The relationship between workers and supervisors has long been an interest for Organisational Studies researchers. But what impact does it have on the relationship between co-workers? Such interactions are the focus of Dr Herman Tse’s research. We spent five minutes with him to learn a little more….

In what area/s does your current research interests lie?

The interpersonal relationships of co-workers are underpinned by different parties across different levels of an organisation, for example, managers/ team representatives, fellow employees, executives, advisory boards. While all workers have a relationship with their manager, the quality of it also influences how co-workers under this leadership perceive, feel about and interact with each other. My interest lies in identifying and understanding how this vertical relationship between supervisor and subordinate influences the lateral relationship between co-workers.

Have there been major developments or key findings that have directed the trajectory of your research?

The effects of the vertical relationship on the lateral one is still a relatively unstudied area of Organisational Behaviour (which traditionally looks at the two independently). My research also uniquely considers how social networks influence the quality of this co-worker relationship; particularly, I ask how formal organisational structures can foster interpersonal relationships within work teams outside of the workplace.

What are you working on at the moment?

A series of projects that considers how the difference in the quality of a relationship two co-workers may have with the same supervisor affects their emotions and perceptions towards each other: the teammate relationship will always be relative to the quality of their individual relationship with a team leader.

I am also involved in the Australia-China Management Group – a collective of academics and industry representatives leveraging their cultural capital to assist Australian and Chinese businesses capitalise on the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Finally, are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?

As the nature of work changes it is important for organisations to acknowledge how interpersonal relationships inform workplace structures, not the other way around. Knowledge sharing and social relationship networks can underpin the success of all kinds of outcomes and they should be nurtured in a formal and healthy way.

Consequently, research on the vertical and lateral relationships in workteams can be applied in three ways. First, managers can ask how they supervise employees who like to compare their relationship standing with each other: human beings like to compare themselves to determine their position in a team and how to manage their supervisor. Second, organisations can consider how a better quality supervisor-subordinate relationship – and the tangible and intangible benefits that come with it – can leave the subordinate open to ‘tall poppy’ retaliation from their co-workers. And finally, managers can consider the perspective of the co-worker making the comparison who always feels inferior due to a lack of attention – contempt and jealously will continue to build because their supervisor has promoted a more favourable relationship with their co-worker.