Social Media and Work Relations: Do People “Like” Their Boss?

January 31, 2017

Faculty members at NYIT (New York Institute of Technology) School of Management have won a $100,000 grant to examine how cultural dimensions affect the way people use social media to interact with work colleagues. They will carry out their research over the next four years.

Following up prior work they conducted in the United States, Associate Professor Deborah Y. Cohn, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Joshua E. Bienstock, J.D., will investigate work relationships and social media in four countries: the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), China, Israel, and Canada. The Albert and Pearl Ginsberg Foundation and the Mallah Family Foundation will support the researchers’ work with grants of $75,000 and $25,000, respectively. Complex organizations ranging from multinational companies to international non-profits and even governments can function better as they understand social media behaviors among their employees and other stakeholders.

Faculty Expert: Deborah Cohn (Social Media)

Starting with Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, which scores national cultures on six “dimensions” and facilitates intercultural comparisons, Cohn and Bienstock will explore similarities and differences in social media use in the four chosen countries. They will focus on three dimensions: Power Distance, which is the cultural acceptance of unequal power relations (high score) versus people who question authority (low); Individuality, the value a culture places on either individual preferences (high score) or collective needs (low); and Uncertainty Avoidance, a cultural value in favor of certainty and a single, shared Truth (high score), as opposed to ambiguity and diversity of opinion (low).

In countries like China and the U.A.E., which score high for accepting unequal power distribution and respecting hierarchies (Power Distance), Cohn and Bienstock expect to find a significant distance in social media relations between employers and employees. Employees should be measurably less likely to send their senior colleagues invitations to “link” or be “friends,” for example.

Likewise, Individuality may be linked to people’s motivations on social media. Do they want to stand out by achieving a large number of followers or “friends”? If so, they reflect the values of the U.S. and Canada, who score high in this dimension. In places like the U.A.E. or China, which value tight-knit families and social groups, one would expect social media connections to express people’s sense of belonging to a collective.

Cultures that score high for Uncertainty Avoidance, such as the U.A.E. and Israel, depend on rules, hard work, and security measures. In these countries, people may engage carefully on social media, recognizing the need for privacy and security while also seeking the professional benefits of network-building. Professionals in lower Uncertainty Avoidance cultures (such as China, the U.S., and Canada) are more comfortable with ambiguity and risk-taking, and this trait may show up in their social media behavior.

Previously, Cohn and Bienstock found in their U.S.-based social media research that some people strive to keep their work and personal social media strictly separate. For these people, called “segmenters,” a carefully maintained balance can be disturbed, if, for example, a marketing manager asks employees to share a new offering via their personal social media. Other people, “integrators,” enjoy sharing across the personal/professional divide.


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