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Employee Social Liability – More than just low social capital within the workplace

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Abstract

We describe a construct termed employee social liability (ESL); the antithesis of employee social capital. A conceptualisation of social liability does not yet exist and is the aim of this paper. We propose that ESL arises from workplace social networks and comprises of four distinct components: negative behaviour from others, distrust of others, unwanted social demands on resources, and a lack of reciprocity. Social networks, therefore, include some relationships that build an employee’s social capital, others that create social liabilities and some relationships that might do both. An individual can, therefore, have high or low levels of capital and many or few liabilities. We propose that employees with high social capital and relatively few social liabilities should also have improved well-being and performance outcomes.
Employee Social Liability More than just low social capital
within the workplace
RACHEL MORRISON* and KEITH MACKY**
Abstract
We describe a construct termed employee social liability (ESL); the antithesis of employee
social capital. A conceptualisation of social liability does not yet exist and is the aim of this
paper. We propose that ESL arises from workplace social networks and comprises of four
distinct components: negative behaviour from others, distrust of others, unwanted social
demands on resources, and a lack of reciprocity. Social networks, therefore, include some
relationships that build an employee’s social capital, others that create social liabilities and
some relationships that might do both. An individual can, therefore, have high or low levels
of capital and many or few liabilities. We propose that employees with high social capital and
relatively few social liabilities should also have improved well-being and performance
outcomes.
Key words: Organisational relationships, social capital, social liability, engagement, well-
being, careers, network
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), well-being (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).
** Rachel Morrison teaches undergraduate and post graduate Organisational Behaviour in the Management
Department within Faculty of Business and Law. AUT University, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1142, New
Zealand
**** Keith Macky has had a long career in both academia and the consulting industry. Business and Enterprise,
MAINZ Campus, Tai Poutini Polytechnic, PO Box 90113 Auckland 1142, NZ
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., 2006; Labianca & Brass, 2006; Portes, 1998). Our conceptualisation of
social capital and liability, like that of Labianca and Brass (2006) and others, focusses on
individuals’ positions within social networks and the potential to improve their own
outcomes, as well as those of their group, because of these social contacts (Burt, 2000;
Coleman, 1990).
Although scholars have focussed on the benefits accrued from acquiring social capital, both
in and out of the workplace, very little attention has been given to the potential all employees
have to also acquire “liabilities” in their social and workplace networks. The aim of this
paper, therefore, is to extend the concept of social capital to incorporate the potential
liabilities that might accrue to individuals from their social network. First, we review the
extant views on social capital at the individual employee level of analysis. A conceptual
differentiation is then made between social capital and social liability, with the latter defined
and expanded upon. Proposed antecedents and consequences of social liabilities are then
explored, and a model to guide future research is presented. The paper ends with a discussion
of the potential impact and importance on this construct for individuals and organisations.
Defining Employee Social Capital and Liability
Employee Social Capital
Sobel (2002) takes an individual, economic view of social capital, stating that social capital
describes “circumstances in which individuals can use membership in groups and
networks to secure benefits” (Sobel, 2002, p.139). This reflects the definition of Pierre
Bourdieu (1986) who states
Social capital is an attribute of an individual in a social context. One can acquire
social capital through purposeful actions and can transform social capital into
conventional economic gains. The ability to do so, however, depends on the nature of
the social obligations, connections, and networks available to you.
Glaeser, Laibson and Sacerdote (2002) also take an individual perspective but seem to
confuse antecedents of social capital with social capital itself stating:
we define individual social capital as a person’s social characteristics including
social skills, charisma, and the size of his Rolodex – which enable him to reap
market and non-market returns from interactions with others. (Glaeser, Laibson, &
Sacerdote, 2002, p. F438).
While individual characteristics may indeed make social capital easier to acquire, they are
best thought of as antecedents to acquiring genuine social capital but with no guarantee that
the returns will be obtained (in the same way that one may own a business but that venture
may not make money).
Thus, employee social capital can be taken to be the sum of the resources that accrue to an
individual, by virtue of possessing networks (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Most people are
embedded in social situations and can, therefore, take advantage of the wider social relations
in which their ties are embedded. We are specifically looking at the workplace as the context
for the ties and are, therefore, focussing on individual employees as the level of analysis. If
an individual’s social capital is his/her network of social connections that assist them in
functioning in society (Coleman, 1990), we can, therefore, define employee social capital as:
An employee’s network of social connections that provides resources that enhance
functioning at work (i.e. in their role as employees), assisting in achieving goals and
likely to improve health and well-being.
Workplace social capital is generally conceptualised as comprising two constructs: trust and
reciprocity (Kouvonen et al., 2006; Suzuki et al., 2010), and as being on a continuum from
low to high. Therefore, employees with high levels of trust and reciprocity in their workplace
relationships and social networks would be said to have high levels of social capital. Duffy et
al. (2012; p. 644), state “…to thrive in work contexts, individuals must develop social capital,
make high-quality connections with capable others, and maintain some positive standing in
the work environment.”
