THE EFFECT OF SOCIALIZING ACTIVITIES ON STRESS AND LONELINESS, AS WELL AS ON BUSINESS CLIMATE AND COMPANY PRODUCTIVITY

 

                                               Andrey Blagoev



Abstract


This paper aims to analyze the effect of stress and loneliness on business climate and productivity in companies from Bulgaria. It focuses on the importance of socialization activities in the form of informal relationships between employees. It finds that these activities can reduce stress and loneliness, creating a better working environment and higher productivity.

         Introduction

          Many scholars have carried out research on stress: Rollinson, Edwards and Broadfield (1998); Price (2007); Santrok (2005); Channuwong (2009); European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2010); Campoleti, Hyatt and Kralj (2007) and Mills (2008). Others have studied social and emotional loneliness as part of the life we live and productivity we have at the workplace (Myers, 2005; Loucks, 1980; Zhou, Sedikides, Wildschut & Gao, 2008; Santrok, 2005; Dykstra & Fokkema, 2007; Seepersad, Choi & Shin 2008). The following analysis is based on research carried out in Sofia, Bulgaria. Its goal is to find out whether stress and loneliness affect  productivity at work and if informal relationships can reduce those negative effects.

          Stress

          Stress is one of the strongest factors acting upon the business climate and productivity of employees. Since the late 1990s, research on the topic has increased rapidly; see Rollinson, Edwards and Broadfield (1998); Price (2007); Santrok (2005); Channuwong (2009); European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2010); Campoleti, Hyatt and Kralj (2007), and Mills (2008). According to Price (2007, p. 584) physiological stress draws a strain on human beings. It stems from life’s pressures, boredom, overwork, threat and ambiguity. It is a subjective experience. According to Rollinson, Edwards and Broadfield (1998) stress is the degree of tension, anxiety or pressure experienced by a person.  It is an individually experienced phenomenon or a characteristic of the environment posing threat to the individual.

          Santrock (2005) defines stress as a response of individuals to stressors which include environment, social factors and work related stress. A state of humans being under outside pressure which is a major contributor to coronary heart disease, cancer, lung problems, accidental injuries and suicides. Rollinson, Edwards and Broadfield (1998) defined two main groups of stress. Similar conclusions were reached by Price (2007), Channuwong (2009) and Santrock (2005). The first one includes stress from outside the organization, resulting from political, economic, technical, and social changes or personal weaknesses, situations and events. The second includes organizational stress coming from organizational characteristics and conditions, job demands, processes, policies and role distributions. A recent study reviewing stress at work concluded that in highly centralized firms where control is at the top levels, stress is high among employees at lower levels. According to Price (2007) organizational stressors

include de-layering, downsizing, rightsizing, change in the company structure, etc. Another example is occupational stress from employees' inability to cope with job demands (Rollinson, Edwards, & Broadfield, 1998).

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 32

          According to Rollinson, Edwards and Broadfield (1998) a study of executive stress reveals that 60% of stressors come from family life and 40% from work. The family problems are classified as life events and situations – arguments, divorce, separation, death, and expenses.

          Stress and Company Productivity

          Several authors - Santrok (2005); Channuwong (2009); Campoleti, Hyatt and  Kralj (2007) - define stress as a global problem for organizations. Work-related stress is a major concern. The costs for companies are estimated at around 4.0 percent of gross domestic product whereas 50 to 60% of all lost working days in European countries are related to stress.

Loneliness

          An important issue from social and organizational psychology is that loneliness can disrupt the productivity of companies (Myers, 2005; Loucks, 1980; Zhou, Sedikides, Wildschut & Gao, 2008; Santrok, 2005; Dykstra & Fokkema, 2007; Seepersad, Choi, & Shin 2008). According to Myers (2005) loneliness, whether chronic or temporary, is a painful awareness that our social relationships are less meaningful or numerous than we desire them to be. The psychological state of loneliness is characterized by discomforting emotions and cognitions, such as unhappiness, pessimism, self-blame, and depression (Zhou, Sedikides, Wildschut, & Gao, 2008). It is associated with perceived lack of social support and with having fewer and less satisfying relationships than desired.

          Block (2008) indicates that managers and companies need to recognize the power of the small group and see that real change is more dependent on creating strong communities. It seems that teamwork, team building and social activities created by the company are issues valued high in the modern business. What is more important however is to find evidence on how such socializing group activities can foster productivity and leadership skills among participants and people from the organization. 

