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An Investigation of Self-Control and Self-Regulation as Mechanisms Linking Remote Communication to Employee Well-Being during the Covid-19 Pandemic

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Abstract

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, organizations had to adapt overnight to remote virtual work. For most employees, one of the fundamental changes, associated with this adaptation is the shift to virtual work and associated remote communication. Whereas before the pandemic this way of communicating was an alternative to face to face communication during the pandemic it has become the preferred if not the only form of work-related communication with supervisors, colleagues, and individuals outside of the organization (i.e., customers, suppliers, etc.). While previous research on virtual work and associated remote communication has predominantly focused on how remote communication affects employees’ productivity its impact on employee well-being has not been explored yet. To support organizations and societies alike in promoting employee well-being during and after the COVID-19 pandemic it is thus necessary to expand our understanding of the impact of different forms of remote communication on employee well-being. Accordingly, the present research addresses this research question by examining the impact of remote communication on employee well-being.
Running head: REMOTE WORK SLEF-CONTROL SELF-REGULATION 1
An Investigation of Self-Control and Self-Regulation as Mechanisms Linking Remote Communication
to Employee Well-Being during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Rivkin W. a, Moser K. S.b,d, Diestel S.c & Alshaikh, I.a
aAston University, UK
bLondon South Bank University, UK
cUniversity of Wuppertal. Germany
dUniversity of Queensland, Australia
This paper has been accepted for the Organisational Behaviour Plenary on COVID-19 at the
Academy of Management (AoM) Virtual Meeting, August 2020.
The paper is publicly available at
http://obweb.org/covid-19-index/covid-plenary-gallery
Author Note
Correspondence concerning this manuscript should be addressed to Wladislaw Rivkin, Aston
University, UK, Email: w.rivkin@aston.ac.uk or Karin S. Moser, London South Bank University, email:
moserk@lsbu.ac.uk
REMOTE WORK SLEF-CONTROL SELF-REGULATION 2
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, organizations had to adapt overnight to remote virtual work. For most
employees, one of the fundamental changes, associated with this adaptation is the shift to virtual work and
associated remote communication (Feitosa & Salas, 2020). Whereas before the pandemic this way of
communicating was an alternative to face to face communication during the pandemic it has become the
preferred if not the only form of work-related communication with supervisors, colleagues, and individuals
outside of the organization (i.e., customers, suppliers, etc.). While previous research on virtual work and
associated remote communication has predominantly focused on how remote communication affects
employeesproductivity its impact on employee well-being has not been explored yet (Dulebohn & Hoch,
2017). To support organizations and societies alike in promoting employee well-being during and after the
COVID-19 pandemic it is thus necessary to expand our understanding of the impact of different forms of
remote communication on employee well-being. Accordingly, the present research addresses this research
question by examining the impact of remote communication on employee well-being. We develop our
research model drawing on Kuhl’s Theory of Volition (Kuhl & Fuhrmann, 1998). More specifically, this
theory proposes that one of the core functions of volition is to facilitate goal achievement while maintaining
the integrity of one's "self." In this context, this theory distinguishes between self-control, which is necessary
to achieve goals and self-regulation, which refers to actions that are in line with one's integrated self. For
example, the act of learning for an exam may require self-control if it is to satisfy someone else’s (i.e.,
parents, teachers) expectations or it may reflect a form of self-regulation if it occurs out of one’s own
volition (i.e., to experience mastery). The theory further proposes that while engaging in self-control is
associated with psychological costs in the form of depletion or mental exhaustion (see also Muraven &
Baumeister, 2000), engaging in self-regulation can strongly facilitate well-being by enhancing feelings of
vitality and energy (See also Ryan & Deci, 2008).
In the present research integrate this theoretical framework with media synchronicity theory (Dennis,
Valacich, Speier, & Morris, 1998; Dennis, Fuller, & Valacich, 2008) to examine the impact of different types
of remote communication on employee well-being. More specifically, drawing on the proposition to
differentiate types of media for remote communication regarding their synchronicity that is their immediacy
of feedback (Dennis et al., 1998) we distinguish between asynchronous- (i.e., email, messaging services,
social media) and synchronous (i.e., phone calls, video conferences). We propose a dual-pathway model
whereby these forms of remote communication affect employeeswell-being through their impact on self-
control or self-regulation throughout the workday. Whereas self-control demands, which encompass
controlling impulses, overcoming inner resistances and resisting distractions represent require employees
self-control (Schmidt & Neubach, 2007) self-regulation refers to acts, which result from self-determination
and self-motivation and thus are not externally determined (Kuhl & Fuhrmann, 1998). As indicators of well-
being, we focus on the need for recovery, which reflects the requirement to recuperate from work tasks after
work (Van Veldhoven & Broersen, 2003) as well as subjective vitality, which encompasses feelings of vigor,
activity, and productivity (Ryan & Deci, 2008).
