Investigating the nature and importance of social conversations at work

Dietmann, Antonia May (2019) Investigating the nature and importance of social conversations at work. (DoBPsych thesis), Kingston University, .


This research addresses social conversations at work. Most modern workplaces have opportunities and demands for social conversations with colleagues (Tönsing & Alant, 2004). For over two decades there have been calls for further research into social conversations at work (Kirmeyer, 1988), yet no clear understanding of the antecedents and outcomes has been established. This systematic literature review undertaken for this doctorate is the first in the field; it provides a valuable synthesis of the evidence base. From an initial 13,083 titles, the review identified 12 papers that met the inclusion criteria. There was considerable variation in study design and definition of social conversations at work across the studies, and while they give some insights into their nature, there is little evidence to inform our understanding of what predicts them, their benefits, or barriers. To address some of the methodological limitations of the studies identified in the systematic literature review, a field intervention study was undertaken in which 76 participants in the Intervention Group were directed to increase their number of social conversations at work. An active Control Group (n = 70) undertook a social network mapping task, but were not directed to converse with colleagues. Further, the study expanded the focus of previous research to address a broader range of organisational outcomes and understand the nature of social conversations at work. The relationship between social conversations at work and loneliness, high-quality working relationships, team performance, and acceptance of social conversations at work was explored. The intervention successfully increased participants’ participation in social conversations at work. However, this increase was observed for both the Intervention Group and Control Group. Similarly, improvements in the outcome variables (but not loneliness at work) were observed for both groups. This study advances the research by investigating key organisational outcomes with a novel field intervention methodology. Further, it shows that social conversations can be practiced and are therefore responsive to training intervention. The implications of this work on research and practice are discussed.

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