Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Employee Social Liability - More Than Just Low Social Capital within the Workplace

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Employee Social Liability - More Than Just Low Social Capital within the Workplace

Article excerpt

The influence of other people in an employee's social networks has long been the subject of research interest from an organisational and psychological perspective. Under the umbrella of positive psychology, there is a rich body of research on positive, pro-social organisational behaviour which generally aims to identify situations that enable optimal human flourishing (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; McDonald & O'Callaghan, 2008; Roberts, 2006). Positive psychology at work focusses on areas such as organisational citizenship (Bolino, Turnley, & Bloodgood, 2002; Wat & Shaffer, 2004), wellbeing (Arnold, Turner, Barling, Kelloway, & McKee, 2007; Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002) and creativity (Appelbaum, Iaconi, & Matousek, 2007). However, while there is a large and ever growing body of research on positive and pro-social organisational behaviour, the last two decades have also seen an explosion of research on negative workplace behaviours. This includes (among others) workplace deviance (Bennett & Robinson, 2000; Hershcovis & Barling, 2010; Lee & Allen, 2002), bullying and harassment (Einarsen, 1999; Einarsen, Hoel, & Notelaers, 2009; Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996), social undermining (Duffy, Ganster, & Pagon, 2002; Duffy, Scott, Shaw, Tepper, & Aquino, 2012), incivility (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Hutton, 2006; Pearson, Anderson, & Wegner, 2001), and aggression and abuse (Hershcovis & Barling, 2010; Neuman & Baron, 2005). While studies using such constructs typically go to some lengths to conceptually define and measure them, there is, nonetheless, a conceptual overlap and redundancy in their definition and measurement. This has led to calls for construct synthesis and reintegration when studying the impact that co-workers have on each other (Chiaburu & Harrison, 2008).

In answering this call, we draw on the notion of social capital (Adler & Kwon, 2002) as a theoretical framework with which to consider the many and varied ways employees impact one another, both positively and negatively. Social capital in the workplace is a construct that has received a great deal of recent attention in both the academic and practitioner literature, having been of interest to researchers for several decades (for example; Adler & Kwon, 2002; Andrews, 2010; Behtoui & Neergaard, 2012; Carr, Cole, Ring, & Blettner, 2011; Lazarova & Taylor, 2009; Maurer, Bartsch, & Ebers, 2011; Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998; Oldroyd & Morris, 2012; Zahra, 2010). Social capital is a broad, multilevel term and, as such, has been described as an attribute of nations and geographic regions (Fukuyama, 1995), communities (Jacobs, 1961; Putnam, 1995), organisations (Leana & VanBuren, 1999) and individuals (Coleman, 1988; Coleman, 1990; Kouvonen et al., 2006; Labianca & Brass, 2006; Portes, 1998). However, in spite of this large body of research, evidence remains sparse on social capital as it pertains to the work context specifically. Given the amount of time that workers in the global economy spend at work, as opposed with interaction with neighbours or friends, this is an important gap (Suzuki et al., 2010).

Although social capital has been defined in many different ways, most researchers generally agree that relationships, networks, and norms are important dimensions of the concept. According to one view (the social cohesion definition), social capital is conceptualised as a group attribute and analysed in terms of those features of social relationships that facilitate collective action for mutual benefit. It is, therefore, seen as a characteristic of social groups rather than individuals (Kawachi, 1999); being derived from shared experiences which, in turn, foster mutual trust and reciprocity (Shortt, 2004). In contrast, the network theory of social capital holds that, because it is created in the connections among and between individuals, social capital is an asset of the individual (Coleman, 1988; Coleman, 1990; Kouvonen et al. …

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