Integrating Kuhl’s theory of volition and media synchronicity theory, we argue that synchronous
communication involves some form of direct interaction with others and thus requires self-control, which is
depleting for employees and thus results in an increased need for recovery and reduced subjective vitality.
For example, during synchronous interactions (i.e., a phone or skype call) employees have to monitor and
adapt their expression as well as resist distractions from anything, which is not relevant for the interaction.
Thus we propose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: The day-specific effects of synchronous communication on employees’ a) increased
need for recovery and b) reduced subjective vitality will be mediated by increases in self-control demands.
Moreover, we propose that asynchronous communication is associated with reduced self-regulation
as it reduces employeesself-determination and makes them more susceptible to external determination. For
example, requesting crucial information through asynchronous communication makes employees work
progress dependent on when they receive an answer. In turn, decreases in self-regulation will impair well-
being as individuals not experience feelings of energy. Thus we deduct the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2: The day-specific effects of asynchronous communication on employees’ a) increased
need for recovery and b) reduced subjective vitality will be mediated by reduced self-regulation.
REMOTE WORK SLEF-CONTROL SELF-REGULATION 3
Method
Participants
As forms of remote communication can be expected to fluctuate from day to day, we examined the
proposed relations in a daily diary study across ten workdays during a full lockdown in the UK with a
sample of remote workers. The data was collected via prolific academic an online provider to recruit
participants for research. After employees gave their consent, they received a pre-survey, which measured
demographics. Subsequently, participants received two surveys each day, which included scales to measure
all relevant constructs. Surveys were disabled if participants did not respond to it within 2 hours. The final
sample consists of N = 82 out of 102 contacted employees (person-level response rate of 80%) including 551
out of 820 daily data points (day-level response rate of 67%).
Measures
All constructs were measured with Likert scales the ranges of which correspond with their original
publications and were adapted to daily measurement.
Remote communication (One hour before the end of work). Remote communication was assessed
by asking participants how many minutes they spent with the following types of communication today: Text-
based media (texting, emails, etc.), video conferences (i.e., Slack, Skype, Zoom, MSTeams, etc.), voice-
based media (i.e., phone calls), social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.), collaboration platforms
(i.e., Slack, Workzone, Blackboard, Glip, etc.). Following recommendations by (Dennis et al., 1998) we
computed a score of asynchronous communication as a sum of text-based media, social media, and
collaboration platforms. Synchronous communication was represented by a sum of video conferences,
voice-based media, and face to face.
Self-control demands (One hour before the end of work). Self-control demands were measured
with three items from a scale developed by Schmidt and Neubach (2007). Following, Prem, et al., (2016) we
used one item for each respective demand on self-control (i.e., Impulse control demands: ‘Today, my work
required me to weigh every word I say.’; Overcoming inner resistances: ‘Today, dealing with unpleasant
tasks often took a considerable amount of effort from me.’, resisting distractions: ‘In order to achieve my
goals today, I did not allow myself to get distracted.’).
Self-regulation (One hour before the end of work). We used a ten-item measure of self-regulation
proposed by (Kuhl & Fuhrmann, 1998; i.e., ‘Today at work I felt free to act the way I wanted.’).
Need for recovery (Two hours after the end of work). For the present study, we measured the need
for recovery with five items (Van Veldhoven & Broersen, 2003; i.e., ‘I find it difficult to relax at the end of
this workday.’)
Subjective vitality (Two hours after the end of work). Subjective vitality was measured with seven
items from a scale proposed by (Ryan & Frederick, 1997); ‘Right now, I feel alive and vital.’
Results
We examine our hypotheses through Multilevel Structure Equation Modelling in Mplus 8.2 (Muthén
& Muthén, n.d.). We specified a 1-1-1 mediation model (Preacher, Zyphur, & Zhang, 2010) using maximum
likelihood estimation with robust standard errors. Following suggestions by (Hofmann & Gavin, 1998) all
Level-1 variables were centered around the person mean. To test the proposed indirect effects we computed
95% Confidence Intervals (CI) by using the Monte Carlo Method with 20,000 repetitions as proposed by
Selig and Preacher (2008). The presence of an indirect effect is supported if the 95% CI does not include
zero.