Trust
While trust remains a construct that lacks a universally accepted definition in organisational
research, there is agreement that it is a psychological state with both affective and
motivational components (Kramer, 1999). As an affective psychological state, trust (or lack
thereof) is seen as developing from people’s experiences over time, of how they have been
treated or have seen others treated. Trust develops when the actions of others are expected to
be beneficial or at least not harmful to one’s own interests (Robinson, 1996). Trust also
invokes conceptions of benevolence, predictability and fairness (Cunningham & MacGregor,
2000).
Mayer, Davis & Schoorman (1995) state trust is the willingness of a party to be vulnerable
to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other party will perform a
particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that
other party.” For the individual, having trust in others reflects social capital in the sense that
there is an expectation that others’ behaviours will be beneficial to the self. Trust is, therefore,
both an input to and an outcome of relationships. As a socio-emotional outcome of
interpersonal relationships trust becomes, as Kramer (1999) points out, an important
precursor to increased cooperation, altruism and extra-role behaviours between organisational
members. Such behaviours in turn help sustain a climate of trust where, according to social
exchange theory (Blau, 1964; Emerson, 1976, 1987), employees respond in kind with
behaviours that further sustain trust and commitment.
Reciprocity
The second component of social capital is reciprocity, measured by items such as, “would
you say that most of the time people in your company try to be helpful, or that they are
mostly just looking out for themselves? (Suzuki et al., 2010; p. 1368). People will often
evaluate their relationships, particularly workplace relationships, in terms of investments
(such as time spent, effort, and support offered) and outcomes (such as support received and
favours granted). A central proposition of equity theory (Adams, 1965; Blau, 1964) is that
people have a tendency to seek reciprocity in relationships and will become depressed or
distressed if they perceive the relationship to be inequitable (Bakker, Schaufeli, Demerouti,
Janssen, Van der Hulst & Brouwer, 2000). Reciprocity exists when a person’s investments
and outcomes in a given relationship are proportional to the investments and outcomes of the
other person (Bakker et al., 2000).
Employee Social Liability
In this section we seek to introduce Employee Social Liability (ESL) as it relates to the
accrual of, not resources, but “liabilities”. While social capital represents the benefits an
individual accrues from their social network and the positive relationships they have with
others (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), we propose that employees also have social liabilities
which imply increased constraints or demands on resources in order to manage negative,
taxing, or distracting relationships at work. Liabilities are those members of one’s network
who, intentionally or unintentionally, pose a hindrance to their functioning and achievements
at work. We build upon Labianca and Brass (2006), who defined liabilities in terms of
individual negative relationships (or ties) as “the linear combination of strength, reciprocity,
cognition, and social distance of each negative tie, summed across all negative ties.” (p. 599).
We extend this to look at employee social liabilities in terms of workplace and individual
outcomes, as any relationship (positive or negative) that hinders functioning at work, detracts
from achieving goals, or which negatively impacts on health and well-being. Importantly,
these relationships may or may not be ‘negative ties’ per se; a distracting, time consuming but
otherwise friendly colleague could be a liability, and so too could a close friend whom most
others in a social network despise. Further, we widen the focus to all organisational
relationships (comprised of other employees, colleagues, clients, supervisors, etc.) and
propose that an employee’s experience of and exposure to negative or unhelpful workplace
behaviours or individuals will contribute to the acquisition of social liabilities.
Employee social liability (ESL) can be thought of the antithesis of social capital in the
workplace. Related to the definition offered for of social capital, in the current paper we
therefore define employee social liability as: “An employee’s network of social connections
that hinder them in their functioning at work, detracting from achieving goals and likely to
negatively impact their health and well-being.”
ESL is a composite construct that we propose is comprised of four components. We see social
liabilities arising from a range of situations within an employee’s social network, some of
which may be temporary, giving rise to transient social liabilities, while others are more
endemic and serve as a more sustained source of hindrance, distraction, and stress. These
situations include having negative relationships and interactions with others, dealings that are
characterised by a lack of reciprocity and low cooperation, individuals that engender distrust,
people who serve as distractions from one’s tasks or who are otherwise unhelpful, and those
who display, at different times, varying combinations of such qualities. A social network can,
therefore, be (or become) dysfunctional in many ways. For example, there may be negative
relational norms (such as non-disclosure, favouritism, undermining, or sabotage), it could
contain individuals with whom negative relationships exist, or where there is a lack of trust
and/or reciprocity. We propose that social networks with such features, instead of adding to
an individual’s social capital, can instead be considered a social liability.
Expanding on the above, we propose that ESL is a higher level construct made up of four
components, which are:
1. distrust and suspicion of colleagues,
2. lack of reciprocity and cooperation from colleagues,
3. exposure to negative relationships and/or interactions at work, and
4. high social demand and interpersonal distractions at work.
