Study Examines Impact of Future Relational Self on Employee-Supervisor Relationship - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

Summary of:

Morandin, G., Russo, M., & Bergami, M. (2021). Imagining the newcomer–supervisor relationship: Future relational self in the workplace. Human Resource Management Journal, 1-15.

Background & Theory:

For incoming employees, the future work self is the conceptual hoped-for self that one will actualize at their future job. Many past studies have focused on the effects of the future work self on organizational outcomes, finding many positive outcomes. However, no research has been conducted on the future relational self (FRS) which encapsulates the relational dimension of one’s future work self (i.e. how the incoming employee envisions interactions with supervisors). This study focuses on how FRS and its potential achievability shapes incoming employees ability to adapt to organizational social dynamics and develop role clarity.


Research was conducted by Gabriele Morandin et al. to answer the following questions:

    1. Is having a clear understanding of one’s future relational self (FRS) and perceiving it to be easily attainable positively related to leader-member exchange (LMX) quality?
      In other words, does having a clear understanding of one’s future relational self and perceiving it to be an easily attainable goal lead to the level of quality of a relationship with the supervisor?
    2. Does LMX quality mediate the relationship between FRS (salience and attribution of control) and adjustment process (role clarity & social adjustment)?
      In other words, does the quality of the relationship with a supervisor determine the ability of an employee’s future relational self to affect their social adjustment and role clarity in the workplace?


The researchers utilized samples of recently hired but not yet working participants. Data were collected via a survey in three waves, each wave a month apart. The first wave was conducted before the newcomers entered the workforce, with 364 participants completing the survey. The second wave was conducted 4 weeks after the newcomers had started their jobs, with 278 participants completing the survey. The third wave was completed 4 weeks after the second wave (8 weeks after starting their jobs) and 215 participants completed the survey. Previously validated five-point scales were used to measure FRS salience and attribution of control, LMX quality, and Newcomers’ adjustment.


Data analysis resulted in the following findings: First, the authors found a positive relationship between the attribution of control of FRS (how easily it can be attained) and LMX quality. However, no such relationship was found between FRS salience and LMX quality. In other words, employees that believe their future relational self is easily attainable (i.e. a high-quality relationship with the supervisor), this will translate to higher quality employee-supervisor interactions. However, the clarity of this future relational self does not necessarily impact these results. These results suggest that an employee’s belief of the attainability of their future relational self is the primary variable shaping the actual quality of employee-supervisor exchange.

Additionally, the authors found that LMX quality mediates the effect of FRS’s attribution of control on social adjustment and role clarity. In other words, having a high quality relationship with a supervisor is an underlying factor that helps an employee with a positive and mentally attainable future relational self, adjust better to the organization (via social adjustment and role clarity).

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:

  • In short, employees who envision a positive relationship with their future supervisor and see this goal as attainable, will actualize this imagined future, creating a high-quality relationship with their supervisor. This relationship is an important underlying mechanism that explains how their imagined future affects their adjustment to the organization.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: The authors note that dedicating time towards the future relational self in trainings and onboarding processes may be beneficial considering the findings of this study.

For Everyone: This study suggests it is important for recently hired employees to reflect on what they want their relationship with their supervisor to look like, as doing so can impact their actual relationship with their supervisor as they begin their job.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and holds a Master's in Dispute Resolution from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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