Feeling lonely at work: investigating the consequences of unsatisfactory workplace relationships

Feeling lonely at work: investigating the consequences of unsatisfactory workplace relationships
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  This article was downloaded by: [University of Macau Library]On: 22 September 2012, At: 00:54Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK The International Journal of HumanResource Management Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Feeling lonely at work: investigatingthe consequences of unsatisfactoryworkplace relationships Long W. Lam a  & Dora C. Lau ba  Department of Management and Marketing, University of Macau,Taipa, Macau, P.R. China b  Department of Management, Chinese University of Hong Kong,Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, P.R. ChinaVersion of record first published: 06 Mar 2012. To cite this article:  Long W. Lam & Dora C. Lau (2012): Feeling lonely at work: investigating theconsequences of unsatisfactory workplace relationships, The International Journal of HumanResource Management, 23:20, 4265-4282 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  Feeling lonely at work: investigating the consequencesof unsatisfactory workplace relationships Long W. Lam a * and Dora C. Lau b a  Department of Management and Marketing, University of Macau, Taipa, Macau, P.R. China; b  Department of Management, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, P.R. China Although prior literature reveals that loneliness is a pervasive problem among adults,little research has evaluated the impact of loneliness in the workplace. Given thatworkplace relationships underlie many important organizational phenomena, it isimportant to understand whether and how workplace loneliness affects employeebehavior. Based on the social exchange model, we hypothesize that in comparison withtheir non-lonely counterparts, lonely employees will experience lower quality leader-member and organization-member exchanges at work such that they will tend to beworse at in-role and extra-role workplace functions. Drawing on the results of oursurvey of schoolteachers, we present findings to support our hypotheses. Keywords:  leader-member exchange; organizational citizenship behavior; organiz-ation-member exchange; work performance; workplace loneliness  If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together  .African Proverb (Cacioppo and Patrick 2008, p. xv). Human beings are inherently social. A sense of belonging and connectedness with othersis fundamental to human functioning and well-being (Maslow 1954). Employees’psychologicalwell-beingisenhancedwhentheyareabletoestablishsatisfactoryworkplacerelationships (Mao 2006). On the other hand, while prior research has emphasized on thebenefits of positive interpersonal relationships at work (Dutton and Heaphy 2003),relatively little attention has been devoted regarding the impact of negative workplacerelationships. The latter issue is important because insufficient social connection can havecritical consequences. Research across a range of fields shows that loneliness – defined asinsufficient or unsatisfactory social relationships – can produce a variety of ill effects,ranging from anxiety to depression, mental disorder, heart failure and suicide (Leary 1990;Stravynski and Boyer 2001; Heinrich and Gullone 2006; Cacioppo and Patrick 2008).Althoughthenegativepsychologicalimpactsoflonelinesshavebeenwelldocumented,relativelylittleresearchhasbeenconductedonlonelinessundertheworkcontext.Yetthereare reasons and evidence to believe that the likelihood and duration of loneliness may begreater at work than in personal life (Reinking and Bell 1991; Dussault and Thibodeau1997). First, with the increased use of the Internet, virtual teams and alternative work arrangements, employees face fewer opportunities for social interactions (Nie and Erbring2000;VegaandBrennan2000;MannandHoldsworth2003;Mao2006;TenBrummelhuis,Haar and van der Lippe 2010). One study for example finds that therapists suffer from ISSN 0958-5192 print/ISSN 1466-4399 online q 2012 Taylor & Francis *Corresponding author. Email: The International Journal of Human Resource Management  ,Vol. 23, No. 20, November 2012, 4265–4282    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  c  a  u   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   0  :   5   4   2   2   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  workplace loneliness when working in outpatient clinics (Melamed, Szor and Bernstein2001). Second, as many work environments are competitive in nature, genuine socialconnectionsarealsodifficulttoattain.Evidenceshowedthatworkplacelonelinessisaresultof competitive and uncooperative organizational climate (Wright 2005).Despite the organizational conditions that inhibit the development of socialrelationships, we know very little whether and how workplace loneliness affectsemployee’s attitudes and behaviors (Dussault and Thibodeau 1997; Yilmaz 2008).Understanding the effects of loneliness in the workplace is important for several reasons.First, without satisfactory social relationships, employees are more likely to perceive lowsocialsupportintheorganizations.Perceptionofstrongorganizationalsupportisconducivefor employees to perform effectively at work and to reciprocate with extra-role behaviors(FenlasonandBeehr1994;RhoadesandEisenberger2002;AselageandEisenberger2003).Second, when employees experience poor social relationships, they are also less likely tofeeltheybelongandidentifytoorganizations.Priorresearchsuggeststhatemployeesexpectto