Defining Employee Perceptions of Discretion: When, Where, and How
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The construct employee discretion has been researched under many labels (e.g., flexibility, autonomy). As a result, employee discretion has been operationalized differently across multiple streams of research leading to construct deficiency, contamination, and confounding. The current study contributes to the research literature in three distinct ways. First, the literature on employee discretion is reviewed, in order to clearly differentiate the three primary conceptualizations of employee discretion: choice over when, where, and how one works. Second, the influence of these three forms of discretion on both work-related outcomes (job satisfaction, burnout, and turnover intentions) and nonwork-related outcomes (life satisfaction, work-to-nonwork conflict, negative physical health symptoms and psychological health symptoms) was examined in order to reveal the relative impact of each form of discretion using distinct measures. Third, three potential moderators (role ambiguity, locus of control, and perceived organizational support) of the employee discretion-outcome relationship were examined in order to determine if there are important boundary conditions to the benefit of the various forms of employee discretion. Faculty members are frequently given a high degree of discretion over when, where, and how they conduct many aspects of their work, particularly their research-related tasks. Despite the many advantages of employee discretion, many faculty members report feeling pressured, stressed, and experience conflict between work and non-work roles, suggesting the possibility that too much discretion can be problematic. Survey data were collected from a sample of 1223 faculty members. Results revealed main effects for discretion over how work is conducted on work-related outcomes while discretion over when and where had main effects on almost all work and nonwork-related outcomes examined. Contrary to expectations, discretion appeared to have linear rather than nonlinear effects on all the outcomes examined and combinations of multiple forms of discretion did not yield synergistic effects. Role ambiguity moderated the relationship between the where dimension of discretion and several outcomes, such that individuals with high levels of role ambiguity and high levels of discretion over where they work had worse outcomes than individuals with low role ambiguity and low levels of discretion over where they work. These results suggest that employees unclear about their responsibilities benefit less from discretion over where they work. Theoretical and applied implications are discussed.
Thompson, Rebecca Jean (2013). Defining Employee Perceptions of Discretion: When, Where, and How. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from