Sub-theme 22: Bridging the Space between Us: Exploring Connection and Disconnection in Workplace Relationships

Jennifer Petriglieri
INSEAD, France
Brianna Barker Caza
University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA
Lakshmi Ramarajan
Harvard Business School, USA

Call for Papers

Our aim in this sub-theme is to explore how organizations facilitate (or inhibit) workers from building meaningful connections with each other in their workplaces. In doing so we hope to reveal how workers (dis)connections impact their lived experience of work, their wellbeing, their relationship with their organization and their performance and contributions within it.
People’s wellbeing is contingent on their ability to meaningfully bridge the physical and psychological “space between” (Josselson, 1996) themselves and others (Saltet Ainsworth et al., 1979; Bowlby, 1982). Historically, the importance of meaningful relationships was only considered relevant in people’s personal lives, and the study of relationships was deemed outside the scope of organizational theorizing. More recently, however, the realization that the relationships people build in their work lives have a material impact on their wellbeing and a host of other organizationally relevant outcomes has led to an explosion of research on this topic (Dutton & Heaphy, 2003; Ramarajan & Reid, 2020; Olekalns, Caza & Vogus, 2020; Petriglieri & Obodaru, 2019, Philips, Rothbard & Dumas, 2009; Parker, Gerbasi & Porath, 2013).
Workers who have meaningful relationships with each other benefit from increased wellbeing (Methot et al., 2021; Mogilner, Hershfield, & Aaker, 2018), a greater sense of belonging at work (Livne-Tarandach & Jazaieri, 2021), increased perceptions of work meaningfulness (Dutton & Ragins, 2007) and are better at overcoming job-related stressors (O’Neill & Rothbard, 2017) than workers without these connections. Moreover, when employees have strong connections with each other their organizations benefit from their higher performance and organizational commitment (Boyd & Nowell, 2014; Methot et al., 2016).
Despite meaningful workplace relationships bringing benefits to workers and their organizations, their presence is not guaranteed. In fact, insidious disconnections between workers now seem more the norm than productive heathy connections. Workplace loneliness has reached epidemic levels (Murthy, 2017; Petriglieri & Sheprow, 2021), as have levels of stress and burnout, all of which can be buffered by relationships (Kahn et al., 2018). The transition to hybrid and remote working has made it more difficult for workers to forge connections with each other (Schinoff, Ashforth & Corley, 2020), and the polarization of society and workplaces has made these disconnections contentious leading to toxic working environments that harm wellbeing (Petriglieri, 2020). For the increasing number of people who work outside of traditional organizations in the gig economy building meaningful relationships with others can be particularly problematic (Caza et al.; 2021; Petriglieri, Ashford & Wresniewski, 2019).
While some people attempt to foster close friendships with each other at work (Rothbard et al., 2022), these connections, when exclusive, can have unintended consequences such as the exclusion of others, the propagation of homophily based relationships and thus inequalities in organizations (Pillemer & Rothbard, 2018). Indeed, recent research highlights the complex nature of relationships at work, showing how work relationships can be mixed or ambivalent in nature (Methot, Melwani, & Rothman, 2017; Melwani & Rothman, 2022). Although this research has significantly advanced our understanding, it has also revealed gaps in our knowledge. These gaps include: how organizations can promote the building of meaningful connections among diverse populations of workers, how individual workers can overcome moments of disconnection and the negative impact of these, how workers forge meaningful connections despite or even due to changes in technology and geographical proximity, and how workers relationships morph over time.
In keeping with the Colloquium theme of “Organizing for the Good Life: Between Legacy and Imagination”, we are interested in exploring how meaningful connections can be built between workers that benefit both the workers themselves, their colleagues, their organization, and their clients. We are also interested in the dark side of workplace relationships, in how disconnections occur and perpetuate, and how connections can be exclusionary and detrimental to the organizational good life. Our interests in this area are wide-ranging, but a few areas that could be of particular relevance to furthering current theorizing are:
1) How, when, and why meaningful connections develop between workers?

  • How do workers multiple identities shape their relationships and connections and vice-versa?

  • What organizational contexts/forces keep connections thin or instrumental or exchange oriented rather than thick and solidaristic?

  • How do individual worker’s intrapsychic worlds impact their ability or willingness to forge and break connections with others?

2) How does the nature of connections impact the organizational good life?

  • When are certain types of connections harmful or helpful for workers’ well-being?

  • What organizational outcomes are most impacted by dyadic relationships?

  • How do connections forge or undermine collective identification processes in organizations?

3) What shapes the trajectory and valence of (dis)connections over time?

  • How do connections enable workers to break free from or entrap them in existing organizational norms and pressures?

  • How do organizations reinforce patterns of (dis)connections and how can these patterns shift?

  • How do societal narratives and trends shape (dis)connections at work and how can these be molded?

4) How does the new world of work influence the ways in which, motivations to and possibilities workers to (dis)connect with each other?

  • How can workers build meaningful attachments with each other in a virtual world?

  • How do independent workers build meaningful work connections absent co-workers?

  • How can workers connections overcome the forces of polarization in their workplaces?

While we welcome theoretical explorations of workplace relationships, we want to especially encourage empirical investigations that bring to light how organizations can be spaces that facilitate (or inhibit) the building of meaningful connections at work.


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Jennifer Petriglieri is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, France. Her research, which often takes a systems psychodynamic perspective, explores identity dynamics in organizations in crisis and contemporary careers, identity development in management education, and the (dis)connections that shape relating in the workplace. Jennifer has published in the ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Academy of Management Learning and Education’, and ‘Journal of Organizational Change Management’.
Brianna Barker Caza is an Associate Professor of Management at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA. Her research broadly examines the psychological and relational dynamics that contribute to resilience at work. Brianna is particularly interested in non-traditional work arrangements such as gig work and multiple jobholding. Some of her research has been published in ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes’, ‘Human Relations’, and ‘Research in Organizational Behavior’.
Lakshmi Ramarajan is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School, Harvard University, USA. Her research examines the management and consequences of individuals’ multiple identities in organizations. Her work has been published in ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, and ‘Organization Science’.