The first two components are closely (negatively) related to existing social capital measures
(trust and reciprocity) but the second two would be unique to the higher level ESL construct.
Each is described below. And are shown graphically in Figure 1 (Path 1 to Path 4).
Figure 1: Relations among ESL, individual differences (the person), organisational climate
(the organisation), and organisational consequences (the outcomes).
1. Distrust in work relationships (Path 1)
Because the actions of others may generate perceptions of vulnerability or threat, it is then
reasonable to suggest that individuals will become defensive of the self if they have
distrusting relationships with others. We, therefore, see distrusting relationships as a form of
social liability for the individual. This liability is a function of the extent to which individuals
perceive the behaviour of others as (a) threatening or increasing a sense of vulnerability; (b)
harmful to one self-interests; (c) undermining their efforts and competency it the job; and (d)
unfair, self-serving, and unsupportive.
Research into trust and distrust in organisations is not new. Salient here is the early work of
Deutsch (1960) who differentiates between trust and distrust, conceptualising trust as an
individual’s confidence in the intentions of a relationship partner as well as the belief that a
relationship partner would behave as they hoped. Deutsch viewed distrust as, not simply a
lack of trust, but rather as actual suspicion; confidence about a relationship partner’s
undesirable behaviour. Distrust “entails a state of perceived vulnerability or risk that is
derived from individuals’ uncertainty regarding the motives, intentions, and prospective
actions of others on whom they depend” (Kramer, 1999, p.517).
Therefore, distrust is understood to be the belief that others will not act in one’s best interests
and further, may even engage in potentially injurious behaviour (Govier, 1994). We include
these elements in our concept of distrust and, if present, they will likely be a source of social
liabilities in the employee’s workplace social network.
2. Lack of reciprocity and low cooperation from colleagues (Path 2)
As previously stated, trust is an important precursor to reciprocity and cooperation between
organisational members. Such behaviours, in turn, help sustain a climate of trust where,
according to social exchange theory (Blau, 1964; Emerson, 1962, 1987), employees respond
in kind with trusting, committed behaviours. On the other hand, if employees experience
distrust they will likely also believe that colleagues will not reciprocate favours, and
cooperation will be low, negatively impacting on productivity and goal attainment.
Those within a social network who do not reciprocate or who act uncooperatively will
contribute to social liability for their colleagues. The implication is that, because things done
for others will not be reciprocated, this creates a sunk social cost that will never generate a
return. Low cooperation means you cannot ask others to help out, leading to a climate of low
social support in the network which adds to the demands on an employee rather than acting as
a resource.
3. Exposure to negative relationships and interactions at work (Path 3)
Labianca and Brass (2006) proposed negative social capital (negative relationships with
others that detract from work and well-being) as being important when examining social
networks. Negative social relationships are characterised by the intensity of dislike an
employee has towards or perceives from others in their collegial relationships. Further, these
authors maintain that these negative relationships can have greater power than positive
relationships to explain workplace outcomes (Labianca & Brass, 2006)).
In terms of negative interactions, ambivalent relationships (or frenemies); i.e., relationships
characterised by both positivity and negativity have been found to be among the most
stressful to manage (Duffy et al., 2002; Uchino, Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Bloor, 2004; Uchino,
Holt-Lunstad, Uno, & Flinders, 2001). Although it would be nice to think that supportive and
friendly relationships would not also be undermining, research suggests the opposite; that
people often experience both support and conflict or undermining from the same person
(Duffy et al., 2002; Duffy et al., 2012; Gottlieb & Wagner, 1991). When interactions with
others in your social network are inconsistent, this can result in perceptions of relational
insecurity as well as a lack of control, trust, and predictability in the relationships (Duffy et
al., 2002).
Duffy et al., (2012) investigated undermining in the context of envy in the workplace,
hypothesising that when employees experience envy, they will be more likely to engage in
undermining behaviours, so long as they are also relatively less psychologically connected
(socially identified) with their colleagues and are not prevented by strong norms discouraging
undermining. Duffy, et al., (2002) conducted a study where police officers filled out a survey
about how often their closest colleagues undermined and/or supported them. Officers who
felt undermined were, unsurprisingly, less committed at work, experienced more physical
health problems and were more likely to take unauthorised breaks and be absent from work.
Being undermined was a major source of stress, and when the underminer was also, at other
times, supportive, recipients experienced even lower commitment, had more health issues,
and missed comparatively more work.
An explanation for this is that when a colleague is a consistently selfish or undermining,
individuals know what to expect, and can devise strategies for minimising interactions and
avoiding collaboration. But if that colleague takes in some situations and gives in others, it is
harder to avoid the relationship altogether, Duffy et al., (2002) state “…it takes more
emotional energy and coping resources to deal with individuals who are inconsistent in their
provision of support and undermining behaviors” (p. 337). Such resource expenditures, we
argue, go beyond merely subtracting from one’s pool of capital, but instead create on-going
liabilities with one’s workplace social network that saps resources in the form of time,
emotional energy, and cognitive load.
