Job-related stress has become a common experience for employees in today’s workplace. Some significant stressors in the work environment are role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload. Role ambiguity refers to the extent to which an organizational member is unclear about responsibilities, expectations, and evaluations related to his or her position. Role conflict is the experience of inconsistent and contradictory assignments and obligations received from others. Role overload refers to the extent to which one perceives that the amount of assigned work, quantitatively and/or qualitatively, exceeds what he or she can handle with the given resources without compromising quality. Since supervisors interact with employees on a daily basis, leader-member exchange (LMX) quality plays a significant and integral part in shaping the work role of employees. Most previous empirical LMX research lends support to a negative linear association of LMX with role stressors. However, recent studies suggest that a more complex, nonlinear relationship may exist between LMX quality and role stressors.

A survey of 235 immigrant employees revealed differential effects of LMX quality on role stressors. In particular, LMX-role ambiguity was shown to have a negative linear relationship, whereas LMX-role conflict and LMX-role overload both demonstrated a curvilinear relationship. In other words, employees who report lower levels of LMX quality tend to report higher level of perceived role ambiguity. However as LMX quality increases from low to moderate levels, the perceptions of role conflict and role overload increase as well; but each of the role stressors has a critical point at which they reach their highest level; beyond the critical point, as LMX quality continues to rise, the perceptions of role conflict and overload begin to decrease. One explanation is that when relationship quality moves beyond the critical point, leaders and members are in a mature relationship characterized by a greater mutual understanding: Leaders have gained a better understanding of their subordinates’ ability, and, on the other, members have achieved greater tolerance and appreciation for leader’s expectations and work assignments.

Implications for Practice

1) Leaders should understand that different stages of relationship development with followers may require different leader-member communicative practices. 2) Leaders should take efforts to develop quality relationships with followers, which reduces followers’ role ambiguity, and at a certain point also reduces employee role conflict and overload.

Location of Article

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Jian, G. (2014). Revisiting the association of LMX quality with perceived role stressors: Evidence for inverted relationships among immigrant employees. Communication Research41(1), 52-73.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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