Social Undermining in the Workplace

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* Academy of Mtinagfiiwnl journal • 2002, Vol, 4S, No, I. :i:n-351.

SOCIAL UNDERMINING IN THE WORKPLACE
MICHELLE K. DUFFY University of Kentucky DANIEL C. GANSTER University of Arkansas MILAN PAGON University of Ljubljana An interactive model of social undermining and social support in the workplace was developed and tested among police officers in the Republic of Slovenia. As predicted, social undermining was significantly associated with employee outcomes, in most cases more strongly than was social support. High levels of undermining and support from the same source were associated with negative outcomes. However, support from one source appeared to only modestly attenuate the negative effects of social undermining from another source. Interpersonal relationships are critical determinants of what occurs in any organization— how it functions, how effectively it performs its central tasks, and how it reacts to its external environment. According to Baron (1996), interpersonal relationships and interactions among organization members are at least as important in these respects as other factors that have received far more attention from scholars in organizational behavior and industrial-organizational psychology, factors such as job-related attitudes, reward and appraisal systems, and other aspects of employee behavior. Given the potential importance of interpersonal relations in the workplace, it is surprising how relatively little attention organizational researchers have devoted to these issues, especially to the concept of negative interactions in the workplace. Social relationships and exchanges are complex; they are capable of engendering intense feelings of both happiness and disappointment (Rook, 1992). Although the benefits associated with positive work and social relationships are well documented, little is currently understood about the effects of negative work interactions on An earlier version of this article was presented at the 1998 annual meeting of the Academy of Managemfint. San Diego. WR would like to thank Branko Lohnikar and Jenny Hoobler for their assistance during the data collection and processing phases and Anne O'LearyKelly, Ben Tepper. Dan Brass, Jason Shaw, Nina Gupta. John Dnlery. Associate Editor Maureen Ambrose, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions. 331

worker well-being and attitudes [Vinokur & van Ryn, 1993; but see Bies [1999] and Tepper [2000] for exceptions). Crucial to understanding of how social ties influence important work-related outcomes is a thorough understanding of both types of experiences. Disregarding either the positive or negative aspects of social exchange skews perception of the role work relationships play in important organizational outcomes, and it ultimately obstructs the ability to develop an accurate understanding of social relationships and interactions. This article is intended to be a step in the direction of balancing the literature by focusing on the dynamics of negative interactions, social undermining in particular, in the workplace. First, we explain the construct of social undermining, highlighting definitional issues, distinguishing it conceptually from other constructs, and extending these issues to the workplace. We focus on two distinct sources of social undermining—supervisors and coworkers—since these are likely to be the most important functional and social constituencies in an organization. Second, we derive predictions about social undermining and relevant work-related individual outcomes. Third, building on theory from social psychology, we compare the relative magnitudes of the associations of social undermining and social support with employee outcomes. Fourth, we derive interactive predictions about social undermining and social support within and across supervisor and coworker domains. Each of these areas is discussed below.

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Academy of Management Journal

April

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND...
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