4. Distraction and other social demands (Path 4)
One potential cost to an individual with high capital comes from the proportionally greater
number of requests from others in their social network for advice and information. They are
the “thought leaders” and “experts” and people turn to them for help (Oldroyd & Morris,
2012). For example, Oldroyd and Morris cite Grove (1983: 67), who describes the constant
request for information and advice received by managers as “the plague of managerial work.”
Similarly, Perlow (1999) demonstrates that frequent coworker interruptions experienced by
high performing, visible software engineers ultimately led to what she calls a “time famine”;
they had too many information requests and could no longer properly perform their jobs. The
other source of social demand is from time wasters, chatters and distracters. In a study of
managerial attitudes to workplace friendships, 17 per cent of managers felt that these
relationships resulted in distraction from work and over half believed that they caused or
contributed to gossip (Berman, West, & Richter, 2002). It is possible that workplace designs
that allow for distracting and unwanted interpersonal interactions, such as ‘hot-desking’ and
open plan offices, will increase employee social liabilities. Maintaining interpersonal
relationships in these contexts potentially generates social process losses at the expense of job
task achievement.
It is worth noting that Berman et al. (2002) differentiate between “close” friendships and
“casual” friendships at work. Casual friendships tend to require less maintenance and involve
fewer distractions than close or best friends, thus, they may provide a sounding board,
promote teamwork, and help to accomplish work-related tasks without the distraction or
obligations to spend time that are associated with best friends (Berman et al., 2002). We
propose that the very close friends in one’s social network, though they may provide the
greatest social capital, also contribute relatively more to an employee’s social liability
because of the additional demands such friends can place on resources.
A two factor theory
Thus, in any given social network, there will be some relationships that build social capital,
and other relationships that create a liability (or even relationships that may be beneficial but,
at times, might become a liability). We propose, therefore, that an individual will have some
measureable amount of both capital and liability. Increasing the former while reducing the
latter should improve individual well-being. It is not a “zero sum” game; we do not suggest
that social liability necessarily detracts from social capital. Indeed, high levels of both would
be extraordinarily resource consuming (in terms of managing both positive and negative
relationships). Low levels of both would not help, but neither would it necessarily hinder an
employee’s organisational life, other than being excluded from potentially valuable social
networks (Putnam, 1995). Figure 2 shows our proposed matrix. Employees can be placed
within any of the four areas depending on the level of social capital and liability and the
implication of this is described below.
Figure 2: Proposed ESL / ESC matrix structure
1. Low Social Capital / High Social Liability
This is the “worst” scenario for an employee. They may be part of a dysfunctional work
group or team, with no reciprocity and distrust (low social capital) as well as negative
relational norms (such as non-disclosure, undermining, and conflict). Team members may be
low status, unskilled and poorly networked (i.e., be able to offer little in the way of useful
connections or information). There may also be some relatively enjoyable relationships that
do little but distract from work (i.e., chatting, non-work activities, and gossip). There may
also be people in the network who dislike or are in competition with the individual, and who
engage in non-disclosure, favouritism, bullying or sabotage (high social liability).
2. High Social Capital / High Social Liability
This scenario would potentially be very consuming in terms of emotion, effort and time. This
person may be part of a well-functioning work group or team, there would probably be
reciprocity and trust among some of the members (high social capital) and possibly some
positive relational norms (such as information sharing and cooperation). The network would
include visible, high status, skilled and well networked individuals (i.e., “useful”
connections). However, there may also be some relationships that do little but distract from
work (chatting, non-work activities, gossip) or that are valuable but “expensive” in terms of
effort and time. There may also be people in the network who dislike one another or are in
competition, and who engage in non-disclosure, favouritism, bullying or sabotage.
3. Low Social Capital / Low Social Liability
Someone with this type of network would probably be part of a dysfunctional work group or
team, or alternatively would be quite socially isolated at work, perhaps in a virtual or nominal
team with little interaction or task interdependence. People would perhaps work
independently of and isolated from others. There would be low reciprocity and distrust (low
social capital) as well as negative relational norms (such as non-disclosure, favouritism,
bullying or sabotage). This may also describe loners in organisations who actively withdraw
from joining social networks; or who may be highly task focussed and prefer to work alone.
Team members, if any, may be low status, unskilled and poorly networked and, though the
team members do not actively work against one another, neither do they distract from work.
4. High Social Capital / Low Social Liability
This is the “best” scenario. This person will be part of a well-functioning work group or team.
Members would be trusting, and effort and interactions would be reciprocal. There would be
positive relational norms (such as information sharing and cooperation). Team members
would probably be visible, productive, high status, skilled and well networked, easily able to
provide benefits to one another at work and, perhaps, in a wider social context. The team
members do not actively work against one another, nor do they distract from work,
interpersonal interaction is positive, useful and work-related.
