & Reichers 1983; Schneider, Wheeler, & Cox 1992; Schneider, Ehrhart, Mayer, Saltz & Niles-Jolly 2005). This paper explores the relevance of the service climate construct in relation to what appears to be a relatively unexplored correlate, that of employee well being, in the context of the higher education sector.
Whilst there has been recent debate about whether students really have a customer relationship with their university (see for example, Svensson & Wood 2007) most employees of universities are highly cognisant of the fact that students often perceive themselves in a customer role. Many students have expectations about course content, teaching styles and other administrative aspects of service that they equate with the concept of ‘value’ that they receive in exchange for their fees. Moreover, it could be argued that university management often have a propensity to view students as customers given, for example, the intensive marketing activities undertaken and the strong focus placed on student satisfaction data in performance management. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this paper to document historical changes in the higher education sector that have lead to the current situation, it is important to acknowledge that these changes have led to increased demands on university staff because they have occurred in an environment of decreasing resources. It is not uncommon to hear academic staff commenting on how the current climate has impacted their perceptions of their role as an educator, in addition to their workload. Research on the well being of university employees shows that both academic and general staff are reporting increasingly high levels of stress (Gillespie, Walsh, Winefield, Dua & Stough 2001).
Intense competitive dynamics in the global marketplace has placed increasingly stronger emphasis on improving service climate as a source of competitive advantage. Whilst Schneider and his colleagues (1992, 1993, 2005) have argued that a strong service climate is a source of employee and customer satisfaction, there is little research that investigates how it relates to other aspects of employee well being such as perceived job tension and psychological health.
Consequently, the aim of the present study was to investigate a previously unreported relationship in the literature on service climate, that relationship between service climate and indicators of employee well being. This investigation is also undertaken in a new context for research on service climate, namely the higher education sector. The paper commences with a brief review of the theoretical foundations of service climate – namely, the construct of psychological climate. Next, the empirical literature on service climate is reviewed, noting potential links between the dimension of service climate and indicators of employee well being (operationalised in this study as job induced tension, job satisfaction and psychological dysfunction). Six hypotheses to be tested in the present study are integrated into this review.
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Dr Barbara Kennedy and Ms Belinda Stocks are thanked for their contribution to the collection of data analysed in this paper and for their collaboration on a broader project examining service climate in higher education.
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