          Purpose of the Present study

          The goal of this study is to establish whether informal socialization activities can increase the efficiency of employees in Bulgaria.

     Methodology

     The research involves a self-administered questionnaire (Saunders, 2009). Respondents were reached by email or given/mailed the questionnaire which they sent back after completion. The questionnaire consists of two parts:

  • The opinion section where respondents answer to 10 listed (Saunders, 2009) questions and choose one answer for each one (opinion variables).  Questions 8 and 10 are scale-response questions (McDaniel & Bush, 2010) questions or closed-ended (Burns & Bush, 2000) where response choices are designed to capture the intensity of feeling.

  • The demographics section where respondents were given 5 listed questions about their gender, age, occupation, sector of organization and education (attribute variables).

          The population of respondents was identified as: employees and managers from Bulgarian companies located in Sofia between 20 and 55 years of age.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 33

          The sample frame (Chisnall, 1986; Saunders, 2009) was carefully selected from the contact list of:

  • the managers in Bulgarian companies – members of the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum

  • specialists in the field of marketing and media – partners of Publicity Ltd

  • working students from the bachelor and masters programs in IUC in Sofia, who will serve as zero group (non biased opinion)

          I decided to form the sample of 100 respondents in the following proportion: 50% managers, 20% marketing specialists and 30 % working students. The sample size population of 100 respondents was reached by email and given a questionnaire which they sent back after completion. The questionnaire consists of two parts:

          I received 95 correctly filled questionnaires – 40 from managers, 21 from marketing specialists and 34 from working students.

          Findings and Analysis

Question А1. Do you feel under stress because of work-overload or do you accept stress as a challenge?

84% (58% + 26%) of the sample feels under stress because of work overload. 26% of the whole sample population believe that this job-related stress is interfering with their work and thus on productivity. This result of 26% recognizing the influence of stress poses a threat to organizations.

Question A2. Do you feel burdened by stress and personal problems coming from outside the work environment? Does it affect your mood for work and productivity?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 34

According to the results these stressors seem to affect managers and employees in Bulgaria as predicted. 77% (48% + 29%) of all respondents feel burdened by stress coming from outside the work environment. However again as in the results on Fig.1 only 29% really consider this as something negative, interfering with their work efficiency. 48% of all respondents value the feeling as something normal and do not fear it makes them less productive.

Question А3. Are there moments when you feel lonely? Does this interfere with your mood for work and productivity?

The results are clear as to the fact that loneliness does influence the productivity of companies. As seen on Fig.3, 56% of the sample (38% + 18%) confirms to feel emotions of loneliness. This result opens up a whole new niche for companies who would like to satisfy the needs of this social group and organize informal group activities that will engage people in socializing and fun activities. Such positive emotions, as identifies by Santrock (2005), will only make these people feel better and result in better productivity. Also we could hypothesize that these 56% are most probably unmarried and unattached individuals as these people are more likely to feel lonely as mentioned by Myers (2005) and Santrok (2005).

          Moreover, 32% of these 56% (and 18% of all the respondents) recognize that the feelings of loneliness influence negatively their mood for work and productivity. They are the ones with the biggest need for socializing and better relationships with others. Managers and leaders in organizations should recognize that 18% of employees in general feel isolated from the others which results directly in the quality or/and quantity of their work.

Question А4. How big is the organization that you work in?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 35

The results are as following:

  • 40% of the respondents work in companies with more than 200 employed people

  • 22% work for companies with 50 to 200 employed

  • 22% work in companies having from 10 to 50 employees

  • 16% work in small firms that include up to 10 occupied people

Question A5. How many members of the workforce in your organization do you know personally?

          52% of the respondents (Fig.5) claim that they know personally all of the employed people in their company. The number is high since only 16% of the participants in the research work in small firms with up to 10 occupied people. Therefore in the Bulgarian organizations social networks are large in scope and allow employees to be introduced to each other and have contact. This correlates with the issues of collectivism and relationship oriented societies typical for Bulgaria according to the literature (Hofstede, 1991; Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2010; Davidkov, 2004; Schneider & Barsoux, 2003; Williams, Han, and Qualls 1998).

45% of respondents claim to know personally only the people with whom they work in the department or need to contact because of their specific job. On the other hand only 3% of the respondents are acquainted with just a few people in their company. The number is small and most probably includes the newly appointed employees in the organizations.

