The Work Relationships of University Professional Services Staff

  • Thea Gibbs

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In an era of increasing complexity and competition, it is essential that universities make effective use of their resources and that staff work collaboratively to address the significant challenges their institutions face. Despite making up more than half the UK university workforce, the role of support services staff receives limited attention in the academic literature. Through a study of the work relationships of university professional services staff, this thesis extends service research and relationship quality literature to develop a deeper understanding of the interpersonal and organisational dynamics of support staff relationships and their contribution to institutional performance. Drawing on theories of relationship quality, trust and social exchange, a conceptual framework provides the basis for the empirical study and theorises the internal service exchange relationship from the point of view of the internal customer and their expectations, experience and outcomes of service engagement. The methodological approach used in this research derives from an interpretivist perspective (e.g. Cresswell 2007). Qualitative research data was gathered through fifty individual semi-structured interviews with participants across three institutions in the UK Midlands region. Findings reveal that internal service quality influences the quality of service universities provide to their external customers, through effects on performance, productivity, co-operation and staff motivation, with both individual and institutional consequences. Organisational context influences how relationships are framed, and shared understandings, common values and mutual interests are the bedrock of effective co-operation between colleagues. Professional services staff are strongly valued when they bring specialist expertise, help reduce administrative and bureaucratic burdens, and use their initiative and problemsolving skills to take responsibility for delivering desired outcomes in partnership with their customers. By combining relationship quality theory with the service perspective, this thesis contributes new knowledge about the dimensions of internal service quality and the dynamics, value and outcomes of relationship quality in internal service exchange.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorNatalia Rocha Lawton (Supervisor), Husni Kharouf (Supervisor) & Philip Dunham (Supervisor)

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