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Who's The Boss?

LISA TROYER, CHARLES W. MUELLER, PAVEL I. OSINSKY

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Following a role-theoretic perspective, we conceptualize employees who work with customers as brokers between an organization and its customers. This unique organizational position increases the likelihood that its occupants will face conflicting demands from the two constituencies they serve, the organization and the customer. We propose, however, that the work conditions of resource adequacy, role clarity, and autonomy moderate the effect that working with customers has on role conflict. Survey data from 5,811 employees at a national telecommunications firm are used to test these role-theoretic hypotheses. Compared with those who do not work with customers, “customer work” does produce greater role conflict. Also, as hypothesized, when comparing customer work and noncustomer work, role clarity reduces role conflict more for noncustomer workers, whereas autonomy reduces it more for customer workers. Suggestions are offered for additional applications of role theory to the study of employees who work with customers.