 Question А6. Do you want to get to know your colleagues better and socialize with them outside the working atmosphere?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 36

          About 35% of the respondents (Fig. 6) claim to use every available opportunity to do so and even have desire for more. 36% of the sample are in a need for such social interaction, but have not been able to find a way to do so. Summed together these are 71% of all the respondents and thus a general opportunity for organizing such events as a business venture targeted at Bulgarian companies. The results provide evidence that employees recognize the importance of informal socialization which would again be tested by the following survey questions. All they provide evidence for the prevailing collectivist oriented nature of Bulgarian workers (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010).

Question A7. Do you think that spending more time with your colleagues outside the work environment will affect positively your work productivity?

          53% of the respondents (Fig. 7) believe that informal activities with the other employees outside the workplace will boost their productivity. This dominating view may be so because Bulgarians value peer-relationships high (Davidkov, 2004) and because they rank “meeting others” at the top of their most desired leisure activities according to a EU survey. (The Gallup Organization, 2007). Another 25% are not sure about their answer and thus imply that some of these people are ready to agree if given the opportunity to participate in such events.

Question А8. Are you attracted by the atmosphere of informal social events in the pleasant company of between 20 to 25 people?

          Sixty percent of respondents (Fig. 8) confirm to be attracted by such events and to participate into such meetings with their friends. Another 16% have thought about such opportunities, but were not given an opportunity to participate.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 37

These 76% are a stable result of people who can be targeted with such an event. Also the results correlate well with the result of 71% (for informal socializing with colleagues) for Question A6 and the result of 78% for Question A7 (who think such events are beneficial.)

          Also there are 13% of the respondents who have not thought about this issue and are a potential group that could be added to the participants. They could potentially change their mind under the influence of group leaders or managers as stated to be possible under the conclusions of Burtis, Turman, & Oaks (2008).

Question А9. Do you think that in an informal setting you would show your personality better in front of your colleagues?

          Among the results the dominant response with 39% is the view of respondents (Fig.9) who answer “Yes”. It proves that a large amount of Bulgarian employees does recognize the benefit of informal socializing with colleagues as an opportunity. A way to gain approval, attention (Myers, 2007; Burtis, Turman & Oaks, 2008) or leadership status. Another 32% are “not sure” and are potential participants at such events where they can decide for themselves.

Question 10. Imagine yourself in a situation

The results are evident that Bulgarians are ready to participate with enthusiasm in such events especially if they see for themselves what it is like. 44% of respondents (Fig.10) say that they would always participate. 40% agree that if they see the event is interesting they will participate. These are 84% potential candidates for such a fun-group event

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 38

, which proves that Bulgarians value peer-relationships, (Hofstede, 1991; Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2010) enjoy meeting friends as a leisure activity (The Gallup Organization, 2007) and recognize the positive outcomes of laughter and positive emotions experience with others (Myers, 2005). Also if such an event is organized properly it would most probably be successful in reaching its goals for better business climate.

          The results from Questions A1 and A2 concur with the findings of Rollinson, Edwards & Broadfield (1998) and Price (2007) that stress is a burden for the economy as most employees in Bulgaria are under such pressures according to EASHW (2010). The results prove that in the Bulgarian conditions, stress from job-overload is a bigger issue and felt more by employees.

          As argued by Dykstra and Fokkema (2007, p. 2) loneliness could be emotional or social and as proven (Myers, 2005; Loucks, 1980; Zhou, Sedikides, Wildschut, & Gao, 2008; Santrok, 2005) makes workers unhappy, unstable and isolated. The fact that loneliness interferes with the productivity of companies is proven by the present research also, as 56% of the sample (Fig. 3) confirms to feel such emotions. Even when 18% of the sample recognizes how these emotions make them less productive, the whole 56% (18% + 38%) represent a niche of people who require more social contacts. Myers (2005) identifies how unmarried and unattached individuals are more prone to loneliness.

          Relationships Between Employees

          Bulgaria is a collectivist society valuing human relationships high (Hofstede, 1991; Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2010; Davidkov, 2004; Schneider & Barsoux, 2003; Williams, Han, and Qualls 1998). Several authors (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003; Rollinson, Edwards, & Broadfield, 1998; Schein, 1980; Rollinson, Edwards & Broadfield, 1998) identify how informal groups exist because of the social needs of employees for friendship and interaction; reducing stress and loneliness and confirming their sense of identity and self-worth. Fig.1.6 proves that Bulgarians desire such informal interaction with their colleagues and a large proportion of the sample is ready to participate.