seek affiliation and identification with organizations (Ashforth and Mael 1989;Baumeister and Leary 1995; Meyer 2009). Failure to do so reduces employee’sorganizational commitment and increases their intention to quit (Riketta 2005). Finally,co-workers exchange critical resources and information at work  (Sherony and Green 2002)throughformalandinformalrelationships.Withoutsufficientexchangeofresources,lonelyemployees are less likely to perform their jobs effectively.Drawing on the extensive literature on loneliness (e.g. Peplau and Perlman 1982;HeinrichandGullone2006),socialrelationships (e.g.BaumeisterandLeary1995;LeeandRobbins 1998) and the social exchange model (e.g. Blau 1964; Cropanzano and Mitchell2005; Shore, Tetrick, Lynch and Barksdale 2006; Coyle-Shapiro and Shore 2007),we propose that loneliness in the workplace has a negative impact on employeeperformance due to insufficient levels of social exchange. In the following sections,we briefly review the literature of loneliness and explain why lonely employees will sufferfrom poor work performance due to low leader-member exchange (LMX) andorganization-member exchange (OMX). We found support of our hypotheses in a sampleof 532 teachers in Macau. We then discuss implications of our findings to the study of loneliness and social relationships in organizations. Loneliness and social relationships Individuals primarily seek social relationships to fulfill their need for belonging(Baumeister and Leary 1995; Lee and Robbins 1998). Human beings are social animalsand because ‘no man (woman) is an island’ (Donne 1975), people are naturally inclined tomake social connections to satisfy their need for belonging (Maslow 1954; Brewer 2005).Baumeister and Leary (1995) described belonging, the need to form and maintaininterpersonal bonds, as one of the fundamental motivations behind human behavior.Most research indicates a common definition of what loneliness is – it is an aversivepsychological state due to a person’s perception of lacking satisfactory socialrelationships. Quantity of social relationship is a contributing factor to lonely feeling:people will feel ‘lonely’ when there are too few people around them (Russell, Peplau andCutrona 1980), as opposed to the ‘crowded’ feeling when individuals are surrounded bytoo many people. However, quality may be more important than quantity at times. As thesufficient number of relationships varies among individuals (Jones 1982), loneliness hasalso been understood as the perception that one’s existing interpersonal relationships donot meet one’s expectations (Weiss 1973; Gordon 1976; Peplau and Caldwell 1978;  L.W. Lam and D.C. Lau 4266    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  c  a  u   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   0  :   5   4   2   2   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  Newcomb 1990; Green, Richardson, Lago and Schatten-Jones 2001). Other scholarsdescribe loneliness as painful feelings and emotional distress due to insufficient orunsatisfactory social connections or relationships (Rook 1984; Cacioppo et al. 2006;Cacioppo and Patrick 2008; Rotenberg et al. 2010).Studies carried out by Lee and Robbins (1998, 2000) suggested that rather than seekingsocial relationships, lonely individuals usually adopt a passive approach of avoidance.When facing stress, lonely people also ‘respond with pessimism and avoidance, a passivecoping strategy that carries its own costs’ (Cacioppo and Hawkley 2009, p. 234). Gardner,Pickett, Jefferis and Knowles’s (2005) model of belonging regulation argues thatindividuals lacking belongingness will normally behave to restore their social connections.On the other hand, research on social exclusion also suggests that when the source of undesirable social relationships is more external than internal, individuals will react rathervigorously to thwarted belongingness by engaging in aggressive and harmful behaviors(Thau, Aquino and Poortvilet 2007; Williams 2007). Yet lonely individuals are not able toreact positively or vigorously due a deficit of their social skills. Gardner et al.’s (2005)research shows that lonely individuals remain acute to social cues, but are too anxiousto re-establish connections during social interactions. Emotional distress is thusvery common among lonely individuals (Heinrich and Gullone 2006; Cacioppo andHawkley 2009). Hypotheses The social exchange model is often used to analyze the relationships between employeesand their organizations (Blau 1964; Coleman 1988; Tsui, Pearce, Porter and Tripoli 1997;Shoreetal.2006;Coyle-ShapiroandShore2007).Duetothenormofreciprocity,peoplearewilling to endure long-term trusting and loyal interpersonal relationships with unspecifiedobligations,asopposedtoshort-termandarms-lengthexchangesthataremoretransactionalthan relational (Cropanzano and Mitchell 2005). The social exchange perspective hasshown to be useful in analyzing employees’ willingness to contribute above and beyondwhat is required by organizations (Wayne, Shore and Liden 1997; Masterson, Lewis,Goldman and Taylor 2000; Cropanzano, Prehar and Chen 2002; Aselage and Eisenberger2003). One classic proposition of the social exchange model is that if organizations arewilling to provide valuable resources such as training and care, employees will reciprocatethrough effort and commitment to help the organizations achieve their goals in terms of in-roleperformanceandcitizenshipbehavior(AselageandEisenberger2003).Inthisstudy,we hypothesize that lonely employees are less able to establish social