Organizational Culture

How Does Coworker Support Influence Organizational Outcomes?

Work in many organizations is beginning to shift from an individual orientation, where tasks are completed alone, to a more team-based orientation, where individuals work with one another to complete projects. This shift in orientation leads to more interaction among coworkers, which can impact organizational outcomes.

What Impact Do Coworkers Have?

The impact coworkers may have on each other is profound. In fact, this influence may be even greater than the influence of supervisors. Coworkers can impact or influence others in both positive and negative ways, as they may provide support for or be antagonistic towards each other. Coworkers’ support (or lack thereof) can influence:
  • Role perceptions
  • Work attitudes
  • Individual effectiveness

Role Perceptions

Coworkers can often be an important source of information for employees seeking advice, instruction or help when they are unsure of what to do. Coworkers can often provide information to support or discourage certain activities. This can be particularly useful for reducing uncertainty about one’s expected role within the organization. Additionally, coworker support can reduce both role conflict (directly conflicting tasks) and role overload (excessive demands given the amount of resources).

Work Attitudes

Coworkers can also influence employee opinions and attitudes. Coworker support is often associated with high job satisfaction, job involvement and a deeper commitment to one’s organization. This increase in positive work attitudes can be achieved when coworkers provide task-based assistance, information, or emotional support.

Individual Effectiveness

Coworker support has been found to reduce counterproductive workplace behaviors and employee withdrawal (i.e., coming to work late, purposefully working slowly, being verbally aggressive towards other employees, etc.) and increase organizational citizenship behaviors (i.e., altruistic helping, not taking extra breaks, obeying the rules even when no one is watching, etc.). Ultimately, coworker support can increase individual performance by providing “critical information” about the organization and task processes.

Final Thoughts

Coworker relationships can have profound positive and negative effects on employee and organizational outcomes. Organizations should focus their attention on understanding how to foster these relationships. This can be accomplished through various means such as decreasing competition amongst coworkers, allowing supervisors to establish a friendly and helpful workplace climate and creating a strong set of standards that encourage coworker support. The importance of employee interactions is often overlooked. However, with the increasing focus on team-based work and flatter organizational structures, the relationships between employees become increasingly important.

Interpretation by:

Elizabeth Allen

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Chiaburu, D. & Harrison, D. (2008). Do Peers Make the Place? Conceptual Synthesis and Meta-Analysis of Coworker Effects on Perceptions, Attitudes, OCBs, and Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 93 (5), 1082-1103.