In sum, we propose that high employee social liability is qualitatively different from “low
social capital”, and that being able to conceptualise and measure it within a workplace
context will be useful both from an individual (working well-being) and organisational
(organisational climate, productivity) perspective.
In the section that follows, we examine the relations among employee social liability and
organisational issues including, cohesion, engagement, career success, organisational climate,
well-being, and performance.
Antecedents to Employee Social Liability (ESL) in Organisations
The antecedents of ESL will originate from two sources, the individual and the organisation.
We propose that some people, as a result of their personality, social skills and/or work related
behaviour will go through life acquiring relatively more liabilities. These are perhaps those
individuals that others would describe as being less “likable”. In addition, there are
organisational factors beyond interpersonal interactions; the wider organisational context or
climate will either support or supress various behaviours of organisational members. There
may be zero tolerance for the social demands of off-task communication, others may allow,
or even encourage, competition between employees, and still others encourage trusting and
collaborative workplace behaviour. All will be likely to have an impact on whether a
particular employee will acquire liabilities as a result of their behaviour.
Failure to manage / maintain high quality relationships
The primary antecedent to the presence or acquisition of social liabilities is likely to be
characteristics in an individual that relate to skill in, and focus on, maintaining good and long
lasting interpersonal relationships or, more precisely, a lack thereof. That is to say,
characteristics related to having “low quality” relationships in one’s social network.
Relationship quality has been measured in numerous ways by organisational researchers in
the last 50 years (e.g., Carmeli, Brueller, & Dutton, 2009; Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975;
Duchon, Green, & Taber, 1986; Sias, 2005; Wat & Shaffer, 2004). At a peer or collegial level
is thought to be a product of variables, such as trust, support and self-disclosure (Kram &
Isabella, 1985; Odden & Sias, 1997; Sias, 2005; Sias & Cahill, 1998), at the supervisor /
subordinate level, it is most commonly measured in the context vertical dyad linkage
(Dansereau et al., 1975; Duchon et al., 1986) and leader member exchange (LMX) and is a
function of reciprocal influence, extra contractual behaviour exchange, mutual trust, respect
and liking, and a sense of common fate (Deluga & Perry, 1994; Dienesch & Liden, 1986;
Gerstner & Day, 1997; Graen, Novak, & Sommerkamp, 1982; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995;
Kang & Stewart, 2007; Schriesheim, Castro, & Cogliser, 1999). The three antecedents that
we propose will impact on the quality of work relationships are personality, emotional
intelligence and deviant workplace behaviours. Each is described below.
1. Personality
The Big Five personality dimensions (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion,
agreeableness and emotional stability) predict how we operate within relationships, both in
and out of the workplace. Agreeable people have been found to be relatively more
considerate, forgiving, nurturing, and tolerant, while disagreeable people are more likely to
be inconsiderate, vengeful, argumentative, and uncooperative (Colbert, Mount, Harter, Witt,
& Barrick, 2004). Therefore it seems likely that disagreeable individuals will be more likely
to engage negatively with others in the workplace, exhibit interpersonally deviant behaviour
and, as a result, acquire social liabilities (Mount, Barrick, & Stewart, 1998).
Conscientiousness, along with agreeableness, is thought to play a role in emotional regulation
in both interpersonal and work settings (Larsen, 2000; Salovey & Mayer, 1990) and
extraversion, and neuroticism have been found to influence the likelihood that individuals
will experience negative emotions, with those scoring as both introverted and high in
neuroticism being more likely to experience negative mood (Larsen, 2000; Larsen &
Ketelaar, 1989; Larsen & Ketelaar, 1991).
The recent literature on maladaptive personality in both clinical (Krueger, Derringer,
Markon, Watson, & Skodol, 2012) and workplace (Guenole, 2014) settings also informs our
propositions here. Given that maladaptive personality reflects the very extremes of normal-
range personality constructs, it may occur too infrequently to be of use in predicting ESL
widely, nonetheless, it gives weight to our proposition regarding the relationship between the
Big Five and failure to create and maintain high quality relationships (Dilchert, Ones, &
Krueger, 2014).
Proposition 1 and 2: Those with low emotional stability (negative affect), low
extraversion (detachment), low agreeableness (antagonism), low conscientiousness
(disinhibition), and high openness (psychoticism) will be more likely to both engage in
deviant behaviours (Path 5), and also to fail in creating and maintaining high quality
relationships (Path 6) (See Figure 1).
2. Emotional Intelligence
In the context of acquiring social liabilities, we are interested in the skills or characteristics of
the individual that are likely to influence the initiation, management and maintenance of high
quality relationships. Social and emotional competence are the most obvious antecedents to
these abilities and the theory of emotional intelligence proposed by Salovey and Mayer
(1990) provides a framework to examine these competencies. Emotional intelligence (as
measured by the MEIS or the MSCEIT) has been found to be related to increased pro-social
behaviour and positive peer relationships (Mayer, 1998; Salovey, Mayer, Caruso, & Lopes,
2001), and to negatively predict poor relations with friends, maladjustment and negative
behaviour, particularly for males (Brackett, Mayer, & Warner, 2004). Consequently, we
expect to find emotional intelligence to the negatively related to effective relationship
creation and maintenance.
