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The Good, the Bad, and the Multifaceted


by Alex Alusheff, for SIOP

New Organizational Frontiers Book discusses the double-sided sword of personal relationships

Personal relationships are multifaceted and understanding how each aspect plays into one another can be the key to future research.

“Most research on relationships focuses on either positive or negative relationships,” said Lillian Eby, professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. “They shouldn’t be treated as stand-alone topics; researchers need to take a broader look at relationships to understand each aspect.”

In a recent addition to SIOP’s Organizational Frontiers Series, Personal Relationships: The Effect on Employee Attitudes, Behavior, and Well-Being (Routledge, 2012), editors Eby and Tammy Allen bring together information on different types of positive and negative relationships to both deepen and broaden understanding of the topic. Given their years of experience conducting research on mentoring relationships, the two wanted to develop a book that included all personal relationship literature in one volume.

Personal Relationships, which includes contributions by prominent researchers in the field, is separated into sections that focus on positive and negative aspects of relationships, methodological approaches, and future approaches to relationship research, said Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida.

The book discusses various types of relationships and how they affect multiple outcomes, Allen added. Looking at the outcomes of multiple relationships can provide better insight into employee attitudes, behavior, and well-being.

“Relationships play such a key role in how we experience work,” Allen said. “It’s important to see how they impact employee health and attitudes about work.”

Eby and Allen hope that by including both the positive and negative relationships in their book, they can encourage researchers to expand their understanding of the field. For example, if you are someone who focuses on abusive relationships, reading about positive relationships may give you new insight into your specialization, Eby explained.

“When researchers read about other literature, they will find it has a lot to contribute,” she added. “It will encourage them to think about the good and bad, and the multiple influences relationships have on people in and out of the workplace.”

Some relationship roles examined in the book are among supervisors, employees, and customers. The book discusses how these relationships affect one another in different environments.

“Relationships are a double-edged sword because they can motivate but also add stress and anxiety; especially in relationships where there are power differentials,” Eby said.

People spend hours interacting with others at work, and although coworkers can provide support, non-supportive bosses can add stress, she said.

Negative experiences are more salient than positive ones and can have more damaging impacts on the employee, Allen added. Yelling or scolding an employee in front of coworkers can damage their self-esteem and willingness to stay with an organization, leading to burnout and turnover, she said.

In fact, research shows that to counter one negative act, there have to be seven positive acts, Eby added.

Both negative and positive attitudes can carry over between the work and family environments as well, Eby and Allen said.

“If something bad happens at work, people are liable to displace that aggression at home and be crabby or yell at their family,” Eby said.

Likewise at work if there are problems at home, she added. However, positive emotions carry over as well.

“If you close a big deal in the workplace, you can feel more invigorated at home,” Eby said. “That good mood will make you more productive in the workplace as well.”

Though Personal Relationships focuses on the research and study of relationships, it also offers some practical advice, Eby said. Overall, the editors hope the book stimulates further research.

“By integrating various research streams together, we hope it will inspire researchers and provide them with directions for future study,” Allen said.