By allowing employees to participate in a work-sponsored internal social networking site, a company can improve morale and reduce turnover, according to a Baylor University case study published in the European Journal of Information Systems.
The study, which looked at a financial institution's efforts to acclimate new employees into the organization, also found that participation led to a greater sense of well-being and organizational commitment and better employee engagement.
"For millennials, mixing their work life and their social life via an online social networking created positive emotions for the employees who use the system," said Hope Koch, Ph.D., Baylor University associate professor of information systems in the Hankamer School of Business and study co-author. "These emotions led to more social networking and ultimately helped the employees build personal resources like social capital and organizational learning."
SNSs can have a positive impact on IT employees and their workplace, especially when the new employees are relocating to unfamiliar areas and need to build a network, assume highly technical jobs and become integrated into a large organization where it may be difficult to know where to go for help, according to Koch.
The study centered on a financial institution's efforts to reduce IT employee turnover by starting a social and work-related online networking site. Under the supervision of executives, the IT new hires developed and managed the site's content. Since most new hires had moved hundreds of miles to start their new jobs with the institution, they initially used the social pages as an introduction to the community. After a year or so with the organization, the more senior new hires began using the system to acclimate and mentor incoming new hires.
All study respondents worked in the institution's IT department and included new hires, middle managers and executives. With less than three years of experience, most new hires and interns were men between 21 and 27 years old. The middle managers and executives were baby boomers or members of generation X.
The internal social networking site helped the new hires build social capital in several ways, according to Koch.
"It gave them access to people who could provide useful information and new perspectives and allowed them to meet more senior new hires and executives. These relationships set the new hires at ease during work meetings, helped them understand where to go for help and increased their commitment to the financial institution's mission," she said.
Ironically, middle managers, even though they wanted freedom from mentoring new hires, developed a negative attitude toward online social networking when they realized that the new hires had managed to accrue social capital and social experiences with senior executives that they had not had access to in their many years of work.
The SNS system also helped the new hires maintain relationships with one another, thus facilitating a network of acquaintances that can do small favors and help build emotionally close friendships. Finally, by allowing the new hires to access information on the SNS, meet other new hires and develop and maintain relationships with their peer group, the financial institution was able to shift some of the burden of acclimating the new hires away from middle managers and human resources.
Despite the good outcome of this institution's experience, the study data suggest that organizations should move cautiously when implementing SNSs, Koch said. "While the new hires enjoyed using the system, the middle managers experienced frustration, isolation and envy, and the senior executives were somewhat circumspect.
"Before beginning an internal social networking initiative, organizations should consider analyzing how the system may impact both its users and non-users, paying particular attention to potential isolation of non-users and the negative stigma associated with SNS in the workplace," Koch said.
Co-authors of the study were Dorothy Leidner, Ph.D., Ferguson Professor of Information Systems at Baylor; and Ester Gonzalez from Washington State University.
- Hope Koch, Ester Gonzalez, Dorothy Leidner. Bridging the work/social divide: the emotional response to organizational social networking sites. European Journal of Information Systems, 2012; 21 (6): 699 DOI: 10.1057/ejis.2012.18
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