Proposition 3: Those with low emotional intelligence, particularly the factors associated
with social competence, will have more low quality relationships and/or negative
relationships, fewer high quality relationships and consequently relatively higher levels of
social liabilities (Path 7).
3. “Bad” behaviours
Bad or deviant behaviour in the workplace has received a great deal of attention from
scholars in recent years (Bennett & Robinson, 2000; Griffin & Lopez, 2005; Lee & Allen,
2002; Robinson & Bennett, 1995). Deviant behaviour can be defined as “…voluntary
behavior that violates significant organizational norms and in so doing threatens the well-
being of an organization, its members, or both (Robinson & Bennett, 1995; p. 556). It
includes verbal abuse, such as being quarrelsome (Albert & Moskowitz, 2014; Moskowitz,
2010) and aggressive (Hershcovis & Barling, 2010; Neuman & Baron, 2005), highly
politicised activity, such as favouritism and gossip, withholding work effort, physical
violence, bullying (Einarsen, 1999; Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996; Gardner et al., 2013), sexual
harassment and even sabotage (Griffin & O’Leary-Kelly, 2004). Deviant behaviours which
impact on the quality and quality of collegial relationships are termed interpersonal deviance
whereas those which are more directly harmful to the organisation, such as working on
personal matters, stealing from the organisation or “slacking off” at work, are termed
organisational deviance (Bennett & Robinson, 2000).
Thus, not all deviant behaviour is related to interpersonal interaction so, as well as having a
profound negative impact on the quality of collegial relationships, it is reasonable to assume
that individuals engaging in organisational deviance would also acquire relatively more social
liabilities in their networks through the negative perceptions their colleagues would have of
their behaviour (i.e., stealing from the organisation, dragging out work to get overtime or
spending too much time day-dreaming) (Bennett & Robinson, 2000).
Proposition 4 and 5: “Bad” behaviour will be related to deficits in creating and
maintaining high quality relationships (Path 8) and there is also a proposed direct link from
bad behaviour to employee social liabilities (Path 9).
Taken together (propositions 1-5) predict a relationship between the individual level factors
and relationship quality / maintenance. As stated earlier, we propose that this higher level
construct will be a key predictor of ESL.
Proposition 6: The failure to manage / maintain high quality relationships will predict
whether or not employees acquire social liabilities at work (Path 10)
Organisational climate
Organisational climate can be defined as the shared perceptions and meaning attached to
policy, practice and procedures, as well as the specific organisational behaviours that are
rewarded, supported and expected (Schneider, Ehrhart, & Macey, 2013). Alternatively, it can
be conceptualised as the degree of trust, morale, conflict, equity, leader credibility, resistance
to change, and scapegoating (Burton, Lauridsen, & Obel, 2004). We propose a two-way,
interactive relationship between employee social liabilities and organisational climate,
whereby a poor organisational climate will create an environment conducive to the existence
of (or at least one tolerant of) negative relationships, bullies and deviant behaviours (Vartia,
1996). In addition, it is likely that a workplace where people are working against one another
and acting in ways detrimental to their colleagues’ careers and well-being (i.e. social
liabilities) will be one that would be characterised as having a negative climate.
Proposition 7: Increased ESL in a workplace will have an impact on the organisational
climate in an organisation, in addition, more negative or toxic climates will foster relatively
more ESLs for employees (Path 11).
Consequences of Employee Social Liability
1. Well-being
Employee well-being is a multi-dimensional construct that goes well beyond job satisfaction
to include notions, such as job-induced stress, fatigue, work-life conflict, and happiness
(Boxall & Macky, 2014). Individual well-being is, in part, a function of the quality of the
relationships an employee has with other people at work and in the wider community,
influenced by the degree of trust, reciprocity, social support and cooperation experienced in
those relationships (Grant, Christianson, & Price, 2007). Drawing on the Job Demands-
Resources Model (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Bakker, Demerouti, de Boer, & Schaufeli,
2003; Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001), we propose that individuals with
higher levels of social liabilities in their social network will be faced with increased demands
on their resources in order to manage these relationships, thereby resulting in higher job
stress and reduced satisfaction with the job. The more effort required to deal with these
negative relationships, the greater the strain experienced (Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli,
2006). Adding to this, relationship difficulties at work could also negatively spill-over into
non-work life resulting in work-life conflict (Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux, & Brinley,
2005; Halbesleben, Harvey, & Bolino, 2009).
Proposition 8: Increased Employee Social Liabilities will decrease worker well-being at
work (Path 12) (see Figure 1).
