2.1. Theoretical Development
The Expectation states theory (EST) is considered to be one of the interactive theories relating to cooperative activities in social groups [21
]. The main premise of the theory is to assume that individuals are in a task relationship with each other and, on the basis of the available information, formulate expectations for the actions of others in relation to specific tasks [22
]. The behavior of the individual, on the other hand, is the origin of his or her expectations. Moreover, the behaviors reinforce existing expectations.
An important element of EST is the assumption that states of expectations have an episodic nature and become active when a given structure stabilizes. Changes in the environment affect the available information and, as a result, lead to changes in the states of expectation, and thus relate to a certain renegotiation of reality in response to the emerging external condition [23
]. EST explains the issues of social influence in working groups and the role of interactions of team members on their behavior [24
EST refers to groups with a collective goal-oriented approach (for instance in the context of work or school). Collective action implies the formation of expectations about the anticipated behavior of other group members. The behavior of group members is then shaped based on these expectations. As a result, patterns of interchangeable behavior are established within the group. For instance, an employee who demonstrates a contribution to group activities gets more chances to perform. With the increased credibility received from group members and the derived greater scope for action, his/her well-being in the group improves. In other words, positive expectations of the individual lead to specific positive group behavior. Thus, having good relationships with colleagues, leads to the development of positive expectations, subsequently triggering positive group attitudes, leading to higher satisfaction with participation in the group [24
Enabling the exchange of information and providing opportunities for interaction to build positive expectations for employees at work is an important element in ensuring positive group processes during remote work. Both the feedback and support from colleagues on the tasks performed in a remote working setting are the driving force behind group processes in a team.
In the context of organization management, EST provides a theoretical framework to conceptualize the factors that contribute to job satisfaction based on information from the surrounding environment [25
]. EST indicates how performance expectations about others are constructed within the organization based on informational clues [26
]. Indeed, it helps to understand the process of constructing expectations, which determines the behavior of task force members. Based on EST, it becomes possible to explain how employee relationships affect job satisfaction. The interactions and the associated expectation-related consequences are formed as a result of activating events (work task). Following the analysis of available informational clues (relations with co-workers), individuals’ performance expectations are formulated. Next, individuals behave according to their expectations in a given context. Performance expectations are, in this respect, stable structures that determine the relationship between the participants of an interaction [organization] and influence the development of subsequent expectations [27
]. In accordance with EST, job satisfaction is the result of an individual’s expectations of his or her co-workers, established on the basis of the information available in a given context. Consistent with EST, trust in managers, especially with regard to his or her ability to carry out future tasks, fits perfectly into the dynamics of these relationships based on the performance expectation. Thus, EST contributes to a better understanding of these analyzed interrelations.
2.2. Employee Relations and Job Satisfaction
Work satisfaction is most often defined as the positive emotional state resulting from the employee’s professional experience [28
] or the degree of employees’ contentment with their work [29
]. Overall job satisfaction can be seen as a structure that shapes and aggregates satisfaction with certain aspects of work [30
]. Job satisfaction and non-work related satisfaction are seen as two different concepts that explain work-life balance [31
]. Job satisfaction, as one of the aspects of well-being, is thus considered to be a positive attribute of mental health [32
The significance of job satisfaction for both the employee and the organization means that it is still the subject of many studies. The surveys on job satisfaction include the ways of measuring it [33
], its impact on engagement [34
], productivity [35
], company performance [36
], intention to change employment [39
]. Research on remote work indicates that temporarily performing duties away from the workplace can increase employee job satisfaction [40
]. In contrast, research conducted under social isolation and COVID stress suggested that isolation negatively affects remote job satisfaction [41
Job satisfaction is an extremely complex concept, influenced by various factors and their groups. Therefore, job satisfaction is a key factor in the context of the efficient functioning of contemporary organizations. For this reason, a central aspect of the organization’s research are the factors that affect employee satisfaction in the workplace. Satisfaction can be considered at both organizational and individual level. The organizational factors include remuneration, promotion opportunities, communication with superiors and benefits offered to employees. Individual factors influencing job satisfaction are primarily personal values, but also personality and mental health [42
Satisfaction with work is one of the main indicators of the quality of working life, taking into account its impact on the attitude of employees to work, satisfaction of specific needs of employees [43
]. An individual who can talk to his or her colleagues and exchange not only work-related information, but also inquiries about well-being or polite conversation, builds a bond within the team. In turn, the individual has a sense of support and a friendly working environment, which contributes to a positive perception of work.
Studies to date show that social interaction has an important role to play in shaping job satisfaction [44
]. When work is done remotely during the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees feel not only physically isolated but also psychologically isolated. Psychological isolation includes feeling a sense of emotional unfulfillment as a result of insufficient social contact and support [45
]. Hence, in the presented analysis of factors influencing job satisfaction, the aspect concerning mutual relations at work was also considered.
The concept of employee relations (ER) refers to positive relations between two or more persons involved in a social and authoritative relationship in an organizational context [46
].Workers who do the same work, by interacting and communicating with each other, tend to develop the same feelings about certain elements of the work or working conditions. Positive attitudes or frustration and dissatisfaction with work result from the degree to which needs related to work are fulfilled or satisfied [47
]. Employees’ expectations are formulated on the basis of the information obtained regarding the tasks performed. According to the EST theory, the group members use the attributes of others to formulate their expectations of performance [24
]. Positive ER in the workplace are characterized by high quality interaction between employees and supervisors and a sense of community within the organization [48
]. Thanks to the high quality of the ER, the employee has the information resources that are essential for the formulation of his or her expectations. Referring to the EST theory, this study predicts that the ER as part of a wellbeing working environment will lead to an increased sense of job satisfaction. Therefore, this study assumes that there is a link between employee relations and job satisfaction. Hence we propose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1 (H1):
Employees’ relations positively affect job satisfaction.
