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When do frontline service employees feel more grateful?

Ji “Miracle” Qi (Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA)
Sijun Wang (Department of Marketing and Business Law, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, USA)
Michael A. Koerber, Jr (Independent Researcher, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 7 July 2020

Issue publication date: 31 August 2020




Drawing from the social exchange theory, the job demands-resources theory and the employee–organization relationship framework, this article aims to investigate underlying mechanisms through which organizational resources impact frontline service employees’ (FLEs) core service performance and customer-oriented organizational citizenship behavior (OCB).


An empirical study was conducted based on a multi-source data from 211 employee–customer pairs, with structural equation modeling used to test hypotheses.


FLE felt gratitude toward the firm fully mediates the impacts of supervisory guidance and employee-oriented relationship investment in influencing employees’ service performance and customer-oriented OCB. The study further finds that when the perceived job autonomy is low, providing supervisory guidance is more effective in eliciting employee gratitude than employee-oriented relationship investments. In contrast, when the perceived job autonomy is high, employee-oriented relationship investment elicits higher employee gratitude than supervisory guidance.

Research limitations/implications

First, as cross-sectional pair data were used to test the proposed hypotheses, a stronger case might be made for the use of longitudinal data. Second, the current study uses a large variety of industries to study the phenomenon of employee gratitude and customer-oriented performance. Third, given recent globalization trends, it is increasingly important for researchers to address how the knowledge gained within an US context is applicable on a global scale. Finally, the two types of organizational resources included in the study are both positive resources.

Practical implications

The findings offer insights about how firms can strategically invest organizational resources to favorably influence FLE gratitude and customer outcomes as well as how job autonomy plays a role in leveraging the impacts of those resources.


This study is one of the few to advance our understanding of how FLE felt gratitude serves as an intervening mechanism through which functional and social resources invested by service organizations lead to desirable customer outcomes. In addition, this study explores the moderating role of FLE perceived job autonomy, suggesting the contingent nature of organizational resources in affecting customer-oriented FLE behaviors, which was rarely attended in previous research.



Qi, J.“., Wang, S. and Koerber, Jr, M.A. (2020), "When do frontline service employees feel more grateful?", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 54 No. 9, pp. 2107-2137.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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