Challenges in the work of neighbourhood managers
A study into the causes and consequences of role stress experienced by neighbourhood managers
The local level is becoming an increasingly important arena for policy- and decision-making. This is due to the impact current societal challenges – such as the decentralizations in the social domain and the forthcoming introduction of the Environmental and Planning Act (Omgevingswet) – have on the direct living environment of citizens. The government is less and less able to tackle these complex challenges itself. In addition, citizens are increasingly organizing themselves in order to participate in decisions by which they are affected. In response to these developments, governments are increasingly relying on interactive forms of governance. In interactive governance, citizens, private enterprises, societal organizations and other actors are involved in the process of policy making on complex problems in an early stage (Edelenbos & Van Meerkerk, 2016). This manifests itself amongst others in neighbourhoodbased working, an approach used by municipalities to address issues in an integral way and to reduce the gap between citizens and local authorities by engaging and cooperating with citizens and other local actors (De Boer & Lugtmeijer, 2009). Specific municipal officials are appointed whose work is aimed at facilitating neighbourhoodbased working. These municipal officials are the object of research in this study, referred to as neighbourhood managers. The task neighbourhood managers have is to connect the municipality within which they are working and actors in the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood managers are the point of contact for residents. They represent the viewpoint of residents within the municipality and they try to adjust policy processes based on the desires of the neighbourhood (Peeters, Van der Steen & Van Twist, 2010.). At the same time, neighbourhood managers can serve as antennae in the neighbourhood for the municipality. They signal issues that would otherwise remain underexposed (ibid.). Neighbourhood managers thus span the boundary between the municipality and the direct living environment of citizens. In spanning this boundary, they try to realize a better fit between the internal organization and its environment (Tushman & Scanlan, 1981; Van Meerkerk & Edelenbos, 2014; Van Meerkerk & Edelenbos, 2016; Williams, 2002). However, spanning the boundary between the municipality and the neighbourhood can be difficult and may lead to challenges for the neighbourhood manager. These challenges result from the different and sometimes even conflicting expectations held towards the neighbourhood manager by actors within the municipality and in the neighbourhood. For a neighbourhood manager, these different expectations can lead to role stress. Role stress can be experienced when a person is confronted with multiple expectations that he or she experiences as unclear, inconsistent and incompatible (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek & Rosenthal, 1964; Rizzo, House & Lirtzman, 1970). Two key aspects of role stress are role conflict and role ambiguity. Role conflict is about the incompatibility between expectations in such a way that compliance with all expectations is difficult (Kahn et al., 1964). Role ambiguity is about a lack of and/or uncertainty regarding information and expectations (Rizzo et al., 1970). This study looks at the extent to which neighbourhood managers experience role stress resulting from spanning the boundary between the municipality within which they are working and actors in the neighbourhood. Moreover, the causes and consequences of experiencing role stress have been examined. To this end, organizational, environmental and individual determinants that may be of influence on the level of role stress are studied. In addition, the effect of role stress on both job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance is examined. Following from the above, the research question of this study is formulated as follows: “What is the level of role stress experienced by neighbourhood managers as boundary spanning persons, how can this be explained by organizational, environmental and individual determinants and what is the impact on their job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance?”. The first step towards answering the research question was to study and describe the available literature and to formulate hypotheses. The first body of literature described in this study is on the rise of governance networks. This literature is used to outline the context that creates the need for the boundary spanning activities of neighbourhood managers. Secondly, literature on boundary spanners, boundary spanning behaviour and role stress is described. From the literature on role stress, several determinants are derived that may affect the level of role stress. The organizational determinants that are studied are autonomy, feedback, initiation of structure, leader consideration, co-worker support, team external focus and participation. Two environmental determinants are examined, being environmental dynamism and environmental complexity. Lastly, attention is paid to the individual determinants locus of control, need for clarity and experience. The consequences of role stress are also studied. Two job outcomes are considered in this respect, the first being job satisfaction and the second boundary spanning performance. Based on this literature, a total of 36 hypotheses are formulated. The hypotheses are tested by means of a survey distributed among a total of 401 neighbourhood managers. Of the contacted neighbourhood managers, 236 neighbourhood managers filled in the questionnaire. This corresponds to a response rate of 58.9%. As not all respondents completed the questionnaire entirely, some cases had to be removed. In total, 181 useful cases remained. Various regression analyses are performed in order to examine (1) the direct relationship between the determinants and role stress, (2) the direct relationship between role stress and the job outcomes and (3) the moderating effect of several determinants on the relationship between role stress and both job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance. The results of this study first provide information about