Emotional and Informational Social Support: Exploring Contrasting Influences on Human Resource Management Innovation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Previous research has chiefly studied the emotional aspect of social support and limited its role to coping assistance, which is defined as actions taken by significant others to help individuals deal with stressful events. This positive effect of social support has been demonstrated in numerous studies in the areas of medicine and health (Dormann & Zapf, 1999; Uchino, Cacioppo, & KiecoltGlaser, 1996). However, relatively few studies have investigated the effect(s) of social support in the work environment. In this vein, some studies have shown that social support helps to reduce stress and the ancillary effects of stress in the workplace (Jonge, et al, 2001; Ducharme & Martin, 2000).

This study proposes that the benefits of social support may go well beyond coping. When people have problems they often seek help from other people. We examine both emotional and informational social support in the investigation of the interpersonal aspects of organizational innovation, specifically human resource management innovations.

LITERATURE REVIEW

McIntosh (1991) defines general social support as the resources a person receives, actual or perceived, that increase the sense of well being of the receiver. This definition assumes people must rely on one another to meet certain needs. Similarly, Shumaker and Brownell, (1984) defined social support as an exchange of resources by two individuals, a giver and a receiver, to increase the well being of the receiver.

House (1981) delineated two types of social support, or supportive behaviors, as emotional and informational support. Emotional support is defined as behaviors that show care for the employees and their work (House, 1981). Listening, providing empathy, and showing concern are acts of emotional support. Conversely, informational support means providing a person with information that can be used to handle personal and environmental problems (House, 1981). Informational support, unlike instrumental support, involves providing employees with information that they can use to help themselves (House, 1981). Examples of informational support include advice, guidance, suggestions, directives and information. The relevance of the source and types of support is dependent upon the persons involved and the kind of support required by them.

The interpersonal aspects of organizational innovation have been mainly ignored in the literature. The Academy of Management Journal's (1996) special issue on innovations and organizations curiously had no articles addressing the behavioral aspects of innovation. Most research on innovation has focused on the adoption or diffusion of innovations (Abrahamson, 1991; Abrahamson & Rosenkopf, 1993; Rogers, 1962; 1995). Rogers (1962) defined the diffusion process as the spread of a new idea from the initial awareness of an innovation to its adoption by users. However, the essence of the diffusion process is the human interaction in which one person communicates a new idea to another person. When faced with problems, people turn to others as one of their sources for information. People are influenced by their relationships with others; therefore the social relationship between people may be instrumental in the decision that is made. This relationship should also influence decisions that are consequently made about the innovation. The theory of problem solving behavior (Tallman, Gray, & Stafford, 1993) addresses the process of problem solving by explaining how a person becomes aware of a problem, and addressing when and why people choose certain actions to solve a problem. Thus, the theory of problem solving behavior also differentiates between coping with a problem and solving it.

Although not all innovations are the result of pending problems, this research is limited to those innovations resulting from decision-makers' uncertainty regarding how to resolve problems. …