Why does the supervisor relationship have such an impact on knowledge hiding? Individuals tend to generalize the behaviors of their supervisor to their organization as a whole (Zhang & Chen, 2013). This means that an employee's relationship with their supervisor influences their attitude towards the organization and their motivation to share knowledge. Furthermore, these attitudes influence the degree to which individuals identify with their organization. Organizational identification refers to an individual’s sense of belonging within an organization (Loi, Chen, & Lam, 2014). Thus, supervisor relationships influence attitudes towards the organization as a whole, as well as organizational identification.
What aspects of supervisor relationships encourage knowledge sharing as opposed to knowledge hiding? Two aspects stand out: the quality of the supervisor relationship, and how it compares to other supervisor relationships in the organization. Graen & Uhl-Bien (1995) suggest that employees compare the supervisor relationships of their coworkers to understand the quality of their own supervisor relationship. Therefore, the quality of a supervisor relationship, particularly in comparison to others, encourages knowledge sharing.
What is the evidence for the impact of supervisor relationships on knowledge hiding? Zhao et al. (2019) found that the stronger the supervisor relationship, the less likely the individual is to participate in knowledge hiding. Interestingly, this was true for playing dumb and providing incorrect or delayed information, but not for rationalizing knowledge hiding. The latter often reflects the organization’s interests: hiding knowledge from others protects the confidentiality of the organization and its members (Zhao et al., 2019). Consequently, researchers expected to find that a stronger supervisor relationship would increase rationalizing knowledge hiding. In fact, they found no significant relationship between supervisor relationship and rationalizing knowledge hiding. Why? Zhao et al. (2019) suggest that the motivations for rationalizing knowledge hiding are related to ethics, and further research is necessary to explore individuals’ moral identification with their organization.