the extent to which neighbourhood managers experience role stress. The analyses have shown that neighbourhood managers know relatively well what is expected of them. The level of role ambiguity they experience therefore seems to be moderate. Neighbourhood managers indicated on average that they neither perceive incompatible expectations nor these expectations are not conflicting at al. This finding indicates that they experience role conflict to some extent. In addition, this study examined determinants which may influence the level of role stress and the consequences of role stress for job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance. With regard to the consequences of role stress, role ambiguity appeared to be of greater importance for explaining job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance than role conflict. Role ambiguity was found to have a negative influence on both job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance. What this finding indicates, is that clarity on role expectations is important for neighbourhood managers to perceive their job as pleasant and to perform well. For role conflict, no effect on both job outcomes was found. This may be due to the fact that conflict is inherent in a boundary spanners’ job. As it is simply there, it may not have such a strong impact on the neighbourhood managers’ job satisfaction. With regard to performance, neighbourhood managers seem to be able to learn how to deal with the conflict inherent in their job. This enables them to nevertheless perform well (Behrman & Perreault, 1984). With regard to the determinants, it was found that role ambiguity is mainly explained by organizational determinants. The findings indicate that the level of role ambiguity among neighbourhood managers decreases when they are given autonomy, feedback and the possibility to participate in decision-making. This is a useful finding given the negative impact of role ambiguity on job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance. Higher levels of autonomy, feedback and participation provide neighbourhood managers with information about their performance, which enables them to know what is expected of them. In this respect, they experience role ambiguity to a lesser extent. This will have a positive influence on both job outcomes. Role conflict seems to be mainly explained by environmental determinants. Interestingly, it was found in this study that not so much changes in the number of actors, initiatives and networks in the neighbourhood are of influence on the level of role conflict. An effect was found for the type of environmental dynamism that involves changes in the expectations of actors in the neighbourhood regarding municipal services and the activities of the neighbourhood manager. Only when environmental dynamism is of direct influence on the neighbourhood manager and his or her work activities, this results in a higher level of role conflict. The individual determinants hardly explain role ambiguity and role conflict. Only experience in function appeared to be a predictor variable for role ambiguity and neighbourhood managers with an internal locus of control – i.e. neighbourhood managers who believe that they are largely in control of events that affect them – are found to experience less role overload. The absence of further significant effects is, however, not surprising as findings from previous research into the effects of individual determinants are mixed. With regard to the moderating effect of several determinants on the relationship between role stress and job outcomes, not many effects have been found as well. The most remarkable finding is the moderating effect of co-worker support on the relation between role conflict and job satisfaction. This finding indicates that neighbourhood managers who perceive co-workers support are still likely to be satisfied with their job under conditions of conflicting expectations. In this way, co-worker support provides neighbourhood manager with resources to adapt to role conflict (Stamper & Johlke, 2003). In conclusion, in line with previous research this study shows that organizational determinants have less influence on role conflict than on role ambiguity. This is an interesting finding given the negative impact of role ambiguity on job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance. With regard to the environmental determinants, it was found that only when environmental dynamism has a direct influence on the neighbourhood manager and his or her work activities, this influences the level of role stress the neighbourhood manager experiences. The individual determinants hardly explained role conflict and role stress. With regard to the moderating effects, the most interesting finding is the moderating effect of co-worker support on the relation between role conflict and job satisfaction. The findings provide some useful insights for advice towards neighbourhood managers and their organizations. Neighbourhood managers should first of all be provided with sufficient autonomy, feedback and participation in their work. They should be given the opportunity to take their own initiative and to make decisions independently. Moreover, it is important that sufficient time is available for providing feedback and that neighbourhood managers are 10 involved in relevant meetings and decision-making processes. Providing sufficient autonomy, feedback and participation will decrease the level of role ambiguity among neighbourhood managers, which in turn benefits their job satisfaction and boundary spanning performance. In addition, it is important to ensure that neighbourhood managers are supported by their coworkers, as this reduces the negative effects of role conflict on job satisfaction. In this respect an environment should be created in which employees are willing to support each other. Following these recommendations will result in neighbourhood managers experiencing less stress in their work. Accordingly, they will enjoy their work more and are better able tto perform well on their job.
|Dr. I. van Meerkerk, Prof.dr. J. Edelenbod
|Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Aletta van der Werff. (2019, June 18). Challenges in the work of neighbourhood managers. Public Administration. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/54502