2. Work Engagement
The concept of engagement is relatively new and replete with conflicting definitions. At a
general level, engaged employees invest physical, emotional and cognitive energy in their
work, are psychologically present and absorbed in their work, are cognitively focused, and
emotionally connected with others in the delivery of their tasks (Kahn, 1990, 1992).
Extending this, we draw on Schaufeli and Salanova’s (2011) differentiation between work
and employee engagement in that the former deals with the relationship people have with
their work, rather than with their occupation, role or organisation. Kahn (1990) theorised that
a direct psychological precondition of engagement is that of safety, with perceptions of social
support and relationships primary influences of perceived safety. According to Kahn (1990),
supportive managers and interpersonal relationships based on trust lead to experiences of
psychological safety with others. On this basis, we posit that employees with a high level of
social liability in their workplace social network are unlikely to also express high levels of
engagement in their work. More, specifically, there is evidence that resources are important
drivers of employee work engagement and that this relationship is reciprocal (Bakker,
Demerouti, & Xanthopoulou, 2012). We, therefore, draw on the Job Demands-Resources
Model to suggest a motivational process, whereby poor low-quality workplace relationships
characterised by distrust, task distractions and low cooperation result in higher demands on
resources to cope, leading to disengagement with work. At its extreme, social liabilities
could, therefore, be manifested in increased emotional exhaustion and cynicism towards
others. Furthermore, conservation of resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 2001) proposes that
we strive to protect and accumulate resources. Employees with more resources than that
needed to meet the demands of the job are more likely to be engaged employees
(Halbesleben, 2011). We, therefore, argue that social liability demands decrease the available
resources employees need to achieve their work tasks and goals, thereby reducing work
engagement.
Proposition 9: Increased Employee Social Liabilities will decrease levels of employee
engagement (Path 13).
3. Career success
It is widely accepted that social capital influences career success (Burt, 1992; Gabbay &
Zuckerman, 1998) and the importance of using one’s social networks in the achievement of
career goals features regularly in both academic and practitioner literature. For example,
Seibert, Kraimer, and Liden (2001) found that having the increased social resources that
social capital provides enhances an individual’s career through access to information, access
to resources and career sponsorship. Lin and Dumin (1986) also established a strong link
between social capital and career success. They found that access to desirable, high status
occupations was provided by both having a strong social position (e.g., coming from a
“good” family) and through social ties (friends and acquaintances).
We propose that social liabilities would also have an impact of career success, albeit a
negative one. Because it is the antithesis of social capital, we propose that impact on one’s
career of having social liabilities would be far greater than that of simply having “low social
capital”. For example, having low status, unskilled, or very few members in your network
would offer few social resources so would be unlikely to aid in your career progress, but
neither would it necessarily be harmful. On the other hand, having someone who dislikes or
does not respect you, and is willing to put effort into activities, such as negative rumour and
gossip, sabotage and deliberate obstruction could actually do great damage your career.
Imagine if you will, a situation where a psychologist, previously working in the hospital
system goes for a job within a private practice. It turns out that someone on the interview
panel worked with her 10 years ago, supervising her as a new graduate. If this senior
psychologist had a good experience of the supervisory experience, and respected the hard
work and intellect of the candidate, she would likely recommend her to the rest of the panel
before the interview even took place. The candidate would, almost without a doubt, be
shortlisted for the position. On the other hand, if the panel instead heard that the candidate
was slightly neurotic, a bit lazy, rude, and unsympathetic to clients, she would perhaps not
even be offered an interview, and would have no chance to redeem herself or to show how
she had changed in the intervening decade.
The above illustrates the power of social capital and social liabilities, respectively. On the
other hand, having no social capital in this situation would perhaps be reflected by the case of
an international candidate interviewing for the same job; a candidate judged solely by her CV
and the interview. She would not have the advantage of a supporter on the panel (social
capital), but neither would she be haunted and ultimately punished by a year of “bad
behaviour” (Bennett & Robinson, 2000) as a new graduate (social liability). These examples
illustrate, once again, the importance of conceptualising social liability as a phenomena quite
separate from simply having low social capital.
Proposition 10: Increased Employee Social Liabilities will negatively impact long term
career success (Path 14).
4. Group/ team cohesion
We propose that a negative relationship would exist between increased social liabilities and
team cohesion, because many of the accepted antecedents to cohesion are less likely to take
place in an environment characterised by negative social interactions.
Envy, for example, is both likely to elicit the acquisition of social liabilities, and has been
found to reduce cohesion (Duffy & Shaw, 2000). We propose that the envy of others may
mean that an individual will acquire more social liabilities. This is because envy includes the
perception that a person lacks anothers superior achievement or belongings and, further, they
either desire it or (importantly) they wish the other lacked it (Duffy & Shaw, 2000),
necessitating ill feeling towards the envied other. According to Vecchio (1995), who adapted
social psychology findings to a work setting, the potential reactions to envy at work may
include sabotage, back-stabbing, harassment or ostracism of the rival, and bolstering one’s
own self-image. Thus envy will logically create saboteurs, enemies and “haters”, individuals
working against one another, fitting well with our conceptualisation of ESL.