Our data provide partial support for Hypothesis 1a), which suggests that the day-specific impact of
synchronous communication on employees well-being is mediated through self-control demands. More
specifically, our study shows support for the proposed hypotheses regarding the need for recovery as an
indicator of impaired well-being (95% CI = 0.0003 - 0.0011). However, for subjective vitality this
hypothesis was not supported as the corresponding 95% CI did include zero (95% CI = -0.0001 - 0.0001).
Hypothesis 2 suggests self-regulation as a mediator of the negative relation between asynchronous
communication and employee well-being. Our data supports this hypotheses as the 95% CIs for both
outcomes do not include zero (Need for recovery: 95% CI = 0.0001 - 0.0010; Subjective vitality: 95% CI = -
0.0010 - -0.0001). Moreover, it is noteworthy that there was a direct positive effect of asynchronous
communication of the need for recovery (γ = .001, p = .022) after synchronous communication, self-control
demands and self-regulation were accounted for, which suggest that additional mediating mechanisms are
REMOTE WORK SLEF-CONTROL SELF-REGULATION 4
linking asynchronous communication to employees’ well-being. Moreover, the small effect sizes result from
both independent variables in the model (asynchronous and synchronous communication being measured in
minutes.
Discussion
The Covid-19 pandemic and associated shift to remote work has required considerable adaptation
from organizations and their employees. One of the most prevalent changes associated with this adaptation
is the change in employee communication. To support organizations promoting employee well-being during
and after the Covid-19 pandemic, our study explored the underlying mechanisms through which daily
remote communication affects employees’ well-being. Our research integrates media Kuhl’s theory of
volition (Kuhl & Fuhrmann, 1998) and media synchronicity theory to propose that synchronous
communication has and adverse effects on employees’ well-being through associated self-control whereas
asynchronous communication has impaired employee well-being through reducing self-regulation. Our data
for the most part supports the hypothesized relations. More specifically, our research demonstrates that the
adverse impact of synchronous communication on the need for recovery is mediated by self-control.
Moreover, as suggested reduced self-regulation mediates the negative relation between asynchronous
communication and employees’ day-specific need for recovery and subjective vitality.
Our study offers several contributions to the literatures on remote work and well-being. First,
whereas most research on remote communication focused on employees productivity (REF) our research is
the first to demonstrate that remote communication harms employee well-being. More specifically, our
study suggests that both synchronous and asynchronous forms of remote communication adversely affect
employees’ day-specific well-being in the form of increased need for recovery as well as reduced subjective
vitality. Our study also expands previous research on virtual work and remote communication, which
foremost focused on between-person differences in remote communication (REF) by demonstrating that
forms of remote communication can considerably fluctuate across days and that these fluctuations affect
employee well-being.
Second, our study integrates Kuhl’s theory of volition (Kuhl & Fuhrmann, 1998) and media
synchronicity theory (Dennis et al., 2008) to develop a dual pathway model of how synchronous and
asynchronous communication affects employee well-being. Accordingly, our research identifies self-control
as a crucial mechanism, which links synchronous communication to impaired employee well-being and
reduced self-regulation as a mediator of the relation between asynchronous communication and employee
well-being. Accordingly, extends theoretical notions in the field of remote communication by linking it to
different forms of volition.
Beyond these theoretical contributions, our study also offers some practical recommendations by
highlighting the crucial role of self-control and self-regulation as mediators between synchronous and
asynchronous communication and employee well-being. Regarding the proposed mediating effects of self-
control in the relation between synchronous communication and employee well-being previous research has
identified a variety of moderators, which can protect employees from its adverse effects such as good sleep
(Diestel, Rivkin, & Schmidt, 2015), affective commitment (Rivkin, Diestel, & Schmidt, 2015),
psychological detachment (Gombert, Rivkin, & Schmidt, 2018). Accordingly, organizations and employees
alike can focus on these protective moderators to prevent the adverse consequences of synchronous
communication on well-being. Regarding self-determination previous research has strongly suggested that
satisfaction of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness can facilitate self-
regulation (Ryan & Deci, 2008). Thus, leaders can help satisfy employeesbasic psychological needs
(Chiniara & Bentein, 2016) to protect their well-being from asynchronous communication.
Despite these theoretical and practical contributions our study is also no without limitations. One
such limitation, which should be addressed in future research is that all study variables were operationalized
through self-reports. Thus, common method variance or a self-report bias might have contaminated the
relationships under examination (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). However, this limitation
is somewhat alleviated because our data demonstrate differential mediating effects of self-control and self-
regulation, which cannot be expected if common method variance is high. Nevertheless, future research
could gain additional insights by for example examining well-being rated by one’s partner.
REMOTE WORK SLEF-CONTROL SELF-REGULATION 5
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