exchangerelationshipsinorganizationsduetotheirunwillingnesstotakeriskandlowtrustonothers.Thelackofsocialexchangerelationshipsisaprimaryreasonwhylonelyemployeestendtoperform poorly at work.Social exchange involves a number of unspecified terms and obligations. Thus, thedecisiontoengageinsocialexchangeisariskforparticipants(Molm,TakahashiandPeterson2000).Anunwillingnesstotakesocialrisksisacommonsymptomamonglonelyindividualsdue to their shyness, poor self-image and low social skills (Jones, Freemon and Goswick 1981; Gardner et al. 2005; Heinrich and Gullone 2006). Lonely individuals tend to refer tothemselves in a ‘negative and self-depreciating manner, believing that they are inferior,worthless, (and) unattractive’ (Heinrich and Gullone 2006, p. 705). These poor self-viewsexplainlonelyindividualsarelesslikelytoseeknewrelationships(HazanandShaver1994).Lonelyindividualsarealsorathersociallyconscious(Gardneretal.2005)suchthattheyfocusmore on the negative rather than the positive social information (Cacioppo and Hawkley The International Journal of Human Resource Management   4267    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  c  a  u   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   0  :   5   4   2   2   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   2  2009). These rationales explain why lonely employees are unwilling to social risks, andrefrain from engaging in social exchange relationships in the workplace.In addition to poor self-evaluation, prior research shows that lonely individuals tend tohold negative views of others and suspect other’s intentions (Goswick and Jones 1981;Gardner, Pickett and Brewer 2000). Studies show that lonely individuals are more likely tosee others as less trustworthy than their non-lonely counterparts (e.g. Ernst and Cacioppo1999; Rotenberg et al. 2010). This lack of trust inhibits social connection as socialexchange ‘requires trusting others to discharge their obligations’ (Blau 1964, p. 94).In the absence of trust, individuals are less likely to initiate social exchanges for fear of free-riding and exploitation (Coleman 1988). Thus, we expect that lonely employees willtend not to engage in social exchanges due to their low propensity to trust others.When employeesenterintosocialexchangerelationshipswiththeirorganizations, theyare likely to undertake actions that are conducive to the goals of the organization(Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchinson and Sowa 1986; Eisenberger, Armeli, Rexwinkel,Lynch and Rhoades 2001). Because lonely employees lack social exchange relationshipswith their organizations, they may not spend as much effort achieving organizational goalsas their non-lonely counterparts. They are thus less likely to perform well in their jobs.Employees who establish social exchange relationships with their employers develop ahigher sense of obligation to the organization, in terms of extra effort, commitment andwillingnesstosacrifice(Rousseau1990;ShoreandBarksdale1998).Inthiscase,employeesare likely to offer more to their employers than their employment contracts require.Shore et al. (2006) found that social exchange is associated with higher levels of jobperformance and citizenship behavior. Accordingly, due to a lack of social exchange, wehypothesize the following:H1: Workplace loneliness is negatively related to in-role performance.H2: Workplace loneliness is negatively related to organizational citizenship behavior.Research on social exchanges has suggested that employees generally exchange withtwo types of partners: supervisors or leaders (LMX) and the employing organization(OMX; Wayne et al. 1997; Masterson et al. 2000; Cropanzano et al. 2002). LMX describesa set of differentiated leader-member relationships. LMX theory suggests that supervisorshold various degrees of relationships with their subordinates (Graen and Uhl-Bien 1995)and that these relationships can affect the nature of the transactions that take place(Cropanzano and Mitchell 2005). Employees in low-quality LMX relationships will onlyengage in basic economic exchanges with their supervisors. Alternatively, high-qualityLMX relationships are characterized by respect, trust, liking, commitment and reciprocalinfluence (Liden, Wayne and Stilwell 1993; Graen and Uhl-Bien 1995). Employees withhigh LMX relationships assume tasks requiring more effort and greater responsibility, andare more likely to engage in organizational citizenship behavior (OCB).TounderstandwhylonelyemployeesmayhavelowLMXwithsupervisors,wefirstneedto explain how LMX will be developed. Liden et al. (1993) offered two plausible factorsaffecting the development of employee LMX: information about their supervisors and theemployee’sfutureexpectations.Anemployeecangatherinformationabouttheirsupervisorsduring daily interactions. However, Liden et al. (1993) suggested that individuals relyheavily on the opinions and advice of their peers in gauging whether to develop qualityexchanges with their leaders. Due to their lack of social relationships, lonely employees arelessabletodevelopafullunderstandingoftheirsupervisors.Furthermore,lonelyemployeestend to be self-focused and hold negative views of others (Goswick and Jones 1981;Gardner et al. 2000). As a result, they are more likely to interpret the limited information  L.W. Lam and D.C. Lau 4268    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  c  a  u   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   0  :   5   4   2   2   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   2
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