Informal connections that appear during work are an important aspect that contribute positively to relations between workers and their employers in the majority of cases. Lusine Grigoryan reached this conclusion in her research* devoted to the influence of informal connections between supervisors and subordinates on the commitment of subordinates with respect to the company.
The study, which covers the area of cross-cultural psychology, was conducted in five countries with different corporate cultural values in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom and Brazil. In total, approximately 700 mid-level managers ranging in age from 21 to 60 were interviewed about their mutual relations with leaders and commitmentto the companies in which they work.
As a basis, the author took the famous Chinese model for informal relationships – Guanxi (Chinese for “connection”). This model includes components of informal connections, such as emotional attachment, involvement in the personal life of the leader and respect for the leader. In her study, the author proved that the Guanxi model is universal for different cultures. An article about this was published in the most recent issue of Organizational Psychology. Moreover, the results of Grigoryan’s study show how individual components of Guanxi affect different types of organizational commitment.
One of the components of the Guanxi model is respect for the leader. If there is respect in the informal connections between a supervisor and subordinates, then subordinates are committed to the boss, explains Grigoryan. An employee agrees, for example, with the affirmation, “I am ready to sacrifice my interests to satisfy the interests of this person.”
Another component of Guanxi is emotional attachment – understanding a person and a desire to take care of him under any circumstance. In this case, subordinates agree with such affirmations as “We always share our thoughts, opinions and feelings about life and work with this person.” The component of involvement in personal life, in turn, assumes spending time together and getting to know the family.
Each country has its own lexical and semantic understanding of informal connections. In China, it is Guanxi; in Arab countries, it is Wasta (intermediacy); in Brazil, it is Jeitinho (cunning or craftiness); in the United Kingdom, it is Pullingstrings; and in Russia, it is Svyazi (connections).
Understandably, any corporate culture has distinguishing features. In Russia, the practice of getting involved in a leader’s personal life is less widespread than in China. Arab intermediacy is often based on close or friendly relations. British Pullingstrings, as the author indicated, was not studied scientifically, but is understood as receiving assistance, advantages and protection owing to connections with influential people. Brazilian “cunning” is connected with an aspiration to avoid formal rules and is often associated with corruption.
Nevertheless, the study has proven that the Chinese model of Guanxi is universal. Survey results showed that in each corporate culture, informal connections that account for national characteristicsin one way or another contain elements of Guanxi – emotional attachment, involvement in the personal life of the leader and respect for the leader.
There can be an ambiguous attitude toward informal relations in companies. On the one hand, mutual informal relations between superiors and subordinates may lead toa breach of the fair rules of corporate play if someone suffers aninjustice. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine a corporate space that is one hundred percent free of informal relationships, likes and preferences, which in principle is common for people.
Because informal connections in companies are quite common, this widespread phenomenon does influence employee commitmentto the company. To find out the specifics of this influence, Grigoryan analyzed how components of the Guanximodel in different cultures are interrelated with different types of commitment. To do this, she used Meyer and Allen's three-component model of organizational commitment. They define organizational commitment as a psychological condition that characterizes the relationship of the employee and the organization, and is significant for the employee’s intention to remain in the organization. The model includes three types of commitment: affective, continuance and normative. Affective commitment is an employee’s emotional attachment to the organization. Emotionally committed workers believe in the goals and values of the organization and are happy to be members. Continuance commitment is associated with the realization of what costs will be incurredupon leaving the organization. Normative commitment concerns employees’ feelings of duty to the organization.
The study revealed that a subordinate’s emotional attachment to the superior positively affects organizational commitment in all countries. There is a similar pattern when it comes to respect for the leader. In Singapore, respect for the leader positively influences all kinds of commitment, which is explained by the unique features of national culture. In Brazil, respect is the most powerful component, positively influencing the employee’s sense of duty to the organization. This is explained by the peculiarities of Brazilian “cunning”, which, as the author explains, has an inherently egoistic nature. "While in Chinese Guanxithe emphasis is on reciprocity in the provision of services, in the case of Brazil’s Jeitinho it is on rather unilateral achievement of goals,” says Grigoryan. Therefore, the Brazilian sense of duty arises only if a leader commands deep and sincere respect.
As for involvement in the leader’s personal life, this component is in an area of risk. For example, in Singapore and Saudi Arabia, acquaintance with a leader’s family has a negative impact on employee commitment. Again, the reason lies in national peculiarities. The power distance and a hierarchy of relationships are so significant that relationships that are too close begin to prevent rather than promote commitment.
The results of the research showed that emotional attachment plays a crucial role in Russians’ commitment to the company. This is very similar to the picture of Saudi Arabia where the emotional component of informal relationships is key.
The influence of emotional attachment in Russia, as Grigoryan notes, is also interconnected with emotionally evocative forms of commitment – affective and normative – when a person experiences an attachment or a sense of duty to a company. “This is significant for Russia: often employees really do remain in organizations where they have worked for a long time and to which they are ‘tied’, even if there is the opportunity of getting better work in another organization,” says Grigoryan. “Russians’ emotions play a big role in this matter.”
Informal connections, according to the author of the study, can be a useful tool to form employees’ commitment to an organization. This concerns both domestic and international companies where natives of different countries work insofar as the positive effect of Guanxi components is universal, culturally speaking.
*The following individuals took part in the research: Peter Smith, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Sussex (United Kingdom); Arzu Wasti, assistant professor of management at Sabancı University (Turkey); Nadezhda Lebedeva, professor of organizational psychology at the Higher School of Economics; Mustafa Achoui, professor of marketing and management at Arab Open University (Saudi Arabia); Claudio V. Torres, instructor of social and labour psychology at the University of Brasília (Brazil); and Leong Chan-Hoong, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore (Singapore)