2.3. The Mediating Role of Trust in Building Job Satisfaction
Trust is a pillar of many areas and processes of organization functioning [49
]. In an organizational context, trust is defined as the mutual relationship between two or more parties [51
]. Trust is considered to be a ‘social bond’ necessary to maintain different organizational structures [52
]. The literature stresses that organizational trust plays a very important role in the functioning of any organization [53
Organizational trust can be analyzed in the inter-organizational and intra-organizational dimension [55
]. In inter-organisational trust studies, the focus is on trust between entities, for example in the supply chain or network of organisations [56
]. Intra-organizational trust focuses on relationships at the workplace. It concerns both mutual relations between employees and relations between employees and their supervisors [57
A specific type of intra-organizational trust is interpersonal trust. Interpersonal trust pertains to the relationship between members of an organization [53
]. Thanks to the trust in colleagues and emotional bonds between them, the employee knows that he or she can count on help/support in solving all kinds of problems, including those related to remote work during the pandemic period [60
]. Employee relations are an important support in the perception of the work environment and the situation of an individual at work.
As both vertical [61
] and horizontal [63
] relationships in the workplace can have an impact on job satisfaction, our research encompasses both trust in co-workers and trust in the employee-manager relationship.
In an organizational context, trust is an effective predictor of positive attitudes and behavior of employees [64
]. The results of previous research indicate that interpersonal trust positively influences the effectiveness and performance within an organization [65
], commitment [66
], collaboration [67
], improving organisational loyalty [68
], resistance to change and reduced stress levels [69
] and a decrease in employee turnover [70
]. In addition, trust activates the learning process by generating social relationships using different communication channels [71
]. In an environment of a high level of trust, a safe working climate is created, employees build long-term relationships, and thus cooperation is strengthened [72
]. In organizations with a high level of mutual trust, employees participate in decision-making processes, feel happy coming to work, are more creative in performing their tasks [73
]. In summary, interpersonal trust determines and improves management processes, influences the nature of interpersonal relationships [75
] and job satisfaction [68
]. These factors may contribute to employees’ resilience to high levels of uncertainty and stress caused by pandemic and remote work [76
]. Hence, it seems that it is the interpersonal trust in the organization that can indirectly strengthen the mental wellbeing of employees based on positive job evaluation.
Interpersonal trust is a dynamic and continuous process, which is based on mutual relations and taking actions to build trust in the organization [77
]. An organization based on trust is an organization that strives to achieve success by actively involving employees [68
]. Trust-supporting work environment, sense of community within the organization helps to build high quality employee relations [48
]. Mutual trust is the basis of good relations in the workplace as well as one of the factors influencing job satisfaction. Hence we hypothesise that:
Hypothesis 2 (H2):
Interpersonal trust mediate the relationship between employee relations and job satisfaction.
In this study, the relationships of the different forms of trust within organizations will also be analyzed: trust in a co-worker and trust in managers in order to illustrate more precisely the mechanisms explaining the analyzed relationships. Therefore, additional partial hypotheses have been derived.
Previous research indicates that trust-based coworkers’ relationship affects job satisfaction [78
]. Moreover, the previous studies indicate the relationship of trust between employees and job satisfaction [79
]. The importance of trust is growing especially in a virtual environment. Collaboration in remote teams is closely linked to the cognitive, social and emotional challenges faced by such teams [80
]. During the pandemic, for many employees, working remotely and collaborating in a virtual team was a new challenge and first-time experience [18
Building a high level of trust is essential to increase the satisfaction of remote working [81
] and the performance of virtual teams [82
]. Based on the perception of interpersonal trust, team members develop a common climate of trust when the views of team members converge [83
]. Moreover, participation in leadership by promoting trust increases satisfaction in virtual teams both directly and indirectly [84
]. The satisfaction of a team directly contributes to the satisfaction of its members, and the increase in individual satisfaction results in an increase in overall team satisfaction [84
]. Trust also plays an important role in moderating the relationship between team members’ perception of the virtual effective use of communication and team performance [85
]. Further, the impact of trust in colleagues on teamwork satisfaction has been indicated [86
]. In view of the data presented above, the following hypothesis can been formulated:
Hypothesis H2a (H2a):
Interpersonal trust in colleagues mediates the relationship between employee relations and job satisfaction.
In a similar vein, empirical data demonstrate that confidence in managers is an important factor contributing to job satisfaction [62
]. Trust in supervisors affects employees’ sense of satisfaction [87
]. Also in the situation of remote work and virtual teams, trust in the e-leader influences job satisfaction [88
]. This means that trust in managers has a significant role to play in shaping job satisfaction. Therefore, a second partial hypothesis was derived, assuming that:
Hypothesis H2b (H2b):
Interpersonal trust in managers mediates the relationship between employee relations and job satisfaction.
To sum up, this study examines the relationship of employee relationships to job satisfaction, based on a parallel mediation model that integrates the roles of interpersonal trust in colleagues and managers.