August 3, 2023
People who adopt a role as a ‘network broker’, connecting other colleagues and teams who might otherwise not know each other, often end up burnt out and more abusive towards their co-workers. That is the key finding of a new study from ESSEC Business School published in The Journal of Organizational Science. These networking go-betweens often receive career advantages such as faster promotions, unique information access, or a creativity boost. They play a critical role in the functioning of the organisational. However, there can be hidden psychological and social ramifications associated with this important role as they’re also more likely to suffer the consequences of being so socially adept.
Professor Jung Won Lee who lead the research explains that brokering behaviours can make brokers feel stressed due to socialising with people who have different norms and values to their own. Subsequently, they end up feeling burnt out and can become abusive towards their peers, like taking out their mood on their colleagues.
In order to evaluate the effects of brokering on the networking brokers, Professor Lee and her colleagues conducted three studies in South America and the United States: 1) a five-month field study of burnout and abusive behaviour, with brokering assessed via email exchanges, 2) a time-separated survey on brokering behaviours, burnout, and co-worker abuse among the employees, 3) an experiment to investigate the effects of different types of brokering behaviours on burnout and abusive behaviour. They found that brokering behaviours that keep separated people apart compared to bringing them together led to higher level of burnout and abusive behaviour.
Brokers have a high value for organizations. But the job of brokering can be so demanding without leaving a room for brokers to recover. Professor Lee and her colleagues show that the implications of network brokering can negatively impact the broker and those that they interact with. She also determined that of the two types of brokering, keeping people apart is far more damaging.
What can be done in organisations to mitigate the negative effects? The study suggests that employers should be mindful of the effects of brokering before enforcing it in the workplace if they want to ensure a healthy working environment. Employers can recognize the demanding roles of brokers and offer brokers regular opportunities to disengage from brokering behaviour and recharging themselves.