          Informal Groups and Productivity

          According to several authors (Oh, Chung & Labianca, 2004; Hayman, 2003; Crother-Laurin, 2006) when organization members socialize outside of the workplace trust between them and motivation for work increase. 

          From Fig.7 it is clear that Bulgarian employees recognize these benefits as 53% of the respondents believe that informal activities with the other employees outside the workplace will boost their productivity. Another 25% are not sure about their answers and can change their opinion towards the positive. These are 78% (53% + 25%) of the sample who feel a need for and can be targeted with such events.

          In Fig.8 a specific format for informal socialization is suggested: Events of small groups between 20 and 25 people. 60% of respondents confirm to be attracted by such events and to participate in such with friends. Another 16% have thought about it, but had no such opportunities. These 76% (60% + 16%) are a large proportion of people that can be targeted with such events by companies. Also this result from Fig.8 correlates with the results of 71% (for informal socializing with colleagues) from Fig.6 and the result of 78% from Fig.7 (who think such events are beneficial).

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 39

          Gender Differences

The data from Question A1 shows a slight, but visible difference in the ways women and men experience and handle stress caused form job-overload. Women employees seem to experience more stress caused by the work environment as there are 29% of them who think this sort of stress is interfering with their work. Another 57% accept stress as something normal, but still admit to feel under stress.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 40

The results from this analysis by gender provide further evidence about the relation mentioned above. From the numbers we can conclude that women in Bulgaria seem to experience more stress caused from outside the work environment than males. 29% of women admit this type of stress is interfering with their work and 51% say they feel it, but it is normal. These are 80% of all women, a bigger proportion than the 72% of males who feel under such kind of stress. The correlation with the findings of Campoleti, Hyatt and Kralj (2007) is evident again.

          Women seem to feel lonelier than males although 18% of women admit that loneliness interferes with their work (which is pretty close to the same result for men), but another 43% admit to feel lonely but state that it does not affect their productivity. However summed together these are 61%. Men on the other hand include 19% whose work is affected by loneliness (almost the same as women), but only 28% who admit that loneliness does not affect their productivity. Summed together these are 47%.

Differences Between Managers and Non-Managers

The results show that differences in stress between managers and non-managers are not significant. Yet, managers tend to feel lonelier.

 

          Discussion

          This paper explores the effect of stress and loneliness on Bulgarian employees and the role of informal socializing activities in building a better business climate

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 41

and higher productivity. It was found that stress and loneliness negatively affect work performance in the companies whose employees were studied. This finding of the primary research is very significant from the point of view of business. The increasing labor cost, together with the need for implementing more efficient management and work practices, require special attention to every factor that might affect job performance. From this perspective, the findings should inspire further research.    

          Further investigation should be done both on the validity of the data and on finding out which are the specific negative effects on  behavior, teamwork performance and emotional intelligence, so as to find the main areas of problems that affect the companies. This further research should also focus on whether socializing in small groups, as suggested by the current research, produces the desired positive effect for improving employee’s performance, and enhancing productivity.

Special attention should be paid to whether these results are long-lasting or short lived. Obviously company management would be interested in long-lasting positive effects rather than in short-lived ones. This should be of particular interest, especially considering the findings reported in Fig.15. It is well known that managers report loneliness much more often than employees. It is necessary to develop techniques for overcoming such problems.

In essence,   this study answers some questions but raises a lot more. It is to be hoped that they will be addressed in the future.

 

          Bibliography

Armstrong, G. & Kotler, P. (2011). Marketing: AniIntroduction (10th ed.). Pearson.

Asmuss, B. & Svennevig, J. (2009). Meeting talk: An introduction. Journal of Business Communication,  46, 1 ( 3-22).

Block, P. (2008) Leadership and the small group. T+D, 8, 40-43.

Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum (2010).http://bblf.bg/news.php, retrieved on 28 August 2010.

Burns, A. C. & Bush, R. F. (2000) Marketing research (3d ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall.

Burtis, O. B., Turman, P. D. (2005). Groups communication pitfalls: Overcoming barriers to an Effective Group Experience. Business Communication Quarterly, Jun. 08, 254-257.

Business Leader Newspaper (Issue 11, 2008).  http://bblf.bg/uploads/issues/file_10.pdf, retrieved on 2 September 2010.

Campolieti, M., Hyatt, D. & Kralj, B.1 (2007). Determinants of stress in medical practice: Evidence from Ontario physicians. RI/IR  6 ( 2),1-32.