In addition, numerous studies with a focus on cohesion outline indicators of cohesion that are
conceptually opposite to ESL. For example, a feeling of identification and attraction to the
group (Johnson & Johnson, 1991), group members getting along and helping each other
(Koys & DeCotiis, 1991), and the presence of friendliness, helpfulness and trust (Boxx,
Odom, & Dunn, 1991).
Proposition 11: Increased Employee Social Liabilities will decrease cohesion in the
workplace (Path 15).
5. Performance
Extending the above propositions regarding the proposed impact of ESL on well-being,
engagement, career success, and cohesion, we anticipate that these will mediate both team
and individual performance. In turn, team and individual performance influence
organisational outcomes (see Figure 1).
Proposition 12: Increased Employee Social Liabilities will have a negative impact on
performance via reduced employee wellbeing, lower work engagement and low cohesion
(path 16).
Conclusions
The research reviewed suggests that the acquisition of social liabilities could have profound
negative and long lasting effects on individuals in several ways, including their well-being,
performance and, ultimately, career success. Social liabilities can cause harm to individuals
through exposure to negative acts, it will be likely to reduce collegiality through the
acquisition of distrusting and uncooperative relationships, and the social costs inherent in
distraction and social demands will reduce productivity and achievement in a variety of ways.
A long term impact of ESL is the harm to the careers of those who acquire it; even if they
change jobs or move to a different organisation. The “global village” and the rise of social
networking mean that the ease with which people can be contacted and researched allows bad
behaviour witnessed, and enemies acquired, to haunt an individual for decades after an event.
The propositions suggested in this paper are eminently testable and, therefore, provide future
research directions towards understanding the effects of ESL at both the individual and
organisational level. Before this can take place, however, a valid and reliable measure of ESL
needs to be devised. A variety of measures of the four underlying components (social
demand, negative acts, lack of reciprocity and distrust) exist and these must to be researched,
reviewed and tested for their predictive power as parts of the higher level construct, ESL. The
nomological network of this new construct needs to be tested and the resulting scale needs to
be validated. This will be the aim of the authors moving forward with this project.
At the individual level, an awareness of the potentially destructive impact that social
liabilities bring is of great importance. Most white collar workers and business owners are
cognisant of social capital, if not by name, then by meaning. They know that creating
relationship networks, knowing “useful” people, and being owed favours will help them, both
in their daily work and in their long-term career. At the supervisory / management level, it is
important that there is an awareness of the antecedents and potential outcomes of this
phenomenon and to be aware of the variety of contextual and personal factors that engender a
network filled with liabilities and how the damaging impacts of social liabilities might be
managed.
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... While the body of knowledge has grown concerning that nature of TI, the questions of whether these two concepts predicts TI and which most accurately predicates TI remained unsettled. Some researchers (Alfes et al., 2016;Blomme et al., 2015;Chang et al., 2015;Coxen et al., 2016;Gülbahar, 2017;Koçak, 2016;Mishra & Kumar, 2017;Morrison & Macky, 2015;Saks, 2006;Seifert et al., 2016;Schaufeli et al., 2002;Ugwu et al., 2014) found that a higher degree of job engagement correlates with emotions, attitudes or behavior intuitively associated with lower TI. However, other researchers (Andresen et al., 2016;Asegid et al., 2014;Chen & Taylor, 2016;Dusek et al., 2014;Linh et al., 2016;Maqbali, 2015;Mathieu et al., 2016;Mazurenko et al., 2015;Mobley, 1982;Semachew et al., 2017;Spector, 1997) found that an employee's degree of JS, to varying degrees, predicted turnover intent. ...
Article
Both employee job satisfaction (JS) and employee work engagement (WE) have been examined as possible predictors of employees’ intention to voluntarily leave a specific job or company, known as turnover intention (TI). While the body of knowledge has grown concerning the nature of TI, there remains the unsettled question of which of the two concepts most accurately predicates TI. The high turnover rate of registered nurses (RNs) in hospitals in the U.S. presented an opportunity to examine if JS and WE predict, and to what degree, among RNs. For this quantitative correlational research probability sampling was used to identify 155 participants, all full-time registered nurses with 2 or more years of employment in New York hospitals. Data, obtained from surveys, were analyzed via multiple linear regression. The results revealed that only job satisfaction predicted turnover intention among the nurses sampled, F (5,154) = 12.008, p R<sup>2</sup> = 287.The findings indicate that leaders of healthcare organizations, might lower nurse turnover intention by focusing on improving job satisfaction. Specifically, TI may be lower by addressing the issues identified from regular job satisfaction surveys, and by a greater emphasis on creating a more satisfying workplace. A more stable RN workforce could reduce healthcare disruptions in communities.
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