Channuwong, S. (2009). Strategies for reducing stress among managers: An integrated physical and spiritual approach. International journal of management, 26 ( 2), 334-341.

Chisnall, Peter M. (1986). Marketing research (3rd ed.), McGraw-Hill.

Clegg, S., Kornberger, M. & Pitsis, T. (2009). Managing and organizations: An introduction to theory and practice (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Cooper, D. R. & Schindler, P. S. (2006). Marketing research. NY: McGraw-Hill.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 42

Crother-Laurin, C. (2006). Effective teams: A symptom of healthy leadership. The Journal for Quality & Participation, Fall 06, 4-8.

Davidkov, T. (2004). Where does Bulgaria stand? Faculty of Business.

Decrop, A., Pecheux, C., & Bauvin, G. (2007). Decision making within groups of friends: An exploratory study. Recherche et applications en marketing, 22, 1-19.

Dykstra, P. A. & Fokkema, T. (2007). Social and emotional loneliness among divorced and married men and women: Comparing the deficit and cognitive perspectives. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(1), 1–12.

European Union. ESENER - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. (2010). European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks: Managing safety and health at work. Bilbao, Spain.

French, R. (2007). Cross-cultural management in work organizations. Trowbridge, UK: Cromwell.

Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Loucks, S. (1980). Loneliness, affect, and self-concept: Construct validity of the Bradley lonelinessscale. Journal of Personality Assessment 44 (2), 142-147.

Lundby, K. (2010) (Ed.) Going global: Practical applications and recommendations for HR and OD professionals in the global workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McDaniel, C. & Gates, R. (2010). Marketing research with SPSS (8th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Mills, H., Reiss, N. & Dombeck, M. (2008). Socialization and altruistic acts as stress relief. Retrieved on 20th of Aug. 2010, from
http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=15677&cn=117.

Myers, D. G. (2005). Social psychology. 8th ed. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Myers, D. G. (2007). The small group socialization process. Case Study, 23-44.
National Statistical Institute (2010).
http://www.nsi.bg/otrasal.php?otr=23&a1=782&a2=797#cont,retrieved on 6 September 2010.

Oh, H., Chung, M., & Labianca, G. (2004). Group social capital and group effectiveness: The role of informal socializing ties. Academy of Management Journal, 47(6), 860-875.

Ozdemir, V. E., & Hewett, K. (2010). The effect of collectivism on the importance of relationship quality and service quality for behavioral intentions: A cross-national and cross-contextual analysis. Journal of International Marketing, American Marketing Association, 18 (1), 41–62.

Polzer, J. T., Milton, L. P. & Swann, W. B. (2002). Capitalizing on diversity: Interpersonal congruence in small work groups. Johnson Graduate School, Cornell University.

Price, A. (2007). Human resource management in a business bontext (3rd ed.) London: Thompson Learning.
Rollinson, D., Edwards, D. & Broadfield, A. (1998). Organizational behavior and analysis: An integrated approach. Addison Wesley Longman.

Santrock, J. W. (2005). Psychology (7th ed.). NY 10020: McGraw-Hill.

Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students (5th ed.). Harlow: Pearson.

Schneider, S. C. & Barsoux, J. (2003). Managing across cultures (2nd ed). Pearson Publication Limited.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 43

Seepersad, S., Choi, M. & Shin, N. (2008). How does culture influence the degree of romantic loneliness and closeness?. The Journal of Psychology, 142(2), 209–216

Staggers, J., Garcia, S. & Nagelhout, E. (2008). Teamwork through teambuilding: Face-to-face to online. Business Communication Quarterly, 71, 472-487.

The European Commission. The Gallup Organization (2007). Young Europeans: A survey among young people aged between 15-30 in the European Union - Analytical Report  (Flash Eurobarometer Series #202). Directorate-General Communication.

Wanous, J. P., reichers, A. E., & Malik, S. D. (1984). Organizational socialization and group development: Toward an integrative perspective. Academy of Management Review, 9 (4). 670-683.

Warde, A., Gindo, T. & Savage, M. (2005). Recreation, informal social networks and social capital. Journal of Leisure Research, 37 (4), 402-425.

Zhou, X., Sedikides, C, Wildschut, T. & Gao, D. (2008). Counteracting loneliness: On the restorative function of nostalgia. Sun Yat-Sen University and University of Southampton.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- p. 44